Psychologist Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., writing for WIRED’s Backchannel, reports that individuals born in 1995 or later no longer take part in partying or other socialization habits at the same rates as older people did when they were in high school and college. According to her research shared in the article, iGen’ers said they spend “two hours a week—only a third of the time GenX students spent at parties in 1987. The decline in partying is not due to iGen’ers’ studying more; homework time is the same or lower. The trend is also not due to immigration or changes in ethnic composition; the decline is nearly identical among white teens.”
Why is this happening? Kevin, a 17-year-old male Twenge interviewed, summed it up perfectly:
“People stay in more often. My generation lost interest in socializing in person—they don’t have physical get-togethers, they just text together, and they can just stay at home.”
Even when they are staying home, though, they are communicating with each other. According to Scientific American’s Nicholas Kardaras, “a 2012 Pew survey by researcher Amanda Lenhart—which involved a nationally representative sample of 799 12- to 17-year-olds—found that only 35 percent said they regularly socialized face-to-face anymore, compared with a whopping 63 percent of teens who said they communicated mostly via text messages and averaged 167 texts a day.”
This is the focus of Twenge’s latest book, “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us,” which is a follow-up to her look at Millennials in “Generation Me – Revised and Updated: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled–and More Miserable Than Ever Before.”
“iGen” aims to dissect this newest generation and help older generations understand how these individuals think and operate. At the core of iGen’ers, one thing seems to stand out pretty clearly: the method of socialization has drastically changed. As Twenge’s article points out, the cause for this change is technology. Parties are no longer necessary. Kevin again:
“People party because they’re bored—they want something to do. Now we have Netflix—you can watch series nonstop. There’s so many things to do on the web.”
Instead of seeing each other in face-to-face settings, iGen’ers leverage technology to satisfy their needs. Instead of hanging out with friends, they text or Snapchat each other, and they don’t even have to leave their homes. As Twenge said, in-person interaction has “been replaced with screen time.”
Social media has altered the definition of socialization for this generation. As Brian Mastroianni of CBS News reported, “this young group favors more personal, immediate social platforms like Snapchat rather than broadcasting their lives widely and publicly for all to see through the like of Facebook and Twitter.”
Instead of meeting at a real place at the same time, they are, as Christopher Mims reported for The Wall Street Journal, using applications such as Houseparty, “where they can video chat with to up to seven of their friends at once.”
This lack of personal contact can have negative impacts, though. Mims wrote, “Anytime a technology becomes a more perfect replacement for real interaction, it is a double-edged sword that may leave users that much more inactive and isolated. In adults, heavy social media use has been linked to depression. No one has yet studied the effects of the new video chat apps on teenage moods.”
Kardaras pointed out how such a reliance upon social media applications can lead to an addiction as well. In some cases, it can even lead to even more problematic psychological issues. Kardaras reported, “Teens, in particular, are now 74 percent more likely to have trouble sleeping and twice as likely to see a professional for mental health issues. According to a 2016 fact sheet from the World Health Organization, depression is now the leading cause of disability globally, affecting 350 million people worldwide. There are certainly many intervening factors that may be driving this global trend, but we do have preliminary research linking depression with social media usage.”
Social media and technology present huge opportunities to do good in the world. With a click of the mouse, great distances can be reduced, and new communities can be formed, allowing individuals to come together for a cause, to learn about each other, or to simply stay connected as life puts distance between people. However, if not used properly, risks clearly exist. According to the reports, iGen’ers, who are digital natives, could be at risk. Since they know no time without social media, they appear to not know when to take a break and disconnect.
This is particularly problematic due to humans’ need for socialization. Kardaras said:
“[O]nline socializing may be interfering with our face-to-face encounters. That is troubling because we know that we can get physically and psychologically ill without real human contact. Indeed, several studies have shown that people can go insane if cut off from human interaction. The reason is that, as social creatures, we find purpose and meaning and bolster our emotional states largely through the social and cultural context created by contact with others. Not getting the right kind of human contact and nurturing support at key developmental periods in childhood can lead to profound emotional and psychological problems.”
Clearly, a balance must be struck. The positives of social media and technology need to be leveraged against the negatives.
Of course, not partying may not be a bad thing. It can keep iGen’ers safer and out of trouble. In fact, Vice’s Max Daly wrote, “All the evidence shows that smoking, drinking, and drug use have taken a long-term nosedive.” Daly interviewed Chloe Combi, author of Generation Z: Their Voices, Their Lives. Here’s something else he had to say, including a quote from Combi, that gets to the heart of why iGen’ers aren’t partying, and it isn’t necessarily just about being more health and safety conscious:
“Smartphones have also played their part. On top of an already shrinking number of places where teenagers can meet up and have fun, smartphones have increased what she terms ‘isolated socializing,’ which leads to less drinking and drug taking. But one of the most crucial impacts on levels of drink and drug use, says Combi, is that social media has created a whole new level of vanity. ‘We live in a society that is becoming more vain and image conscious. It’s like, don’t take drugs, eat kale. Teenagers are thinking that if they don’t drink and take drugs, if they sit at home drinking green smoothies and meditating, they’ll be beautiful and have really shiny hair.’ And shiny hair looks great on Instagram.”
So social media is a mixed bag. iGen’ers don’t socialize and potentially expose themselves to mental health issues because of it, but they are also being more cognizant of how they are portraying themselves online, which can lead to better life choices.
What can be made of all of this then?
Well, if as Kardaras said, “more screen time only further amplifies the isolation and disconnection from healthier activities and meaningful face-to-face social contact,” then a strong case can be made for imposing tighter restrictions on the amount of time youth spend on their phones, tablets, and computers. This could be difficult, though. Many parents provide their teens with phones in order to be able to keep in touch with them. Eliminating such access to the devices would then have implications of less communication between child and adult. Also, schools use technology nearly constantly every day. Many classrooms are paperless, and the only way to accomplish this is to leverage the powerful technological tools currently available.
Of course, neither of these examples necessarily include social media. However, these online platforms can be highly useful in such endeavors. As state previously, social media can connect people from around the world, allowing them to learn from each other and join in common goals. As such, social media and technology clearly has a place in our world. However, the onus falls upon parents and educators to teach the youth to properly use the technology at their fingertips and foster face-to-face interactions and relationships. Simply giving a child a a phone or tablet to look at in order to pacify him or her is not a good idea. Social media and technology should be used intentionally as the tools they are, not as a replacement for existing as a human in the world.
This all also begs the question of what issues the next generation will be facing. If iGen’ers are digital natives not knowing a time without Internet connections being readily available, what will the currently nameless generation presently leaving diapers and entering childhood be faced with?
The only way to ensure a healthy generation is to be mindful about the technology society is exposing them to. There is no magic answer, but individuals need to be aware of the implications social media can have on the development of the youth. Despite all of the positive aspects, the dangers of technology are real and awareness must be balanced with use.