How Cell Phones Destroyed the Mental Health of an Entire Generation
When we hear someone older start to talk about how great their childhood was, it’s easy to roll our eyes in exasperation. “Back in my day…” is practically a trope; you probably pictured some old geezer wheezing out the words as a captive youngster looked around in panicked boredom. While memories of days gone by can often be fun, it’s not usually fair to compare the experiences of one generation to a next. Sure, things change, lots of things change, but that’s just how life is. One generation might be focused on family and community and the next generation might champion independence. The reasons values change are often complicated and so it’s not fair to treat them equally. Generations are in a lot of ways like apples and oranges. With that in mind, there’s still something interesting happening in today’s youth that’s worth taking note of.
Jean Twenge has made a career out of studying the characteristics that make generations unique and what make them different. Over the past 25 years of her career, Twenge has collected tons of data about recent generations of Americans and analyzed why and how they are different from each other. One thing that Twenge has noted is that many differences between generations tend to be gradual trends. What she means is that if you map out these differences on a graph, they’ll be represented by a line that slants up or down at only a slight angle, not at a cliff’s edge drop. For instance, comparing the age when teenagers got their first job or got their license between the Baby Boomers and Generation X would present some difference, but only by a small average, say a year. While Twenge has noted that this has historically been true of most generational differences, her research has revealed that something different is happening today.
The current generation that’s moving through adolescence and coming into adulthood is commonly referred to by Twenge and others as the iGeneration. This generation of young Americans gets their name from the iPhone, a device that is both beloved and drastically important. Directly preceding the iGeneration were the Millennials. There have been plenty of articles and pieces published about Millennials in recent years, especially as they’ve come of age and emerged as a dominant force in the American workforce. What Twenge’s research would lead us to believe is that the differences between the iGeneration and the Millennials would be relatively gradual. Millennials are largely self-focused, and that’s not untrue of the iGeneration, but it’s not the whole story.
Contrary to what research suggests should happen, graphs representing teenagers’ views about themselves and the world took a stark change in the year 2012. You might be wondering what happened; nothing too drastic comes to mind. Other major events that have shaped generations have included Woodstock, 9/11, and even the Great Recession of 2007 – 2009, but these were over by 2012.
So, what happened in this year that caused such a drastic change?