"Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?"

August 15, 2017

This title looks very much like clickbait – but in fact it points to a long Atlantic article by Jean M. Twenge (of "narcissism epidemic" fame). She is pitching her new book, which is bound to be again "controversial" – 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. She says all sorts of troubling statistics reflecting the mental lives of American teens took an abrupt upward turn about 5 years ago – the year when smartphone ownership reached critical mass. For example, “boys’ depressive symptoms increased by 21 percent from 2012 to 2015, while girls’ increased by 50 percent." Also – and not completely unrelated, “three times as many 12-to-14-year-old girls killed themselves in 2015 as in 2007, compared with twice as many boys” (and “in 2011, for the first time in 24 years, the teen suicide rate was higher than the teen homicide rate”). According to Twenge, the fact that teens now increasingly spend time at home with their phones has helped drive down all sorts of troubling statistics (like drinking and teen pregnancy) – but is having a devastating effect on adolescent mental health and wellbeing.

 

Oddly, the disturbing trends Twenge describes seem a lot stronger among girls. Perhaps this should not be surprising, since young women are much more attached to the whole social media universe. Also, for boys having another gadget at hand may not add as much to a life already marked by extensive gaming and access to online pornography. One may wonder if the product of Steve Jobs’s genius has had an effect on reading habits, too – and whether it might finally eliminate the “natural superiority” Ashley Montagu once attributed to women. I also can’t wait to see Virginia Heffernan’s reaction to Twenge’s argument – since she has such a hard time being disturbed by potentially troubling social trends.

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