Move aside Millennials. iGen is coming to stay, bringing their phone-obsessed, risk aversive, and stressed tendencies to the forefront of the future.
They are also the topic of Jean Twenge’s book entitled: iGen, Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood. Kind of a mouthful. It had to be in order to address even a few of Twenge’s main points discussed in the book.
Twenge defines iGen as the generation of people born between 1995 and 2015. Twenge goes on to describe the unique attributes, problems and culture of this new generation.
iGen is the first true smartphone generation. Twenge describes them as thus: “the first generation to enter adolescence with smartphones already in their hands.” While Millennials are surely heavy users of technology and social media, iGen is the first generation raised on screens.
Twenge believes the increase in screen use, a quintessential characteristic of the iGen, is to blame for increased rates of depression, shorter attention spans, less time spent reading, lowered social skills, insecurity and sensitivity. iGen high school seniors spent an average of 2.25 hours a day texting on their cell phones, about 2 hours a day on the internet, 1.5 hours a day on electronic gaming and about a half hour on video chat.
This time online is taking a toll.
Insecurity levels are so high, Twenge writes that “iGen is on the verge of the most severe mental health crisis for young people in decades.”
The risks of social media on mental health lie in comparison, most of which are particularly harmful to girls. “Girls may also be uniquely vulnerable to the effects of SM on mental health. The emphasis on perfect selfies has amplified body image issues for girls, who often chase likes by taking hundreds of pictures to get just the right one but still end up feeling as though they’ve fallen short,” writes Twenge.
She labels three screen-related issues as the primary offenders for lowered mental health: increased screen time, less face to face interaction and less print media use. All of which, she claims, are likely contributing to depression. She later also labels sleep as a possible cause of depression, correlating screen usage with less sleep, on average.
Another key attribute of the iGen is what Twenge calls “prolonged childhood”. Teens are taking longer to grow up. This trend is evident in iGen’s reliance on parents; disinterest in dating; lower rates of drinking and sexual activity; waiting to get a job; and living with parents for longer. Compared with previous generations, iGen behaves more conservatively, but is politically and religiously less likely to take action than either Millennial or Gen X counterparts.
A notable effect of this “prolonged childhood” is a need for safety. She says that although it is good that teens are safer than ever, this risk aversion also has its downsides. “Wanting to feel safe all of the time can also lead to wanting to protect against emotional upset–the concern with ‘emotional safety’ somewhat unique to iGen. That can include preventing bad experiences, sidestepping situations that might be uncomfortable, and avoiding people with ideas different from your own,” she writes. In short, teens are so focused on staying safe that they are losing experiences that make them capable of handling adult life independently.
In order to combat this trend, teens need to put down their phones and truly listen to others. iGen’ers need to hear the stories of people dissimilar to them and to break out of their self-made “echo chambers.” The world is not a “safe space.” The more teens gain comfort in who they are, the more they have the ability to both listen to others and to extend a helping hand.
Despite the prolonged childhood and increase in safety, iGen is stressed. iGen seems to understand that life may not come as easy. Research shows that iGen identifies itself as stressed and overworked. This may be true, but Twenge points out that iGen high schoolers are actually putting in fewer overall hours into coursework versus Gen X high schoolers of the ‘90s.
Some of the stress may be caused by a lack of confidence in future stability. In my own experience, I have sensed that iGen’ers fear the competitive college admission process and feel pressure to build expansive resumes. We’ve inherited a world where income and education inequality seem to be worsening, not getting better.
Teens’ concern for receiving a good education and a well-paying job allign with Twenge’s views on iGen’s values. She states that teens are less interested in intrinsic things. She notes that they seem to value wealth, stability, and job safety as more important than raising a family, learning, or developing a sense of meaning. On a more positive note, teens’ desire for wealth and stability made them, according to Twenge’s data, more likely to work overtime and with a stronger work ethic than their Millennial predecessors.
Finally, Twenge discussed iGen’s individualism. Partially due to their decrease in face-to-face interactions, teens are more focused than ever on developing an identity and persona, both to showcase on social media and in general.
This individualism is evident in their consumption of goods and clothing. “Nothing too out there, too strange, or too risky for the new iGen era,” she states tying teens clothing choices to their fear of risk-taking. “iGen’ers want products that will be useful to them, make them feel unique, and provide them with the convenience or comfort they want,” she said, alluding to teens’ tendencies to create their own, individual styles.
This individuality applies to religion and politics as well. iGen are so diverse that they feel they can no longer fit into a one-size-fits-all religion or political party. Where Gen X and Millennials resisted religion or went to work for a political candidate they could believe it, iGen doesn’t feel as connected to these institutions — particularly organized religion.
“Religion will survive, but it will be a flexible, open, equal religion that gives people a sense of belonging and meaning and that reaches less than half of Americans,” writes Twenge. The current religious state was caused largely due to many of the rules and guidelines many religious people adhere to, such as no sex before marriage, views on LGBTQ, and attending religious services. iGen does not have as much interest in debating these issues, but rather in settling their own individual opinions on these matters and acting accordingly — which looks like less participation in traditional religious and political events. iGen is “hypersenstive” and does not wish for their beliefs to be challenged. Challenge is risky and, for the risk aversive iGen, especially because many iGen don’t care as much about the news or politics.
It’s this last point in particular where iGen can truly take a stand. We can resist the status quo and be open to challenge our own assumptions. Twenge writes that iGen are among the strongest believers in the necessity of restricting free speech in order not to offend others.
iGen is the arguably most tolerant generation in history, but in an effort to be tolerant, do we risk becoming the very thing we hate? Do we need the “safe spaces” that Millennials before us have demanded? Are there better ways of changing culture than shutting down free speech or succumbing to a new subtle form of tyranny which shuts down anyone who disagrees with us?
Overall, this book was a fascinating read. Twenge’s points were both insightful and thought-provoking. Despite this, the book was at times slow and slightly redundant, making it an overall slow read (one not suited for the iGen’s shortened attention spans). However, the issues it discussed make it one I would recommend to anyone in an iGen’s life: parents, teachers, family members, friends, and of course the iGen’ers themselves. Anyone with an eye for the future or philosophy would likely enjoy this book.
One way or another, iGen will lead. But what will we lead? Will we fall into Twenge’s prediction that iGen will succumb a self-defeating trap of smart phone addiction, over-reliance on parents, and fear of challenge? Twenge does not have the last word on iGen. That’s a story only we can write.