How Has Social Media and Smartphones Affected the Next Generation?

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While there have been an abundance of think pieces about millennials, there has been far less written about the next generation, commonly referred to as iGen. iGen is the generation of children and young adults born in the mid-1990s and later. They are the first generation to spend the entirety of their adolescence with access to smartphones. A fact that is greatly shaping their lives, from how they socialize to their mental well-being and more.

The Impact of Tech

Several studies have examined the impact of smartphones and social media on the next generation and the findings are sobering to say the least. The iGen socializes and experiences friendship in entirely different ways from previous generations; with social media and smartphones often dominating their lives and social spheres, more of their friendships (and lives overall) are lived out online and in digital spaces than in person.

In many ways, this is a great thing. The iGen is the most physically safe generation perhaps ever. More comfortable on their phones in their bedrooms than at the mall or at parties, teens are far less likely to be involved in a car accident or out drinking than any previous generation. In fact, when it comes to drinking, the iGen is far less susceptible to the temptation of underage alcohol consumption than previous generations. Their interest in partying and other such behaviors secondary to their preference for interacting on Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram and more.

Because of this desire to stay inside and on their phones, teens are also maturing at a much slower rate. Many studies find that the emotional maturity of an 18-year-old member of iGen is equivalent to that of a 15-year-old in previous generations.

On the one hand, this is delaying certain rebellious behaviors such as sex, driving, and drinking—more than ever, young adults are waiting until the end of or beyond their teen years to have sex for the first time, get their driver’s license, and try alcohol.

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However, this also means that they are perhaps less equipped to deal with serious situations and will remain more dependent on their parents for longer periods of time.

This can be problematic in an era ruled by social media interaction because young adults may not understand the implications of their actions online and be unprepared for real world consequences that result from digital interactions.

This is a primary reason parents should be highly alert to their children’s online activities, as your kids may not fully understand the weight of their actions themselves.

The Emotional Differences in iGen

Another dismaying statistic of iGen is the fact that the reduction of time spent with friends in person has seen a corresponding rise in unprecedented levels of adolescent anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges frequently worsened by loneliness and isolation.

Constant smartphone usage, which has been a facet of their lives since birth, means iGen remains disconnected from in-person interactions with everyone in their lives from their parents to their friends.

Going out to the park or to the movies has been replaced with texting and snapchatting, which should theoretically make kids safer but doesn’t. Studies have shown that teens who spend more time than average interacting with screens are vastly more unhappy than those whose screen interaction time is well below average.

Indeed, teens who spend 3 hours a day or more on screens are 35% more likely to be at risk for suicide.

This fact is tied to several factors. One, increased screen time at the cost of  in person interaction is an isolating behavior that can contribute to feelings of loneliness and depression. Human beings crave face-to-face interpersonal interaction and without it, we suffer for it.

Second, the psychology of social media often feeds anxiety, depression, and more. In an environment where teens are constantly sharing photos and status updates trying to craft a perfect image of themselves, the pressure and anxiety of not living up to that can be overwhelming—this is enhanced by the fact that studies have proven links to happiness and dopamine levels being tied to the number of “likes” posts on social media receive. For iGen, a lack of likes can be a devastating blow in an otherwise average day.

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Lastly, social media is a breeding ground for bullying, which can be part of the reason suicide rates among teens have steadily risen since the arrival of smartphones. Merciless teasing, cyber-bullying, and more can push already vulnerable teens over the edge.

The Benefits of Smartphones and Social Media for iGen

There is some good news however. Widespread access to information and social media has made  iGen the most tolerant generation yet, focused on safety and equality above all else. They are more open-minded about issues across the board from politics to religion to sexuality.

Because of this iGen is hyper-aware of their emotional safety and how online behaviors are perceived ; they fear being judged for their posts or attacked for intolerant views.

This can actually be a major factor in helping parents police smartphone usage to improve your child’s life. Concentrate on their emotional safety and implementing policies that foster mental well-being—from screen-time limits to encouraging and planning opportunities for your teens to interact with their friends and family in face-to-face scenarios.

We must be prepared to tackle the mental health challenges of iGen while also understanding that their interaction with other human beings and the world around them has shifted in an unprecedented way—tools like TeenSafe Monitor and TeenSafe Control can help us continue to keep teens safe from the new vulnerabilities and dangers they face in a 24/7 digital world.

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