Lancer Letter – iGen, Part 1

Submitted by Richard Scaletta, GM School District

Kids today are really different. I know every generation says this of the next. But, fellow boomers, Gen Xers and millennials, you’ve gotta believe me when I say these kids are REALLY different.

Well, actually, you don’t have to believe me. Much of the statistics I cite in this letter, unless otherwise cited, comes from the work of Jean M. Twenge, a professor of psychology at SanDiego State University. She has been following youth trends for 25 years. Believe her.

Here is what Twenge has found out about the generation currently in school, what she calls iGen:

• Teen pregnancy has reached an all-time low
• Fewer teens are drinking alcohol, having sex or working part-time jobs.
• Teens now are less likely to drive, date or go out without their parents than their counterparts 10 or 20 years ago.

So, you’re probably thinking, sounds like things are better! Well, that would be true until you look at why this is occurring and what is happening in place of the items above.

A survey from a group known as Barna, tells us what students do with their time between the end of school and dinner. You’ll be pleased to know, as was I, that 65% do homework in that time. Unfortunately, right behind homework at 64%, they are watching television or movies (probably while they are doing their homework). Forty-two percent spend that time playing video games and 27% report using social media during that time.

This research that Barna did was for Andy Crouch related to a new book titled, The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place. In it he says, “The best and richest experiences of learning, it turns out, are embodied ones. They require and build on physical experience and activity. This begins with the most basic things typical children learn in their first years of life. They learn, beautifully, awkwardly, and sometimes hilariously, all the aspect of living in a body.” Screen time watching movies or on social media, does not involve the body. The survey showed only 23% do organized sports after school.

What is most concerning, though, is what Twenge notes is happening to this generation. She observes that the activities noted above, “working, driving, drinking alcohol, having sex and eating have one thing in common: They are all activities adults do.” What is basically happening is that more and more, we are delaying adulthood. “Adolescence – once the beginning of adulthood – now seems to be an extension of childhood,” says Twenge.

Indeed, in his book, The Vanishing American Adult, Senator Ben Sasse makes a compelling case that we have kept our children from maturity with “soft parenting,” more screen time and a multiplicity of other factors. He states, “Adolescence has always been a means to an end –its point was to aid the transition to adulthood. It was not an end in itself.” He also states, “Endless adolescence, however, is bizarrely oxymoronic.”

This delay of adulthood might be OK except that, well, they are never ready to be adults. They don’t grow up. Twenge notes, “College administrators describe students who can’t do anything without calling their parents. Employers worry that more young employees lack the ability to work independently.”And this failure to grow in a naturally developmentally appropriate way has led to serious social and emotional issues.

Twenge points out that the rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. She says, “Its not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades.” The allure of independence which called previous generations, holds less sway with 12th graders in 2015, going out less often than eighth-graders did in 2009.” Students do not regularly get their licenses at sixteen, sometimes waiting until age 18 or 21. They are content to have their parents cart them around. Teens spend more time on smart phones and less time on in-person interactions. And, teens today regularly get less sleep.

Next week, we are going to take a closer look at the mental health issues this generation is facing and reveal Twenge’s reason for what is happening. Do you think you know? Stay tuned.

The Lancer Letter is a weekly editorial by Richard Scaletta, Superintendent of Schools, General McLane School District. Opinions expressed are Mr. Scaletta’s views on the issues and subjects of discussion, and not necessarily those of or our sponsors.

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