Lancer Letter – iGen, Part 3

Submitted by Richard Scaletta, GM School District

The last two weeks, we have been taking a look at research on characteristics of this current generation, mostly from the work of Jean Twenge. We have learned that this generation which currently occupies our schools has seen a steep increase in suicide, depression and anxiety. “It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades.”

Last week, I revealed that Twenge’s research connected the rise in mental health issues to 2012 when more than 50% of Americans had smartphones. She states that “Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy. . . There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all non-screen activities are linked to more happiness.” These facts are framed in a statistic that shows the number of teens who get together with their friends nearly every day dropped by more than 40% from 2000 to 2015.

Some things cited by Twenge:

• When teens spend more time on smartphones and less time on in-person social interactions, loneliness is more common.
• When teens spend more time on smartphones and less time on in-person social interactions, depression is more common.
•Eighth -graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27%, while those who play sports, go to religious services, or even do homework more than the average teen cut their risk significantly.
• Teens who spend three hours a day or more on electronic devices are 35 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide.

This smartphone “disease” is affecting girls more than boys, according to Twenge:

• Forty-eight percent more girls said they often felt left out in 2015 than in 2010, compared with 27 percent more boys.
• Boys’ depressive symptoms increased by 21 percent from 2012 to 2015, while girls increased by 50 percent.
• Boys tend to bully one another physically, while girls are more likely to do so by undermining a victim’s social status or relationships. Social media gives middle- and high-school girls a platform on which to carry out the style of aggression they favor, ostracizing and excluding other girls around the clock.

On the what to do side of this issue, Twenge notes, “The correlations between depression and smartphone use are strong enough to suggest that more parents should be telling their kids to put down their phone. . . Even Steve Jobs limited his kids’ use of the devices he brought into the world.”

Twenge notes that most teens sleep with their phones near or even under the pillow. It is the last thing they look at in the night and the first thing in the morning. This has led to a sleep-deprived generation. On the positive side, she found that “Teens who read books and magazines more often than the average are actually slightly less likely to be sleep deprived.”

Twenge is herself a mother of a 6 and 9 year old. She says, “Prying the phone out of our kids’ hands will be difficult, even more so than the quixotic efforts of my parents’ generation to get their kids to turn off MTV and get some fresh air. But more seems to be at stake in urging teens to use their phone responsibly.”

There is no question that the task before parents to help their children regulate smart phone use is monumental. Parents may find some help in Andy Crouch’s book, The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in its Proper Place.” Ironically, if you google, “Tips for parents to monitor phone use,” you will get quite a list.

I know high school students who mange their time with their phone and social media beautifully. I also know students who are well aware of the dangers of social media and have limited it or taken it out of their lives. Making students aware of the information I’ve presented the last three weeks may help them understand the dangers with which they are dealing. Education is always the first step in changing behavior.

These are difficult times to be a parent. I’m going to end this series with that statement. This series about depression has been depressing to write!

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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