Jean Twenge thinks the iPhone is making teenagers depressed. Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, hosted a lecture based on her new book, Generation Me, on Monday afternoon.
The novel centers on the increase in confidence yet simultaneous increase in depression that current teenagers have compared to those in past generations.
Twenge explained that her findings, derived from surveying 11 million teenagers, come from data spanning from 1966 to 2015. Twenge said that she believes modern media has had a sizable impact on the culture and emotion of “iGen,” the generation encompassing all of those born from 1995 to the present day.
Twenge began her talk by outlining the three previous generations, the Baby Boomers (1946-1964), Gen X (1964-1981), and the millennial group (1981-1994), and then explained what makes those born during the iGen so unique.
“If you were born in the iGen, you have literally never known a world without the internet,” Twenge said.
iGen has grown up alongside new media, and for many, Facebook and the first iPhone were invented just as they were old enough to type words on a keyboard, Twenge said. This underscored how ingrained concepts like a touchscreen and social media are to college students today.
Twenge then went on to talk about other cultural shifts that have taken place in the most recent age. She explained that individualism, or focusing more on one’s own self-worth than on others, has been on the rise for a number of reasons.
“If you were born in the iGen, you have literally never known a world without the internet.”
-Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University
Twenge said that self-esteem has become more important in the last 30 years. Teenagers are now encouraged to be themselves and stop striving to imitate others, such as celebrities. Studies on word frequency have also found that the usage of phrases like “love yourself” and “I am special” in books has increased steadily since the mid-1970s. Twenge had some objections about the true impact of self-content, however.
“Those getting [better] grades gain higher self-esteem, not the other way around,” she said.
Twenge believes that self-esteem is not a cause, but an effect of success. Twenge said that self-confidence is not the key to success. She also highlighted that Asian-American students statistically have the lowest self-esteem amongst their peers, yet have the highest average scores on the SAT.
Although individualistic culture has inflated youths’ confidence, Twenge also showed that adult behavior exhibited by high school seniors in the aforementioned dataset has been on the decline. By “adult behavior,” Twenge referred to dating, getting a driver’s license, getting a job, and experimenting with alcohol. The rate at which teens are showing these behaviors has declined greatly since 1966, and sharply since around 2010. Twenge acknowledged that this data sounds like positive news on the surface, but that it has greater implications.
Twenge thinks that this could be caused by the immediate access to news, which perpetuates an obsession with safety. She also thinks that devices like the iPhone have provided a distraction from real-world experience and human interaction. She claimed that this new obsession over digital news and games is creating a pattern of “slow and safe” growth in parenting as well. This drives freshmen in college, who may be unprepared for the real world, to be more overwhelmed and depressed.
“[The iPhone might] not have committed the crime, but there are fingerprints … evidence at the scene that points in that direction,” Twenge said.
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Senior Staff