SDSU psychology professor Jean Twenge

“In her new book, SDSU professor Jean Twenge writes about the smartphone-obsessed generation.”
By Michael Price


Book title: “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood—and What That Means for the Rest of Us”

1. Can you give me a brief overview of what the book is about and what inspired you to write it?

I’ve been researching generational differences for 25 years, mostly using large national surveys of teens that are published every year. Around 2012, I started to see some sudden changes in teens’ behavior and mental health, suggesting that a new generation—born 1995 and later—had arrived. I call them iGen, since they are the first generation to spend their entire adolescence with smartphones.

2. What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about the iGen generation?

The biggest surprise is how much less time they spend with their friends in person. Whether it’s hanging out with friends, going to parties, driving around, or going to the mall, iGen teens do it less than previous generations when they were young. Of course, given the amount of time teens spend on their phones—in some surveys, an average of eight hours a day—it’s actually not that surprising.

3. How well prepared is the iGen generation for the challenges they’ll face, including issues like climate change?

The iGen generation is more skeptical of government solutions for environmental problems, and more skeptical overall about government regulation. They would rather see individuals solve problems. If they can band together to find solutions, that could very well work for them. If not, not much will get done (similar to what’s happened with the Boomers and GenX’ers in charge).

4. Can you contrast iGen with, say, Generation X and older millennials?

iGen has continued some of the trends toward individualism set into motionby baby boomers and continued by GenX’ers and millennials. For example, they think people should “be who they are” and support LGBTQ rights.

However, iGen lacks millennials’ outsize confidence and optimism. More are depressed, more are lonely, and more say they are not satisfied with themselves or their lives. The suicide rate has doubled among young teens and increased by 50 percent among older teens in just the last five years.

On the more positive side, iGen has a stronger work ethic than millennials did at the same age. For example, they are more willing to work overtime to do a good job.

5. What advice do you have for parents and future employers for how to interact with the iGen?

It’s probably not a coincidence that mental health issues began to increase around 2012, the first year that the percentage of Americans with a smartphone rose above 50 percent. Spending a lot of time on smartphones is correlated with unhappiness. For example, eighth graders who spend two or more hours a day on social media are 56 percent more likely to be unhappy than those who spend less time on their phones. Other studies suggest that social media leads to unhappiness, rather than unhappiness leading to social media use. Parents should consider putting an app on their teens’ phones that limits the amount of time their children can spend on social media.

For employers, expect iGen to be willing to work hard, but to not be as independent and confident as the young millennial employees they have gotten used to. iGen will need more careful guidance and more reassurance to be successful. They also highly value safety—both physical safety and emotional safety.

6. What do you say to cultural critics who see many of the iGen’s traits as negative, such as their irreligiosity and deep connection to the internet?

All generations have their strengths and weaknesses. iGen has many positive trends, including fewer teen pregnancies, less alcohol abuse, and a stronger work ethic. Other trends, such as less independence and more reliance on phones, might be seen as more negative. However, I think it misses the big picture to automatically characterize all generational differences as “good” or “bad.”

Some traits, like fewer teens working or driving, are neither good nor bad, or are perhaps both. iGen’s record-low interest in religion is another example. Some might think that is a good trend and others might think it’s bad. It tells you a lot more about the generation to understand all of the trends—not just the unequivocally “good” or “bad” ones, but to take a comprehensive look at what makes this generation different across all domains of their lives. That’s what I tried to do in “iGen.”

The book is available for purchase on Amazon.