What Is Happening To Our Teens May Surprise You

Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials – every generation seems to have their own designation and unique characteristics formed by the time period and cultural influences of the day.

But the current generation of young people is far different than any in recent memory.  This generation of teens – known as iGens – is the first to be impacted by the onslaught of non-stop information.  The Internet and social media have changed us all, for better or worse, but none more than the youth who have grown up online.

And while this has made a positive impact on today’s youth in many ways, studies show that this generation is far less prepared for adulthood than those prior.

Greater Good reported on the observations of author Jean Twenge, who has researched today’s youth:

Her findings are by turn alarming, informative, surprising, and insightful…

iGens have poorer emotional health thanks to new media. Twenge finds that new media is making teens more lonely, anxious, and depressed, and is undermining their social skills and even their sleep.

iGens “grew up with cell phones, had an Instagram page before they started high school, and do not remember a time before the Internet,” writes Twenge. They spend five to six hours a day texting, chatting, gaming, web surfing, streaming and sharing videos, and hanging out online. Twenge is clear: More than two hours a day raises the risk for serious mental health problems.

This constant dependence on developing relationships online, rather than in person, is especially dangerous for younger teens. Because puberty already makes teens more susceptible to peer pressure, and more sensitive to their social world, the impact of online influences is even greater.

Being online constantly means being with family and friends less, and the messages and expectations promoted online can cause teens to feel left out and develop lower self-esteem.  This is especially true for girls, who tend to use social media sites more than boys.

Greater Good continued:

“Youths of every racial group, region, and class are growing up more slowly,” says Twenge. Employers and college administrators have complained about today’s teens’ lack of preparation for adulthood. [And author] Julie Lythcott-Haims writes that students entering college have been over-parented and as a result are timid about exploration, afraid to make mistakes, and unable to advocate for themselves.

Compared to previous generations, iGens believe they have less control over how their lives turn out. Instead, they think that the system is already rigged against them.

Perhaps the area in which all this social media bombardment is most evident is in teens’ ability to form their own opinions.  While studies have found they are more compassionate towards others and embrace diversity more than older generations, this positive characteristic has flipped to the liberal view so prevalent in the media – to be frightened of and offended by everything.

Greater Good reported:

iGens, more than other generations, are respectful and inclusive of diversity of many kinds. Yet as a result, they reject offensive speech more than any earlier generation, and they are derided for their “fragility” and need for “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces.”

Today’s colleges are tied in knots trying to reconcile their students’ increasing care for others with the importance of having open dialogue about difficult subjects. Dis-invitations to campus speakers are at an all-time high, more students believe the First Amendment is “outdated,” and some faculty have been fired for discussing race in their classrooms. Comedians are steering clear of college campuses, Twenge reports, afraid to offend.

Because of the constant stream of biased news, media propaganda, and loss of family time, the values this generation holds are becoming skewed.  It is up to us as their parents to provide more guidance and structure.

Parents of today’s teens must take the time to teach life skills and foster independence.  We must limit their dependence on technology and social media, and engage them in more face-to-face dialogue.  Family time must once again become a priority, and we must reconnect with our children.  If we are not present, they will turn to guidance online.

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And, like with any other parenting issue, modeling to our kids is key.  We can put the phones away, turn off the television, and spend some real quality time together.  Raising our children to be self-sufficient and of an independent mind are the goals of every parent.

Greater Good concluded:

The implicit lesson for parents is that we need more nuanced parenting. We can be close to our children and still foster self-reliance. We can teach empathy and respect but also how to engage in hard discussions with people who disagree with us. We should not shirk from teaching skills for adulthood, or we risk raising unprepared children.

Every generation is influenced by the cultural and social norms of the day, but it appears the iGens are being affected by the opinions of others far more than when we were their age.  Making a point of slowing the pace and refocusing on interpersonal relationships can make a big difference.

Jean Twenge suggested,

“if we as a society truly care about human outcomes, we must carefully nurture the conditions in which the next generation can flourish.”

What are your thoughts on our teens today?  Do you think the Internet and media are to blame for this cultural shift?  Let us know in the comments.

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