Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

KPBS Midday Edition

SDSU Professor On How Smartphones Have Changed Teens

San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge in an undated photo next to an image of her book, "iGen."
Courtesy Photo
San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge in an undated photo next to an image of her book, "iGen."
SDSU Professor On How Smartphones Have Changed Teens
SDSU Professor On How Smartphones Have Changed Teens GUEST: Jean Twenge, professor of psychology, San Diego State University

This is KPBS midday edition, I am Maureen Cavanaugh, generations often have defining moments like Pearl Harbor , the assassination of President Kennedy or 9/11. According to a new book about the latest generation, the defining moment is not an event but a thing. To kids who never knew a world without Amazon, Internet, or Facebook, the introduction of the smart phone may has created a seismic event separating this from those just a few years earlier. That is the conclusion of San Diego State University professor, Jean Twenge, best known for her book generation me about millennial's. Her new book is called iGen, why super connected kids are growing up less rebellious, more tolerant , less happy and completely unprepared for adulthood.Welcome back to the program.They are described as those born between 1995 and 2012. Since you discovered dishes you discuss generational changes, you that this would follow the trends of the millennial's, did you find that to be the case?I did not, I have been looking at generational differences for 25 years, keep an eye on these big, national surveys that that are done of teenagers that do every year. Around 2012 I started to see some changes. These are mostly high school students, I started to see, for example, they were spending less times the difference in person, they were more likely to say that they felt depressed, and hopeless, and those trends kept going and they kept building. It created a pronounced break between those born before and after 1995. Where did you trace that back to? What was the thing that you trace that back toI wasn't sure why there was a change, after kept going for a few years, I realized, 2011 or 2012, wasn't that the time if you went to a public place everyone had a smart phone in their hands? When I later found data to back that up. Late 2012 was when the percentage of Americans owning a smart fund crossed 50% and was probably a year or two earlier preteens. Right as the smart phone became common, these big generational shift started to show up in attitudes and mental health.How does the use or overuse of smart phones affect the hallmarks of teenagers and yet lung as young adult life? Dating, driving, becoming sexually active.There are a number of changes, one is teenagers are not spending as much time with her friends in prison, most likely because they are communicating with their friends through their phones. That also made me behind some other trends, teens growing up more slowly. Doesn't been going on for a while, they got going with the millennial's, teens are now less likely to buy their senior year to have a drivers license, to work it up a job, to have sex, to go out with other parents. This is compared to previous generations at the same age, that started with us having some smaller families, nurturing kids for longer, expecting that they will go to college, living longer, the path of development really slow down.Is there any causal link between these events and the ubiquity of the smart phone?That is the next question, thinking about, do these transition around the same time as the smart phone, those increases in depression and loneliness. Just because it happened at the same time doesn't mean that one causes the other. The first step was to look at the same surveys of thousands of these two seem -- survey of thousands of teens to see if there was a correlation. The team to spend more time on screens had mental health issues, that is a correlation, you have to say, well, what if it was the depressed and unhappy teams -- teens who spent more time in social media. There were three studies that followed people over time and said that social media led to unhappiness but unhappiness did not lead to social media use. Another one assigned people to give up Facebook and those who gave up Facebook ended the week happier, less lonely, and less depressed. Those three studies point more in the direction that social media, smartphone use, screens, actually causing these mental health issues to shop.E spoke with a 13-year-old girl who described how she told you she spent her summer vacation.She said that by the end of the day her bed was going to have a permanent indentation, she spent most of her summer, as a lot of teens do, and her room, on her phone or her tablet, watching movies, watching videos, doing social media with her friends. Sure enough, in these big surveys, that's what shows up, teens and spend more of this leisure time alone.Did you find in your research any reason that being in front of your screen or using your smart phone or being connected to your friends through the Internet would cause depression or loneliness or even in some cases suicidal thoughts?There are a number of mechanisms that go on, one, the most obvious one is cyber bowling. It does go beyond. It is also simply that they're spending 6 to 8 hours a day of their leisure time on screens, which is what research suggests, that does not leave as much time for in person social interaction, face-to-face interaction, which we know is linked to mental health. It does not leave as much time to exercising her sports, a lot of the effect might be simply because that screen time crowds out the time for other activities,Are these scenes seen across irrational lines.Yes, they are teens of all background, I took a look to see if they were similar across different groups, they sharpen all areas of the country, socioeconomic classes, different races, the one thing that does differentiate is the mental health trends becoming more negative, the suicide rates, depression, those are more pronounced for teen girls than teen boys.I know you are the mom of three iGen kids, what practical advice do you have for parents ?put off putting your kid a smart phone as long as possible. The average age is now 10 years old. That is very, very early. They often do not have the emotional maturity to handle the social media and texting back and forth that can happen at that age. Sure enough, some of the mental health effects are stronger for the younger teens. There is more to worry about there with the younger teens, the second thing is using this technology in moderation is fine. We do not see the mental health effects until you get to two hours a day or more of use. For both teens and for adults, that is the best idea, limit that used to two hours a day. For teens, as a parent, if you want to put an app on their phone, there will fish there are several apps available to limit their use. That way they do not have it on at night when it is disturbing their sleep or keeping them up too late.Professor Jean Twenge will be speaking about her new book , iGen in La Jolla. Jean, thank you so much.Thank you. [ music ]

Generations often have a defining moment, like Pearl Harbor, the assassination of President Kennedy or 9/11. But according to a new book about the latest generation to come of age, the defining moment is not an event but a thing: the smartphone.

Members of the “iGen” generation are the first to spend their entire adolescence in the age of the smartphone.

“iGen” is what San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge calls those born after 1995. In her latest book, she explores the post-millennial generation and the effects of technology on their lives and their mental well-being.


“I’ve been looking at generational differences for 25 years. And I keep an eye on big national surveys that are done of teens every year. Around 2012, I started to see some changes in these samples of mostly high school students. I started to see they were spending less time with friends in person, that they were more likely to say they felt depressed and hopeless. And those trends kept going and have built over time,” Twenge said.

Twenge said those changes may be largely due to the ubiquity of the smartphone, too much screen time and the rise of social media.

RELATED: Let’s Talk About Sex: San Diego Study Shows Shifting Attitudes On Premarital Sex

Twenge discusses her book, “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,” Tuesday on Midday Edition.

Book Signing

When: Wednesday 7:30 p.m.

Where: Warwick's Bookstore La Jolla

Open to the public