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The Millennial generation may have been the first generation to grow up completely at ease with technology. But the newest generation (those born after 1995) – call them Generation Z – may be taking this love affair with technology to dangerous new levels. The reason, quite simply, is the ubiquitous presence of the modern smartphone.
What’s different about this new generation
According to just about every study or survey ever done, this new Generation Z is less social, less happy and less inspired about the future than any generation that has preceded it. Unlike previous generations, which hung out at the local mall, went on dates, and drove their parents’ cars, this generation is just as happy staying at home and checking out their smartphones.
Instead of going on real-life dates, they are simply texting or sending Snapchat videos to each other. Instead of going to the mall, they are more than content just consuming the information, photos and videos in their social media newsfeeds. And instead of yearning for their independence, they seem to be mired in a form of extended adolescence.
Here’s just one statistic that will blow your mind: just a decade ago, 85 percent of teenagers had gone out on their first date by the time they reached 12th grade (i.e. senior year in high school). However, the current data suggests that only 56 percent of teenagers have gone out on a first date by 12th grade. In fact, social science researchers now warn that “18 is the new 15” and “15 is the new 13.”
The role of the smartphone in changing behaviors
Think about that for a second: the average 18-year-old now has the social skills of a 15-year-old. And the culprit appears to be the smartphone, which first burst onto the scene in 2007 – at the exact moment that members of Generation Z were becoming teenagers. If you look at the data pre-2007 and then look at the data post-2007, it’s astounding.
It’s just so much more fun to send silly emojis to each other than to actually talk in person. And it’s just so addictive to scroll through endless newsfeeds of people doing fun stuff. Imagine how it must feel like to be a young adolescent and to see young social media influencers just a few years older than yourself going on exotic trips or hanging out with entertainment celebrities in cities around the world. That sure beats going to the local mall and getting a cheesesteak.
Of course, didn’t we hear the same kind of thing about the Internet? Remember when people were writing stuff like “Google is making you stupid”? Older generations have always been skeptical and cynical about younger generations. But it does appear that the newest generation does have a smartphone problem. It would be one thing if young kids were happy and positive and optimistic – but they aren’t.
A mental health crisis for Generation Z
In fact, some researchers have warned that we might be in the middle of a mental health crisis. All that staring at screens all day can’t be good for you, can it? In study after study, there is evidence that teens who get less screen time are actually happier than those who get more screen time. And there now seems to an epidemic of suicide and depression with young teens.
So where do we go from here? At some point, the solution to the problem starts at home. Parents have to bear some part of the responsibility if their kids spend all day locked up in their bedrooms, only to leave their rooms if the Wi-Fi connection accidently gets turned off. And don’t teachers play a certain role in making sure that kids are engaging in the classroom instead of staring at their screens? Maybe it’s time somebody tried to talk to these kids, instead of just assuming that they’d rather swipe left on their phones.