Jean Twenge is a psychologist, a professor at San Diego State University and the author of six books, including iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood (2017). In the book, she claims that smartphones have drastically affected young adults, mostly in a negative manner. She is on campus this week to give two talks — one on April 24 at 8 p.m. in Bolton Theater and another on April 25 during Common Hour in Brandi Recital Hall.
Your research in iGen focuses on people born between 1995 and 2012, a window that includes current Kenyon students. In your talk, you’ll essentially be telling us about ourselves. What do you think we can learn from your work?
I’m hoping Kenyon students will come away with an understanding of how their generation’s experience is different from previous generations. We’ll also discuss finding a balance with technology.
How did you define generations? What did you use to determine the cutoff years?
I work with large, nationally representative surveys of young people that have been given every year since the 1960s and 1970s. I’d gotten used to seeing changes that were big, but took a decade or two to grow. Then around 2012, I started to see changes that were larger and more sudden than I’d seen before. This suggested a new, post-millennial generation born in the mid-1990s and later, known as iGen.
You are not an iGen’er. How did this outside perspective affect your work?
Because the book is based on what young people say about themselves, I don’t think my perspective — outsider or not — is particularly important. My goal in iGen was to give a voice to iGen young people by presenting what they have said in surveys as well as their individual stories via interviews.
Why do you believe smartphones have caused the trends you cite in iGen, such as decreased risks of car accidents and higher rates of depression?
As it turns out, 2012 was the first year the majority of Americans owned a smartphone, so teens’ lives were changing just as smartphones became common. These changes included teens spending less time with their friends face to face as well as sudden increases in depression and anxiety. Face-to-face social interaction is linked to better mental health, while technology use is not, so it makes sense that depression would increase after social interaction shifted.
How can we help reverse the more worrisome trends you describe?
I think everyone — iGen or not — should think more mindfully about how they use technology during their free time. Don’t use it to replace face-to-face interaction and don’t let it interfere with your sleep. Use your phone for all the cool things it can do, but then put it down and live your life.
This interview has been edited for clarity.