Tag Archives: teenager

Smartphones, Depression, & Adolescents

Circling around the interwebs recently has been an article on the Atlantic by Jean Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” If you have not yet read the piece, then I encourage you to do so. It is a powerful and interesting look at the impact of social media on the post-millennial generation (that the author terms iGen). If you know me, or have been a reader of my blog, then you know that I do not advocate scare tactics and believe that these tools are both transformative in school and outside of them. I like this piece because it is a well thought out look at the shifting landscape of modern adolescents.

Twenge is not a luddite or an author nostaligic for the days of her youth. The piece is careful to highlight (repeatedly) that correlation is not necessarily causation and that generational differences are just that – differences. She is also careful not demonize smart phones or social media, rather the author focuses on the correlation between the prevalence of Smartphones and the rise of depression amongst teens.  Twenge highlights several disturbing and significant trends that we see in our communities that correlate with the smartphone and social media, especially among teens that spend less time socializing peer to peer and more time socializing online.

The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression. Eighth-graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent, while those who play sports, go to religious services, or even do homework more than the average teen cut their risk significantly.

What struck me throughout this article is that iGen is a group of adolescents that are less inclined to engage, unsupervised, with their peers than previous generations. They are less likely to be independent through part-time jobs, unsupervised activities, and drivers licenses. This is not a trait that we can blame on “this generation,” but is more often seen as a result of parenting trends. danah boyd (sic) highlights throughout her book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, that adolescents today are more governed and controlled by their parents and society than any generation prior. This is likely connected to the fact that while it has never been safer to be a child in the world, our perceptions of danger have never been higher. As such, children are sheltered to an unprecedented degree. While many of us Gen X’ers can remember being dropped off at the mall to “hang out” with friends for a few hours or “going out” with friends on a Saturday night, today’s tweens and teens are not afforded such freedoms. It is so uncommon, in fact, that a “new age” parenting technique deemed “Free Range Parenting” has arisen. The quotes are not accidental, the child rearing of our youths is now deemed “radical.”

Twenge does an excellent job highlighting that the struggles of today’s adolescents are more complex than simple “screen time.” The issue that most struck me was the role that social media plays in amplifying traditional adolescent anxieties, especially of “being left out.” All of us remember being the one “not invited” to a party or event. It was hurtful on Monday morning to find out that your friends were all having fun and you were at home. With today’s social media, however, “left out” teens are bombarded with images and videos of the events as they are happening. This is in keeping with technology as an “amplifier.”

There were a few elements in Twenge’s article that I felt merited further exploration or may be less conclusive than the author presents. Many of the trends she highlighted were already on the rise (or decline) by the time that smartphones came on the scene; for example teenagers dating or getting drivers licenses were decreasing for years. Additionally, measuring things such as mental illness, depression, and suicidal ideation have become more prevalent in the modern era with the professionalization of mental health services and the continual de-stigmatization of certain mental illnesses (such as depression). As such, these may have simply been grossly under-reported in the past. Additionally, while suicide remains stigmatic mode of death, more people are talking about and acknowledging when individuals (especially teenagers) take their own lives. Less often are suicides labeled “accidents.”

An article posted on JSTOR, “Yes, Smartphones Are Destroying a Generation But Not of Kids,” takes greater issue with Twenge’s research and data. It also highlights the fact that it is parents’ social media use, rather than kids’s, that is more alarming.

…when parents are distracted—as today’s parents are, perpetually, by our online lives—it’s the encouragement that suffers, more than the control. The result? Kids who stay inside their semi-gilded cages, because they don’t get the support they need to spread their wings.

This is not to say that I am dismissing Twenge’s conclusions. The piece is quite thoughtful and presents some compelling evidence that adults (parents and educators) should be more thoughtful about the time their children spend online and more open to more “analog” and “independent” activities for children.

Read the article and let me know your thoughts in the comments.

 

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The Problem With Kids These Days… It’s Their Music

The other day, I had a few students hanging out in my office (I am a floating teacher, I have no room to call home, so I have a small office in the library). They were sharing with me their music and I was horrified. “Why?” You ask? “Was it loud? Obnoxious? Laced with profanities? Encouraging violence? Complaining about the world around them? Promoted a message against ‘the man’?” No! It was none of that! In fact, I would say that it was wholesome, unobtrusive, inoffensive, easy to follow, melodic… in short, drivel.

Call me old fashioned, but part of being a teenager is being rebellious, bucking the ‘status quo,’ annoying your parents and everyone else over 21. The music of today’s youth represents none of that. I think they even use it to bond with their parents as opposed to rebel. A few of my student even gleefully told me stories of how they went to concerts with their parents. Horrifying. Of course, that may also be because going to a concert these days costs a small fortune.

When I was a teenager, half of my music tastes were solely to annoy my parents. I poured my babysitting money into cassettes as my mother continuously destroyed them believing that they were literally satanic. Kids these days have never even heard of a cassette or an 8-track… I listened to angry rockstars sing about love, the establishment, warfare, dropping out of school, fighting for your right to party, or any myriad of things that angered the older generation (the only requirement). I remember when I purchased Ice T’s iconic classic “Cop Killer.” Did I mention that my father had worked his way through Law School as a police officer? That went over well…

So, what is wrong with the world today? I propose that it is the music of ‘the kids these days.’ It’s their music. It has no marker of rebellion, anger, or discontent that marked the youth of my generation. Buck it up children!

The Adolescent Brain

This month, National Geographic highlights what we already know about teenagers: they make poor decisions, are experiencing severe shifts in hormones, struggle with self-control, and struggle through the growing pains of becoming an adult. At least, this is what I have heard from others – I personally never made poor decisions as a teenager or suffered with self-image and esteem.

While most researchers have asserted that very little brain development occurs in teenage years (as the brain does not tend to get much larger and the hardened skull develops). However, new research suggests that during adolescence and until 25 years of age, the human brain experiences massive reorganization and development – a process not dependent (entirely) on size. The process of development can cause some instability, primarily manifest during adolescence.

These studies help explain why teens behave with such vexing inconsistency: beguiling at breakfast, disgusting at dinner; masterful on Monday, sleepwalking on Saturday. Along with lacking experience generally, they’re still learning to use their brain’s new networks. Stress, fatigue, or challenges can cause a misfire.

To read more about this study, see the article in National Geographic.