Jean M. Twenge. iGen

Jean M. Twenge. iGen. Why today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood. New York: Atria, 2017

They were born after 1995, have grown up with mobile phones, and do not remember a time before the Internet. They are the iGen, and the subject of Jean Twenge’s fascinating study. Twenge asks what the implications are both for the iGen generation and for those of us who are older.

Twenge identifies important trends that form the iGen’ers: they are in no hurry to grow up; they are heavily influenced by the Internet and their phones; they have less in-person social interaction with others than previous generations; they are interested in safety and do not become involved with their community; salary is an important goal when it comes to choosing a career; their relationships are less physical; they prioritise acceptance, equality, and free speech; and their political views are strong but they are less interested than previous generations in staying informed or taking an active part in political life.

Each chapter of iGen is based on meticulous and extensive research. The purpose of the study is not only to identify characteristics and potential problems but also suggest ways to improve the situation for iGen’ers.

On the one hand, Twenge points to the safer situation of iGener’s in society, because they are not out late at night and not drinking or driving a car. On the other hand, she also demonstrates that there is a price to pay: iGen’ers are less independent than previous generations, and more fearful. The smartphone is where it all began. Twenge advises readers to delay giving a young person a smartphone because face-to-face contact is reduced, the smartphone can become an obsession, and many teens are subjected to cyber bullying. As a result, Twenge explains, iGen’ers are particularly susceptible to depression, resulting in higher suicide rates than in previous generations.

Twenge argues for moderate use of social media. When it comes to younger children, she recommends parents to use an app that limits the time spent on the internet. The goal is to ensure that the phone does not become the central focus. iGen’ers need to understand that it is necessary to be able to put down the smartphone when studying or working. Social media do not lead to a fuller, more exciting, more beautiful life even if it feels that way sometimes. It is necessary to be in the present too, communicating face-to-face with family, friends, employers sometimes. As Twenge explains, the phone cannot be our best friend.

Research shows that face-to-face social activities are crucial if we are to avoid depression. Physical contact also enables young people to develop social skills as they ‘read’ the person’s face, body movements etc. Twenge advises parents to iGen’ers to spend time with their sons or daughters, encourage them to meet friends physically, and to read books or long magazine articles. Reading promotes the ability to analyse, which is useful in higher education and, later on, at work.

iGen. Why today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood ends with the following thought-provoking sentences:

iGen’ers have a solid basis for success, with their practical nature and their inherent caution. If they can shake themselves free of the constant clutch of their phones and shrug off the heavy cloak of their fear, they can still fly. And the rest of us will be there, cheering them on.

We need more books and novels about, and for iGen’ers so that they find a safe environment in which to ponder the important questions in life, and not least, the declining state of our planet. iGen’ers need, in other words, to read in order to understand the present and form the future.

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