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September 25 2017

The Not So Brave New World of iGen

by Charlotte Hays

Remember how you just couldn't wait to get your driver's license?

The push for the driver's license and the thirst for freedom that it indicated apparently are things of the past.

As a license-less teen once told University of San Diego psychologist Jean Twenge, it just hadn't occurred to him to get a license because his parents "hadn't pushed" him to do so.

Twenge, who coined the name igen (kids born in the mid-nineties or later), is author of a new book iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant , Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, which paints a picture of a generation that is passive in character and is growing up more slowly than previous generations. Twenge puts a lot of onus on technology.

Gracy Olmstead of The Federalist addresses the issues raised in the book:

“18-year-olds now look like 15-year-olds used to,” Jean Twenge says. Members of Generation Z, born between 1995 and 2012, are less likely to drink alcohol or have sex in high school. But they are also less likely to pursue independent acts of responsibility, like getting a driver’s license or procuring a job while in high school.

Many people in Gen X—and even some among the millennial generation—are rather dumbfounded by these trends. In my home state of Idaho, teens my age could procure a driver’s license at 14, due to the state’s rural, farming nature. There wasn’t a single kid who didn’t look forward to his 14th birthday: it carried with it the prospect of independence, and eventually car ownership.

But the problems and dilemmas my generation faced—surrounding sex and alcohol, driving and recklessness—are not necessarily mirrored in younger generations, if Twenge is to be believed.

Twenge regards social media as key to the phenomenon of this passive generation:

Twenge is careful not to make digital media the sole scapegoat for iGen’s “growing-up” problems. When it comes to larger trends toward “safety” and abstaining from “adult” experiences (like car ownership and sex),

Twenge suggests that other generational shifts could also be playing a part: today’s teens are growing up in smaller families, she notes, with parents who “nurture them more carefully” and expect them to go to college. Kids often spend their summers focusing on extra-curriculars or internships—not blue-collar or service jobs.

When you add smartphones on top of these larger familial and educational trends, it makes sense that teens are increasingly “staying in” rather than venturing out into the wider world. Social media encourages teens to inhabit a virtual and curated reality, one that needn’t carry them outside their bedrooms. As Twenge puts it, “When the party’s on Snapchat, you don’t have to go out as much.”

We tend to blame social media for whatever we don't like--it's an easy scapegoat. It's a particularly obvious apparent culprit when we see young people walking around, almost oblivious to their surroundings, and fixated on some device in their hands.

Olmstead, however, wisely doesn't buy social media as the total cause of passivity:

I remember hearing stories of my great-grandfather—the oldest son in his family—having to irrigate 160 acres of farmland as a boy, when his father would leave to peddle fruit or take odd jobs. He was responsible for the wellbeing of his mother, sister, and all his younger siblings—even as a 10-year-old. My grandfather, meanwhile, fought in World War II when he was still a teenager. He saw close friends and comrades die, many in a single day.

These youths were called to adulthood before their time. They were still young, hopeful, eager to experience the joys and independence of youth. Instead, they faced grueling hardship—even death.

Today, we live with more comfort and less adversity than ever before in human history. That’s a boon in most ways. It’s worth celebrating. But it also means that the hardship and trials older generations faced—trials that built in them virtues like resilience, courage, and dependence—will not automatically be fostered in younger generations unless they purposefully seek them out.

I'd also add that in a very rich society such as ours kids are likely to grow up regarding work as a form of self-expression rather than doing something that is sometimes tedious for which they get paid (which is good in many ways but different from what previous generations believed about work); they are likely to view things that previous generations saw as their obligations as their rights.

They are less likely to have been brought up with traditional religious ideas and to have had to argue about ideas in school. I am guessing that this generation has been shielded from the kind of debate in which my generation engaged in classrooms, even, or especially, in high school.  

Technology is obviously important, but I think I found what is more important--intellectual isolation--in scanning the comments on Twenge's book on Amazon:

If you are reading this review, according to the cornucopia of research offered in this book, you are unlikely to be an iGen’er. “By 2015, one out of three high school seniors admitted they had not read any books for pleasure in the past year, three times as many as in 1976.” While Professor Twenge cautions us not to evaluate some of her findings as good or bad, this, for me, is surely a bit sad.

That said, the effects of technology can't be dismissed, and technology is clearly a factor in producing a not so brave new generation.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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