Description: What comes to mind when you read or hear a statement that starts with the words “young people these days….”? There has been a lot of press over the research finding that young people (born around or since 1995) are expressing and experiencing significantly higher levels of stress, anxiety and loneliness even when compared to the generation immediately in front of them (born in the 80’s and early 90’s). I have posted previously about the work of Jean Twenge and Jonathan Haidt that examined large scale datasets and suggested that an understanding of this large stress/anxiety/loneliness jump might be linked to the impact of recent changes in the functionality and widespread usage of smartphones and social media. Skeptics of their suggestions and claims have pointed out that there have always been concerns raised about the possible negative impacts of new technologies like television or even telephones, but that causality is hard to determine. The higher levels of stress, anxiety and loneliness among teems and emerging adults “these days” are clearly established by data but the question that remains difficult is the causal one; why is this? One criticism of research by Twenge and Haidt and others looking at this question has been that it has only involved looking at the experiences of young people who use smartphones and social media a LOT. In the article linked below, Twenge and Haidt discuss their more recent efforts to understand and illuminate this new reality. They ask us to consider the question of how the social worlds of teens and emerging adults have changed since 1995 and how those changes have possibly influenced the important social developmental work young people are (or were) doing between 10 and 20 years of age. Think about what might be involved and about what sort of research designs might better illuminate how things could be different for the current cohort of teems and emerging adults and then have a read through the linked article.
Source: This is Our Chance to Pull Teenagers Out of the Smartphone Trap, Johnathan Haidt and Jean Twenge, The New York Times.
Date: July 31, 2021
So, what did you think of the suggestion that thousands of hours of face-to-face social interaction might well be an important component of development if one is to become an emerging adult capable of managing their challenges of stress, anxiety, uncertainty and loneliness? More importantly, perhaps, is the question of what to do about this possible new developmental reality? Certainly, it should NOT involve victim blaming by calling current teens and emerging adults coddled snowflakes. What it could involve is thinking about and looking more closely at how social media and smartphone apps influence or shape the social engagements that everyone, but especially teens and emerging adults, experience. Twenge and Haidt suggest several possible steps to begin to reduce the impacts of these effects of social development. Provide daily, in school, breaks from smartphones and social media. Delay entry into social media until 13 years of age. Encourage face-to-face social interactions among peers, friends, and within families. Most certainly, take the apparently higher levels of stress, anxiety and loneliness being experienced by teens and emerging adults seriously, there is nothing wrong with them as individuals, what is challenging them is thew world they are developing into, and we are all responsible to understanding and the current nature of that world and of what we can all do to make growing up in it as positive as possible.
Questions for Discussion:
- Why do you think teens and emerging adults are experiencing significantly higher levels of stress, anxiety, and loneliness these days?
- What role do smartphones and social media potentially play in the above, especially in relation to social development during the teenaged and emerging adult years?
- What should schools, parents, adults and teens and emerging adults do to cope with or to push back against these higher levels of stress, anxiety, and loneliness?
References (Read Further):
O’Keeffe, G. S., & Clarke-Pearson, K. (2011). The impact of social media on children, adolescents, and families. Pediatrics, 127(4), 800-804. Link
Nesi, J., & Prinstein, M. J. (2015). Using social media for social comparison and feedback-seeking: Gender and popularity moderate associations with depressive symptoms. Journal of abnormal child psychology, 43(8), 1427-1438. Link
Kim Armstrong, A. P. S. (2020). Technology in Context: The Surprising Social Upsides of Constant Connectivity. APS Observer, 33(8). Link
Odgers, C. L., & Jensen, M. R. (2020). Annual Research Review: Adolescent mental health in the digital age: facts, fears, and future directions. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 61(3), 336-348. Link
Twenge, J. M., Haidt, J., Blake, A. B., McAllister, C., Lemon, H., & Le Roy, A. (2021). Worldwide increases in adolescent loneliness. Journal of Adolescence. Link
Haidt, J., & Twenge, J. (2021). Social media use and mental health: A review. Unpublished manuscript, New York University. Link