Teenagers today are more depressed, have higher rates of suicide, and hang out with friends less often than teens in earlier eras, according to one researcher, who has blamed the rise of smartphones for the problem.
Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State, wrote in The Atlantic this week that she’s noticed a number of stark behavioral changes in teens since smartphones became popular. She argued that the rates of change are the sharpest she’s seen in researching data from the 1930s onward.
Among her findings:
- Teens go out a lot less with friends and on fewer dates.
- They are much less interested in driving.
- They report feeling lonely a lot more often.
- Rates of depression and suicide have “skyrocketed” since 2011.
- The more time they spend looking at screens, the more depressed they say they feel — “There’s not a single exception” among any age group, Twenge writes.
Adolescence has always been a hard time, and a lot of kids feel left out or ignored by their peers. But Twenge argued that smartphones and social media make it even worse because when people do go out, they post pictures of their activities—making it clear how much fun they were having.
Twenge also noted some positive effects: Teen pregnancy is at an all time low, teen homicide is a lot rarer than it used to be, and they’re drinking a lot less.
It’s also notable that every generation of teen engages in new destructive habits that shock their parents. In the 1980s, for instance, parents were panicked about video games and heavy metal music.
Yet overall, Twenge painted a pretty convincingly grim picture, and her research may spur parents to think how they can limit the amount of time their kids spend alone in their rooms, on their phones or computers.