Guiding Kids and Teens Growing Up In The Brave New Digital Age

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Guiding Kids and Teens Growing Up In The Brave New Digital Age

Drawn from notes: an article by Tony Reinke at desiringGod.org with editing and additions by Dr. Stephen Newdell 

We observe the brave new digital age and wonder how to answer it. Our complaining is NOT helpful. Let’s discuss first the most at risk American generation.

Who is iGen?

Kids between the ages of 6 and 23 fall into a generation now getting labeled Post-Millennial or Gen Z or iGen. Let’s consider the research on this generation, then process the implications for pastors, leaders, and parents: How do we steward teens in the digital age?

To be honest, I don’t know which sin is worse: the arrogance of speaking in generalities about an entire generation, or the sin of ignoring data-trends. With God’s help, we can avoid both.

iGen is a recent label given to those born between 1995 and 2012. It is 74 million Americans, representing nearly one-fourth, actually 24% of the population, and the most diverse generation in American history. It is also the most digitally connected and smartphone-addicted generation.

iGen’ers were born after the Internet was commercialized in 1995. They have no pre-Internet memories. Each entered (or will enter) adolescence in the age of the smartphone. Parents face many challenges in shepherding these teens in this brave new digital age.

Trends Among Teens

Jean Twenge, a psychologist at San Diego State University, has written the most systematic study about iGen. She ran the datasets, conducted the interviews, and has now voiced her concerns — first published in a feature article for the Atlantic, under the bombshell title Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? The article was an excerpt from the book that soon followed, iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.

iGen kids have the desire and the ability to postpone all transitions into adulthood.

Twenge’s extensive study summarizes the observations: iGen’ers are safe. They are the first generation to grow up with active shooter drills at school since kindergarten. They are the most protected generation by parents. By preference, they are the most self-cloistered generation of teens. Taking all the evidence together, iGen teens are more likely to be homebodies.

Compared to previous generations, iGen teens are statistically less likely to go to parties, to go on dates, to get their driver’s licenses, to drink alcohol, to smoke tobacco, to ride in a car without a seat belt, or to experiment with sex. They are a generation like kittens still learning social skills.

Now many of these trends are good, and we should celebrate the turning away from foolish behavior. But as Twenge says, taken together, these trends offer a portrait of behaviors that mark a generation of delayed adulthood and prolonged adolescence.

Five Marks of iGen

Along with this delayed adulthood and prolonged adolescence, the iGen is marked by a few other things:

  1. They are smartphone natives.

According to one study, the average age for children getting their first smartphone in the U.S. is now 10.3 years old. Many of these phones are hand-me-downs from mom or dad, but between 12- to 17-year-olds, nearly 80% identify as smartphone users.

  1. They are always online.

iGen’ers are spending less time working jobs, volunteering, engaged in student activities, and doing homework. The result: they’re spending massive amounts of time at home and online. They’re virtually never offline — driven to their devices by social promise, by friendships, and by relationships.

  1. They are secularizing.

Among iGen, about 1 in 4 do not attend religious services or practice any form of private spirituality. “iGen’ers are more likely than any generation before them to be raised by religiously unaffiliated parents” (Twenge, 121). Obviously there are many Christian and Jewish believers in this generation, but 1 of 4 is thoroughly secularized.

  1. They perceive one another through fractured bits.

Using a skill Clive Thompson calls “ambient awareness,” it turns out that teens are good at taking little fractured fragments of social media — discrete images, texts, tweets — and fitting those bits into a better understanding of one another (Smarter Than You Think, 209–244). For me, it feels weird to connect someone’s online life to their real life when I meet them in person. Teens are more natural at this. Though separated, through screens they connect through this ambient awareness. They learn about one another, digitally, in fragments.

  1. They are awake.

Twenge argues that Millennials are, at heart, optimists. iGen’ers, who grew up during The Great Recession, are more pessimistic, more sensitive to social tension, and more compelled to protect anyone they believe to be vulnerable. As we’ve seen, they can act on this awake-ness, too, evidenced in the Parkland rally, the March for Our Lives, the National School Walkout Day, and the #NeverAgain movement. iGen’ers may be homebodies, but they can rally. (Of course, this is not without layers of problems, as teens can get used to push the political agendas of adults, as pointed out in Alan Jacobs’s recent piece, “Contemporary Children’s Crusades”). Nevertheless, iGen’ers are socially awake, and this will play a major role in the 2020 election, as it shapes how pastors and parents interact with this generation.

What Challenges Does iGen Face?

By far, the most concerning takeaway from Twenge’s research, and confirmed by others, is the spike in teen depression. Between 2012 and 2015 — in just three years — depression among boys rose 21%, and depression among girls rose 50%. These upticks are reflected in suicide rates. “After declining during the 1990s and stabilizing in the 2000s, the suicide rate for teens has risen again. Forty-six percent more 15- to 19-year-olds committed suicide in 2015 than in 2007, and two and a half times more 12- to 14-year-olds killed themselves” (Twenge, 110).

It is “the paradox of iGen: an optimism and self-confidence online that covers a deep vulnerability, even depression, in real life,” writes Twenge (102), going so far as to say, “It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones” (source).

Who is iGen? They are awake. They have ambient awareness. They appear confident online. They are never offline. Technology conveniently buffers and brokers their relationships. And technology feeds their loneliness and the toxic comparison that hollows meaning from their lives. Parents know most of this. They saw these problems long before we had books about iGen.

Tips for iGen Parents

When talking about teens and screens — or “screenagers” — we need to get concrete.

As I admitted at the beginning, this article comes from notes from THIS Article: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/twelve-tips-for-parenting-in-the-digital-age  You may want to read it. I’m not entirely in agreement with this man’s ideas. I think the focus on the smart phone is wrong. He’s focusing on the symptom instead of going to the root cause.

Please forgive me if it seems I’ve launched into a diatribe here. It’s necessary to speak out and parents have to make some changes. Leadership type personalities must organize activities at their churches that will help rescue this generation!

His 12-steps of advanced smart device use spanning several years with the parent as a sort of prison guard are theoretical and do not fit into the ever expanding insane new world.

We are raising a generation with no socialization, no social skills, no self-discipline about reading or study. They are fat and lazy and often have no sports interests.

Taking them to school daily doesn’t socialize them – strange as that may seem.

Apparently parents need to do more socializing too. They develop gatherings of families and bring these families together for music, dance, cooking and eating together, talking together, LEARNING something together like soccer or basketball or animal care, or wood working or cooking, or self-defense and beginning gymnastics and floor exercise fitness building.

I’m suggesting physical work with the hands. I envision young people learning to work together to make something, carry things together, repaint and repair a small building or a boat in spring. This is not a new vision. When I was young boys gathered around car engines and all learned as someone repaired. We got together to repair an old wood boat. We worked with our parents on house repairs and repainting. Young people on farms learn many skills for animal care, crop growing, and care of machinery, and doing it all so as to avoid personal injury.

GET BUSY working together doing something and ban any device more complex than a simple Cell Phone!

Avoid the smart phone – the computer monster. Its day will come when this person grows older and has some social interests outside of a video screen!

Preach the Gospel about Jesus Christ, who he was and what it was HE said he came to tell us. If YOU don’t really know, it’s time for you to find out. He spoke about a soon coming Kingdom of God on Earth and your place in it and God’s purpose for your life!

Teach young people to avoid activities for which they might be sorry later. Sex before marriage is a very bad idea. This comes from a man who, when young, thought the “sexual revolution” was a grand idea!

Get face to face with these people. Ask them, “What’s wrong with abortion?”

What happens to that life if it is conceived and is simply inconvenient?

What is right about stopping an unborn child from knowing the joys of sunlight, rolling in leaves and grass and petting a dog or cat? Would it be fair if your mother said you were an inconvenience and stopped your life before it got started?

What do we know about sexually transmitted diseases?

Why then is it wise to wait, get married, and then begin an intimate romantic life with ONE partner, not many strangers who also have many other strangers? (Run the arithmetic. One lover has 12-lovers/year x 12 x 12 x 12 = see what happens and consider this thoughtfully. Oh! Talking about a disease spreading farm!)

I was in a church with a leader who couldn’t speak about this subject but had to and displayed an embarrassed grin on his face which only made me feel embarrassed for him! If he couldn’t speak to the subject intelligently he had no business standing there!

Are there no nurses and doctors in town? Do you realize doctors want to be seen and heard because that gets their name before potential patients? Many doctors would welcome an invitation to speak about this briefly and let everyone know where their clinic is located.

Call an OBGYN or a pediatrician or an internal medicine specialist or a General Practitioner, or even a Chiropractor whom you know to be astute, well read, intelligent and comfortable teaching.  Ask someone in the health care professions to speak, for the benefit of the community. In most cases this is free advertising for them. They don’t need to be paid. They have to explain and leave fliers with their contact information attached to it. That for the new practitioner is a bonanza, an opportunity to bring in more patient traffic!

As for the phone issue, the person before the day of high-school graduation needs only an inexpensive cell phone. Ask in a cell phone shop for a simple phone and nothing more. A small flip phone is good enough. This article may help:  https://www.bestproducts.com/tech/electronics/g2938/best-flip-phones/

The purpose of the phone is so you and the children can stay in contact. That’s all the student needs.

What s/he REALLY needs is more encouragement to learn to play a musical instrument properly and spend more time learning how to properly read English, read aloud clearly with expression, and write regularly, often, like a competent person should be able to do. We still need people who read, write and follow through arithmetic studies with the purpose of  OUTCOME based education, a practical doingness, an ability to use math for business, or farm operations, for figuring up costs of building, for using those numbers for something practical and useful every day, not least of which is simply to be able to figure out how much change he should receive back from a cashier.

Certainly we should all understand what once was called “civics” – basics of law and order in a civilized society. We should be able to tie this to Biblical precepts so we can understand the reasons for these laws and their origins.

I want to remind you one other thing. Video games are not only violent, sexual, and giving out hideous messages. They also flicker at such a speed the eye can’t see it but the brain is damaged by it. Do not allow your kids to become addicted to video games. Remove that stuff from your home and hold a prayer session casting Satan, his minions and his evil games out the door, bound and forbidden into your home forever!

Does that sound a bit over the top, a bit spooky, a bit like I fell off the deep end and have gone a bit senile? Get a bit more experience with the REAL world and you’ll realize that crazy old man writing this stuff is a lot more aware than you were able to realize.

Please consider what I’ve said and accept my thanks for tolerating my uninvited advice.

Stephen Newdell, BS, DC

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