CNLP 435: Jean Twenge on Rising Anxiety, Depression, Isolation and Smartphones in Gen Z, and What that Means for Them and for Leaders

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Jean Twenge, Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, is a global leader in generation research.

She talks about the big spike in anxiety, depression, suicide and other mental health challenges she and other researchers noticed a decade ago, something she ties to the widespread adoption of smartphones. We explore what that means for Gen Z (or iGen) and for leaders and employers.

Welcome to Episode 435 of the podcast. Listen and access the show notes below or search for the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts and listen for free.

Plus, in this episode’s What I’m Thinking About segment, Carey talks more about social media and identity.

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iGen by Jean Twenge

Generation Me by Jean Twenge

Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? by Jean Twenge

Breaking the Social Media Prism by Chris Bail

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Insights From Jean

1. The generational differences between Millennials and iGen (Gen Z) are the largest on record

Often, Millennials and iGen (Gen Z) are combined in conversation as similar generations with similar habits. As a generational researcher for 25 years, Jean finds this to not be so true.

Generational differences, like optimism, mental health trends and work ethic between Millennials and iGen are the largest on record. She thinks the largest contributing factors to this are social media adoption and everyone owning a smartphone. Carey agrees with her.

Of the generational differences we’re seeing between Millennials and iGen, a sharp decline in mental health is among the most alarming. From 2012 to 2019, rates of clinical depression in teens doubled from 8% to 16%. Shifts like this are unprecedented.

2. Current culture mixed with smartphone addiction makes a tough cocktail for the next generation 

As iGen spends more time alone on their smartphones, they are spending less time with each other in person (this was happening long before COVID).

This trend, combined with iGen getting less sleep because they’re staying up on their phones, is a perfect cocktail for mental health challenges like anxiety, depression and even suicide.

3. How to live with smartphones in a more healthy way

Jean recommends a few steps to take to be able to live with healthier boundaries between us and our devices:

  1. Start with removing all phones from the bedroom at night while you sleep. If you use your phone as your alarm clock, you should buy a separate alarm clock.
  2. Stay off your phone for an hour before you go to bed, while at the dinner table and any other time you need or want to be “smartphone-free.”
  3. And finally, work to shrink your usage of your smartphone altogether. Many apps are designed to be addictive. Study your habits to know which ones suck your time and mind, and start there.

Quotes from Episode 435

It's extremely clear that it's the technology leading to depression, rather than the other way around. @jean_twenge Click To Tweet Social media was designed to be addictive. There's really no other way to put it. @jean_twenge Click To Tweet We massively overestimate the impact of parenting on mental health in teens. @jean_twenge Click To Tweet We're not treating adolescents as adults as much as we used to. That has big upsides in terms of physical safety for example, but it has the potential downside that might impact their mental health. @jean_twenge Click To Tweet As parents and as a society, we've done a fantastic job keeping these kids safe. It's just that in keeping them physically safe, they're not as emotionally safe. @jean_twenge Click To Tweet A poll from the Pew Center, turns out the end of 2012 was the first time the majority of Americans owned a smartphone. And teens, that was also around the time social media use moved from optional to mandatory. @jean_twenge Click To Tweet We did a more sophisticated statistical analysis once and matched it up, and there's about a year delay. The technology comes first, then the depression. @jean_twenge Click To Tweet Teens started spending a lot more time online, and a lot less time with each other face to face, and a lot less time sleeping. And that is a terrible formula for mental health. @jean_twenge Click To Tweet It's not great for mental health to be stuck in your room only communicating with your friends via text or Instagram or TikTok. @jean_twenge Click To Tweet The parents of Gen Z or iGen shifted to more of that fear-based parenting. @jean_twenge Click To Tweet iGen is probably the safest generation in American history, physically. @jean_twenge Click To Tweet As a parent, you're not raising children, you're raising adults. And as a college professor, you're not just teaching college students, you're teaching future workers. @jean_twenge Click To Tweet Another strength of iGen, they're often looking at not just how can I make my life better? How can I make life better for everyone? @jean_twenge Click To Tweet A lot of people think it's just them who find it hard to put down the phone, find it hard to put away the social media. It's not. We're all in this together. We're all being sucked into it. @jean_twenge Click To Tweet We know from just so much research, that having devices in the bedroom overnight leads to less sleep and less quality sleep. @jean_twenge Click To Tweet Another thing we know from sleep research is looking at phone before bedtime is very psychologically stimulating. It winds you up at a time when you should be winding down. @jean_twenge Click To Tweet

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Next Episode: Louie Giglio

Louie Giglio returns to the podcast and weighs in on church online, what the next generation is looking for, what he sees elite leaders doing that separates them from others, and how to battle the enemy in your head.

Subscribe for free now so you won’t miss Episode 436.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.