Those born between 1995 and 2012 — otherwise known as the iGeneration in some circles — are changing the rules. They grew up with smartphones and tablets, and as a result, they’re spending less time socializing face to face compared to any previous generation.
The number of teenagers, in fact, who physically spend time with their friends has dropped by over 40 percent over the last 15 years, according to Fortune magazine.
As Dr. Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, has noted, “Teens are spending an enormous amount of time on their smartphones, primarily, and communicating with their friends electronically.”
This lack of physical interaction is partly why fewer adolescents are asking each other out on dates. In 2015, just 56 percent of high school seniors went out on dates, compared to 85 percent of Generation Xers who had dated during their senior year, according to Psychology Today. This decline in dating has led to a decrease in sexual activity among the iGeneration — a typical member of this group has sex for the first time toward the end of his or her junior year in high school, a full year later compared to those from Generation X, as a piece in The Atlantic noted.
Members of the iGeneration tend to “talk” via text for months to those they are interested in prior to asking them out. “A big part of talking to a person is by text or Snapchat,” said a freshman at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Texting allows young people to keep a comfortable distance from each other — but it can make picking up on interest very challenging.
“I finally knew he was [interested in] me when he started ‘liking’ my photos on Facebook,” a high school senior told LifeZette.
The iGeneration is very impatient — and of course this is a generalization, not meant to apply to each and every person. But these young people have been able to immediately meet most of their needs digitally throughout their lives. The fact that their attention spans have shrunk to eight seconds — as noted by Time magazine — comes with severe drawbacks.
Many young people find phone calls intrusive and refuse to answer any calls at all. Traditional phone calls have become taboo, in fact. By not talking over the phone, adolescents are not developing the patience and skill set needed to verbally reply to someone else’s emotional needs. They prefer texting — which allows them to craft witty responses while protecting themselves from potentially awkward situations.
These young people have also grown up with the fear of missing out (FOMO), which has limited their ability to ask someone on a date when “better” options may be available. “I’m constantly searching for the perfect girl and don’t want to settle,” said a college sophomore. To Dr. Terri Orbuch, a relationship expert and the author of the book “Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship,” the virtual world “allows comparisons between all the options, which influences satisfaction with any one person.”
The reality is that these technologically advanced adolescents are more isolated than those from previous generations. Right now teenagers spend, on average, about nine hours a day using social media, according to the report by Common Sense Media. As young people spend more time on their smartphones and less time with in-person social interactions, they tend to experience loneliness.
“The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression,” said Dr. Twenge. Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011, according to NPR. As a result, we are on the brink of a mental-health crisis: The increased risk of suicide is strongly correlated to those who spend more time on social media as detailed by Forbes.
Teens are still very much aware of the incentives to finding a happy romantic relationship.
While the dating landscape has changed, many young people are still dating. “The majority of young single people still date and marry,” said Dr. Orbuch. They are just marrying at a later age — which has allowed these young people to know themselves better prior to finding a partner. The results have been promising: The divorce rate is decreasing.
“In the 1980s, it was 66 percent in the U.S. Now it’s around 45 percent. As young people have more realistic expectations and know what they need in a partner and for themselves, they are more likely to select someone more compatible,” Orbuch said.
Teenagers are still very much aware of the incentives to finding a happy romantic relationship. As Orbuch noted, “Studies show that people in healthy romantic relationships have significantly less anxiety and depression.”
Adolescence is the ideal time to develop social skills. So it’s time for teens, for real, to put their smartphones down and start mingling.
Daniel Riseman, founder of Riseman Educational Consulting in Irvington, New York, has been counseling students and working with families for more than 17 years.