6 things you need to know about iGen

Dave Griffith-Jones | January 4th 2018

Are you a parent frustrated by how much time your teenager spends on their phone and video games? Or a professor puzzled by your new students’ calls for safe spaces and trigger warnings? Or a pastor wondering why your preaching doesn’t seem to connect with anyone under 25?

Welcome to iGen.

Jean Twenge, a Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, has just published a book summarizing her research into iGen, the generation born between 1995 and 2012. Using data from surveys of over 11 million people, she compares the youth of today with the youth of three previous generations: Boomers (born 1946-1964), my own Generation X (born 1965-1979) and Millennials (born 1980-1994). 

She calls them iGen because of 3 factors that have made them different from any previous generation: the Internet (especially smartphones), Individualism, and Inequality.

So whether you’re a parent, a professor or a pastor (or a young person wondering why nobody over the age of 25 gets you), what are the 6 things you need to know about iGen? (I’ll leave you to decide what is good or bad, and how to respond…)

1. Slow: They are growing up slower than before, not faster

With the internet, you might think young people today leave childhood sooner than before. But compared with their parents, iGen are less likely to go out without their parents, go on a date, have sex or get pregnant. They get married, learn to drive, get their first job and leave home later than their forebears. Twenge calls this a “slow-life strategy” – parents keep a closer watch for longer, and children are in no hurry to take on responsibility.

2. Screens: Yes, they do spend a lot of time on their phones

On average, teenagers spend 2¼ hours a day texting, 2 hours on the internet, 1½ hours on electronic gaming, and half an hour on video chat. That’s a quarter of their life on their phones and computers. This generation are shaped by social media—the distraction, the constant sense of being rated, the clear signals of who is in and who is out. iGen see their friends in person an hour less a day than Gen X or Millennials did.  They also read fewer books, newspapers and magazines, and get less sleep.

3. Sad: Their mental health is suffering

Starting in 2010 (when smartphones arrived), there has been a downturn in the number of teens reporting that they are happy.  Between 2010 and 2015, loneliness increased by 25%, and depressive symptoms among girls rose by 50%. Worse mental health correlates with more screen time (any more than 2 hours a day) and with less sleep, exercise or in-person interaction.

4. Secular: They’re less religious and less spiritual

More iGeners are being raised in non-religious households, and more iGen teens have decided not to belong to a religion any more (this is less pronounced in households that are black or college-educated). Secularisation in the USA is finally catching up with Europe. In private they are also less likely to believe in God, the Bible or an afterlife. Among 18-24 year olds, most believe that Christianity is antigay (64%), judgmental (62%), and hypocritical (58%). At the same time fewer describe themselves as spiritual—that’s not where they look for answers or fulfillment.

5. Safe: They’re more safe, but also more fearful

iGen value both physical and emotional safety. Compared with previous generations, they are safer drivers, get drunk and take drugs less, and get into fewer fights. Despite recent publicity, even long-term trends in sexual assault are improving. Yet surveys show most feel the world is less safe than it used to be. Expect the arguments over safe spaces and microaggressions to move from the campus to the workplace as iGen become adults: social justice and free speech beliefs are unrelated among those over 40, but those under 40 who support social justice are less supportive of free speech.

6. Self-focused: They’re more individualistic, but not so narcissistic

Individualistic people don’t need anyone else in order to be happy: sex, marriage and childbirth are happening less and later for iGen, while porn use increases. In an uncertain and competitive world, they feel they need to focus more on job and career just to survive. Their individualistic values lead them to value equality and inclusivity: in 1990 15% of young adults supported same-sex marriage; in 2016 75% did. They are less likely to join a church, political party or community group. 

How can we best love the iGeners in our homes, classrooms and churches? Though the above features are common amongst this generation, we mustn’t stereotype them, assuming that every young person we meet fits the generalized trends. Twenge suggests that iGen’s biggest challenge will be fear. This is what she writes in the last chapter of her book:

“In the three years I spent working on this book… I’ve realized this: iGeners are scared, maybe even terrified.  Growing up slowly, raised to value safety, and frightened by the implications of income inequality, they have come to adolescence in a time when their primary social activity is staring at a small rectangular screen that can like them or reject them… If they can shake themselves free of the constant clutch of their phones and shrug off the heavy cloak of their fear, they can still fly.  And the rest of us will be there, cheering them on.”

It’s not easy to shrug off fear by yourself, but Jesus is brilliant at freeing us from our fears so we can love difficult people and take on difficult challenges.  That’s why I wrote my book, Escaping Escapism – to share what Jesus has taught me about how to be committed and courageous in today’s world.

Because this generation need to hear the words that the Lord speaks more than any others in the Bible: “Do not be afraid.”

Dave Griffith-Jones

Dave is Team Rector in Drypool, east Hull, UK. Before that, he pastored in Toxteth, Liverpool. He is married to Helen and they have four children. Dave is a regular contributor to the Explore daily Bible-reading series.

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