The smartphone has significantly reshaped society. With this powerful tool in hand, we have instant access to all things digital: texts, emails, Google ads and searches, and social media. But is being digitally connected 24/7 a good thing?
How is it affecting our youth, specifically Gen Z (also known as iGen), who are currently between 6 and 24 years old?
Want more Gen Z insights? Check out Josh McDowell’s research aquí.
Gen Z Snapshot
Technology is an indistinguishable part of the Gen Z identity. They admit their online connections give them comfort, purpose, and focus. But many, as they increase their social media and chat room usage, find the engagement is also fueling their anxiety.
We need social connection with others; it’s a key factor in our feeling positive and happy. But many youth feel pressured to spend so much time on social media because of “FOMO” — fear of missing out. Many worry that jumping off could negatively affect their social ranking. And then there’s the reality that the engagement is really fun — until it’s not. One iGen in this survey admitted: “I clearly am addicted, and the dependency is sickening.”
Some alarming usage stats: a 2015 study by Common Sense Media found that teens spend nearly 9 hours a day consuming media; tweens spend nearly 6 hours. More than 40 percent of teens admit to being on their device “almost constantly.” Some are juggling 100+ text exchanges each day. That’s a lot of stimulus and focus for young brains working hard to develop properly.
Cut the 24/7 digital connection, and these young people realmente feel it: 31 percent admit they feel uncomfortable being away from their phones for 30 minutes. 58 percent feel uncomfortable if they are without their phones for a few hours. More than 65 percent of surveyed Gen Z admit they experience a high level of stress when their phone is lost, broken, or stops working.
Connected, But Lonely
When television came out, it was marketed as a way to bring families and friends together. Now most homes have more than one television, so users can watch on their own. Social media has been similarly marketed. Despite the promised online community of “friends,” Gen Z is experiencing high levels of loneliness, depression, and even suicide.
Reduced in-person interaction is a factor. But so is comparison. A 2014 survey of 180 college students found that the more time the students spent on Facebook, the more they experienced mild symptoms of depression. In 2015 a team of childhood development experts worked with CNN to survey the social posts of 200 13-year-olds from across the U.S. After reviewing 150,000+ posts, the experts concluded that being 13 is “like being in a real-time 24/7 popularity contest.”
Imagine the social pressure our youth are feeling as they work hard to gain social nods to validate their self-worth. Imagine how comparison is preventing them from feel satisfaction and gratitude.
It was Eleanor Roosevelt who wisely noted, “Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.” We lose the ability to like and love ourselves when we allow others to assign our value. As brain research shows, what we think matters. Our thoughts form our beliefs, which dictate how we view ourselves and our place in the world.
Studies show that self-esteem and life satisfaction levels dropped sharply in the U.S. after 2012 — the year that the number of people owning a smartphone crossed 50 percent.
Healthy Social Media
It’s too late to close and lock Pandora’s box, but we can help Gen Z to:
Understand that social media platforms are intentionally designed to entice them into addiction. We’re talking psychological manipulation. Even when we’re not on social media, we’re thinking about it, right? And it doesn’t help that Facebook tries to be “helpful” in letting you know you’ve missed posts because your “engagement” is down.
Set healthy limits on their social use at specific times (at bedtime, during dinner, at social events, etc.), and hold them accountable, if needed. This smartphone usage contract might be helpful to your kids.
Push back on their belief (and fear) that self-worth comes from their gained likes and followers. When our youth ground their worth in Scripture, they gain confidence to fight conformity and social acceptance.
Our youth need to hear and believe this truth: God alone sets their value. He calls them “valuable,” “cherished,” “loved,” and “chosen.” God accepts them, warts and all. God will never “unfriend” or “unfollow” them.