New media is often blamed for negatively affecting the millennial generation’s ability to communicate in-person. Now, a new study shows that by comparison, new media negatively affects the next generation, known as iGen, far more than their millennial predecessors.
The study, drawn from two nation-wide surveys and conducted by professors from San Diego State University and Florida State University, finds that iGen teens indulge in considerably more screen time than millennials did in their teen years. More concerning though is that from 2010 to 2015, 33 percent more teens displayed high levels of depressive symptoms, and teen suicide rose by 31 percent.
This new study finds that teens who spend five or more hours per day on electronic devices (versus one hour) run a 66 percent higher risk of having “at least one suicide-related outcome.” Suicide-related outcomes are defined as feeling sad or hopeless, seriously considering suicide, making a suicide plan, or making a suicide attempt. Furthermore, teens that indulged in less screen time significantly reduced their likelihood of depression and suicide.
The study, published by the Association for Psychological Science, used the Monitoring the Future (MtF) survey and the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), which has surveyed adolescents since 1991 and the U.S. CDC data on suicide deaths since 1999. This allowed the professors to compare electronic use and depression levels between millennial teens and iGen teens.
The study refutes “the idea that economic hardship might be connected to more mental health issues,” noting that “suicide-related outcomes were higher when unemployment was lower.” Furthermore, the rise in suicide-related outcomes among teens during the 2010s occurred even while “mental health issues were declining or stable.”
It found that the increase in depression-related caseloads that high schools and universities experienced correlates with teens spending more time staring at screen activities and less time with “nonscreen” activities, such as “in-person social interaction, print media, sports/exercise, and attending religious services.”
The study found that the increase in depressive symptoms and suicide among teens rose across all races, ethnicities, and socioeconomic statuses in every region of the United States except the Northeast. However, females almost exclusively drove the increase. Females experienced a 58 percent rise in depressive symptoms, and although the suicide rate rose among males, the increase among females was 65 percent — more than double that of all teens.
Part of the gender discrepancy appears to stem from social media. The study finds that “social media use was significantly correlated with depressive symptoms among girls, but not among boys.”
Technological advancement has created a generation gap in communication between millennials who grew up in the 90s and early 2000s and the iGen. In fact, this jump in teen tech-communication is unlike any other communication leap in history.
Most millennials had already entered the workforce when smartphones hit the market in 2007. Millennials often use technology as a tool at work, more than they use it for social interaction or leisure. This provides a strong incentive to disconnect tech and communicate with friends in-person during free time.
This new generation, on the other hand, grew up with smartphones. They do not view them as work and study tools to the same extent as millennials.
Despite the work, educational, and entertainment benefits that new media bring, teens’ over-reliance on electronic devices for leisure can have devastating effects on their social and psychological health.
“Humans’ neural architecture evolved under conditions of close, mostly continuous face-to-face contact with others,” the study notes, “and a decrease in or removal of a system’s key inputs may risk destabilization of the system.”
Jacob Grandstaff is a graduate student at the University of North Alabama and a journalist who enjoys writing about institutional and governmental policies that affect millennials