The “iGen” Generation is VERY Different

The “iGen” Generation is VERY Different

One powerful indication of just how fast the world is moving: students in K-12 today may be VERY different than those of just 10-15 years ago.  In her book iGen, Jean Twenge (HT to Andrea Fanjoy who is going to do a deeper review of this book, which I will share when she publishes it) studied longitudinal surveys over a number of decades, and identifies at least five major areas in which young people who were born in 1995 of later differ from their predecessors, the GenXers and the Millenials.  (I might have thought the real starting point of iGeners might be later, like 2000 or 2005, but that will be sorted out by history.) Some of the data are downright scary, and they certainly should underpin how educators view their job of preparing these students to succeed in the future.

  1.  iGeners are not in a rush to grow up.  They are more likely to want to stay at home (partly because they cannot afford to both pay off college debt and buy or rent a house on low-paying jobs), and less likely to do some of the “grown up” things that past generations have rushed into: dating, marrying, drinking, drugs, and taking both good and bad risks.
  2. They are growing up online, and are intimately attached to their phones in time and space.  The results are not just about being connected 24/7; this tether is significantly impacting how young people feel about themselves: body image, social groups, feedback online, etc.  Teens do not hang out with real people any more; they hang out by looking at a small screen and typing for the vast majority of the time they are awake each day.
  3. They read less and do not follow current events.  Despite their attachment to the internet, they don’t keep up with current events and are shockingly ignorant of the physical, economic, and political world around them.
  4. They are “mentally fragile”, more likely to be depressed, with higher rates of a wide variety of mental health issues.  Much of this can be tied back to screen time and lack of human contact.  They are also the generation that has been subjected to over-protective helicopter parents, which amplifies the anxiety put onto kids by parents who constantly worry about safety and the future.
  5. The are more concerned with safety, which is a good thing when it comes to lower incidents of risky behavior. But this also seems to be the reason that so many students are uncomfortable with people and settings that run counter to their own worldview (college students who, for example, do not believe free speech necessarily extends to those who they believe are saying things that threaten their own views). They believe that we all have the right to be sheltered from ideas and people who disagree with us, since their home lives tended to shelter them more from these real-world cross currents.

Of course these studies are based on many data points, and not only individuals but entire groups will vary from the main results.  But these are so strikingly different than the indications of just one generation ago: young people who did not fret about losing a job because there would always be something else cool to do, a way to make millions, and just starting to explore a connected world without the tendering of adults.  GenXers and Millenials entered adulthood with more optimism and willingness to try than do the iGen generation.

It was less than 20 years ago, which passes quickly in school-time, that we were spending huge amounts of focus and money on getting our students more connected with evolving technologies.  Now, it appears, that we should be discussing “unplugged” hours and days at school so that our students, at least when they are with us, learn how to be human in ways that are not controlled by addictive “iDevices”. Can we balance “unplugged” with a rising tsunami of virtual reality and AI devices?  What will that look like in our schools?  I hate to heap another layer of “really important stuff” on our already loaded plate, but these are the discussions we should be holding now…and I would include our students at the table!

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  1. Garreth Heidt January 17, 2018 at 5:11 pm - Reply

    When I was fresh out of college in 1990, the generational battles were in full swing. I wasn’t a GenXer, Through I read Coupland’s Novel that spawned the term. I wasn’t a baby boomer…as a matter of fact, I railed against the power and prestige they had and the fact that they had “sold out” and bought the corporate line. Everywhere I looked and listened their artwork and their interpretations of life filled my senses. The lively, scholarly critic, John Leonard, in reviewing the Baby Boomer television series “Thirtysomething” once describe the generation as on for whom every twig upon which they walk represents another mid-life crisis. In short, I was angry at the power of that generation, and even angrier at the way they had taken to criticizing my generation: “This generation will be the first in modern history to have less (money, opportunity, etc.) than their parents. (WAIT, DIDN’T THE ABOVE BOOK SAY WE HAD MORE OPTIMISM THAN THIS CURRENT GEN?) (And all that previous analysis based upon the economic slump of the early 90s, which, of course, was turned around by the tech bubble of the late Clinton era. ) We were a spoiled generation, The MTV generation (short attention spans due to the quick-cut videos we watched), a generation weaned on Television, aimless, apathetic…I could go on.

    What I came to understand is that such generational tagging is fodder for people to sell books based upon correlations and patterns that, in the end are only temporary and beholden to snapshots, not long-term analysis.

    I write this because I am wary of any books or articles that make such blanket observations. They are often driven by economic concerns and thus bite any number of critiques of the neo-liberal economic engine. They discount the power of individuals or small groups to change the world (see Margaret Mead’s quote on that) and they seek to raise concern by calling into question the future of the entire race/country.

    I don’t buy them. My generation-see the critique above–gave us the Mark Zuckerbergs, Elon Musks, etc who have shaped the world. We are the beneficiaries of the work and lives of people like President Obama (though, given the fluidity of the ending dates of the Baby Boomers, he might also be a baby boomer)…you get the picture. In any thing other than a vague cultural sense, generations are hard to pin down…at least their endings are. Some begin with very real,biological phenomena or political upheavals. The Lost generation and the malaise of post WWI. The Baby Boomers and the very real biological and then economic phenomena of their mass birth. But more and more these demarcations are mere constructs, vague attempts to use history to tell the future.

    In essence, I think there’s a lot of grains of salt to be taken with any such assessment. Especially when we try to divine the deeper motives for such work. See this, for instance:

    all that said, I so appreciate your work and the brilliant, back-breaking work you do to connect the dots on such a vast and broad canvas as education.

    • Grant Lichtman January 17, 2018 at 5:45 pm - Reply

      Thanks! As you say, individuals and even entire groups don’t fit the curves of many studies, and the grains of salt can be huge. But I respect the work of those who try to synthesize and share…and then it is up to each of us to decide validity and what to do about it! I do think that the tether to phones that we all see every day, and the very real stats of the number and frequency of texting and checking phones, is very hard to argue or dismiss, as are the data on teenage mental health issues. Even if the analyses about these are not spot on yet, they are big enough that we need to pay attention. Thanks for the thoughtful response!

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