Today’s teens have a paradoxical relationship with their technology. It is both a friend and companion that connects them to their world and an enemy that drags them down. In our gTrend Teen Report, we call this phenomenon iPressure.™
A 16-year-old in our gTrend Teen Report summed up the role of technology in teens’ lives. When asked what an alien teen would need if they appeared in the modern world, he answered, “A cell phone, computer, food, water and shelter—in that order.”
Here are FIVE things we’re seeing and hearing about how technology and social media have drastically changed teens’ journey to adulthood.
#1. Teens are stressed and using technology to escape (what we call Digital Zen™), which may not be a good thing.
The American Psychological Association, after conducting its Stress in America™ study, characterized the stress outlook for teens in the United States as “troubling” and significantly worse than for adults. Teens also acknowledge that their stress levels are not healthy, but they’re not sure how to handle it, which adds to their anxiety.
Teens will tell you that academics and over-scheduling are the largest sources of their stress. And while they recognize that the pressure to keep up with their online social networks is part of the problem, they still look to other online activities, like gaming and watching videos, for stress relief. (Zelda, take me away…) However, the same study found a correlation between higher reported stress and dependence on sedentary/online activities as stress managers.
This sentiment is echoed in Dr. Kimberly Young’s book Internet Addiction, in which she points out that because online gaming is oftentimes social, competitive, and frustrating for teens, it is not actually relaxing. In addition, because video games can impact a teen’s sense of self, a teen who is not very good at them may subsequently struggle with self-esteem issues.
#2 – New forms of anxiety have been coined related to the use of social media and technology, including FOMO, MOMO, and Nomophobia.
You probably know about the fear of missing out (FOMO); it first appeared in the Urban Dictionary around 2006, but last year it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary. There’s plenty of evidence that it’s a serious issue with teens that leads to over-checking and over-posting on social media and is linked to low levels of life satisfaction.
But there’s also MOMO, the mystery of missing out, which is the feeling that you’re missing out on something, but you don’t know what it is. Teens have always been prone to feeling left out, but now their social media accounts seem to exponentially multiply the opportunities to feel that way.
And then there’s Nomophobia, separation anxiety experienced when one is separated from their mobile device. In a test in which phones were taken away from college-age students, to no one’s surprise, anxiety was higher among younger adults and heavier users of mobile devices. This generation doesn’t remember a time when they weren’t connected via technology, and they suffer when they don’t have this safety blanket
#3 Teens are not developing the ability to communicate with others in person.
It’s one thing to lament the lost art of letter writing because of email, but as texting replaces phone calls and in-person conversations, we’re also losing the art of conversation. Teens just don’t talk … ask any parent trying to reach their teen on the phone.
According to Dr. Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist and author of The Big Disconnect, “There’s no question kids are missing out on very critical social skills.” They’re not learning to read body language, facial expressions, and vocal tonalities. There are fewer opportunities to learn to introduce themselves in person, meet new people, make a good first impression, and so on. We’ll have to see how this plays out in their relationships and on the job front.
#4 Despite all of this, teens are somewhat in control of how they use technology and social media and will hopefully evolve their usage to their own benefit.
In fact, they’re already diversifying their social networks. Yes, they’re still on Facebook, some more than others, but teens are also quickly gravitating toward more visual apps like Snapchat, Instagram, and Vine. They’re also seeking more exclusive networks where they can “hang out” with a smaller group of friends with similar interests. These shifts could be a good thing, as sites that are less about updating your profile and keeping up with others and more about creatively expressing yourself could end up being stress relievers rather than stress inducers.
#5 In fact, this generation—one we call the CyborGen™—seems to be well aware of the damage that technology, social media, and constant “connectedness” have created. In his new video “Can we auto-correct humanity,” rapper Prince Ea calls out “the damaging effect of social media on humanity.” According to Buzzfeed, it went viral this weekend and was watched over 12 million times in two days, with almost half a million shares, over 110,000 likes, and around 14,000 comments.
So when it all comes down to it, technology clearly plays an indispensable role in the lives of today’s teens, as both a window to the wider world and a monkey on their back.