There’s troubling and encouraging findings for Generation Z in a new study of today’s teenager. For parents, pastors, and youth group leaders concerned with reaching “Generation Z,” this information is critical.
According to the research, teenagers in the early 2010s tried alcohol later and had sex far less often compared with their predecessors: About 54 percent of high-school students in 1991 reported having had sex, while only 41 percent did in the early 2010s. For student pastors who have been fighting the war against partying, pregnancies and STDs, this is encouraging news; however, the results seem to come with a cost.
Generation Z Is Swapping Risky Behavior for Different Risky Behavior
Generation Z students (those born between the early 1990s and mid-2000s) are less likely to drive, work for pay, go on dates, or socialize without their parents. While at home, students are largely glued to their smartphones. They are highly active on social media sites that create an illusion of community that research shows actually increases isolation.
In an essay for The Atlantic, Jean M. Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University and the author of Generation Me and iGen, warns about the effect smartphone obsession is having on teens: “the twin rise of the smartphone and social media has caused an earthquake of a magnitude we’ve not seen in a very long time, if ever. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve placed in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives—and making them seriously unhappy.”
Twenge speculates this may be why, for the first time in 24 years, suicide rates passed homicide rates as the leading cause of death for teenagers. It’s important to note that suicide rates were actually higher in 1991, before the advent of smartphones; however, Twenge says the research is clear that increased screen time coupled with isolation has a direct impact on a teenager’s mental health.
Generation Z: Screens and Depression
The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression” Twenge said. “Eighth-graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent, while those who play sports, go to religious services, or even do homework more than the average teen cut their risk significantly.”
The mention of religious services is worth noting. While sexual purity and partying are certainly still worth talking about, church leaders working with teenagers might find the spiritual battle lines shifting from bad socialization to no socialization. Parents concerned about their kids’ bad moral choices might want to also consider the danger of overprotection and isolation.