Understanding Generational Divides with Dr. Jean Twenge

Twenge, Dr. Jean.headshot

Written by: Where Parents Talk Staff

Published: Feb 20, 2024

by Katherine Martinko

“The broad impact of technology came up again and again as I researched generational differences… and then I realized that technology isn’t just smartphones. It’s not just computers. And it’s not just social media. It’s everything. It’s washing machines and better medical care and faster transportation. You think about how much the world has changed in the last 200 years, or even 50 years, or even 20 years. And I realized that the most important thing in creating generational differences [is] how technology has really changed how we live.” 

These words, spoken by Dr. Jean Twenge, illustrate a central theme in her latest book, Generations: The Real Differences Between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers, and Silents―and What They Mean for America’s Future.

A psychology professor at San Diego State University, Twenge, author of six other books and over 180 scientific papers spanning a 30-year career, spoke to Lianne Castelino, host of Where Parents Talk, in a video and podcast interview from San Diego, California.

Twenge’s book highlights the unusualness of six generations coexisting in society, a first in history. This is significant because there is so much misunderstanding among these generations. She attributes much of it to technology changing how we communicate and move and entertain ourselves.

She raises concerns about the amount of time younger kids now spend on phones, which is disrupting natural development processes. Parents owe it to their kids to create strict limits. “We’re not going to go back to 1985 or 1995,” Twenge says. “But we also can’t just give up and say, ‘Hey, you know, kids are going to be on their phones 24/7, and that’s fine,’ because it’s not fine. We have an adolescent mental health crisis; we have to think about these things.” 

older man and younger woman looking at phone

The trifecta of excessive online time, less in-person time, and impaired sleep is “a terrible formula for mental health.”

Twenge’s two main pieces of advice to concerned parents: 1) No phones in the bedroom overnight, and 2) delay phone ownership for as long as possible. Her own three teenage daughters cannot have smartphones until they have a driver’s license; even then, they are not allowed any social media. 

Younger generations struggle with being an authority figure, even when it is desperately needed by their children.

“Your child is going to have many friends throughout their lives, but they are only going to have one or two parents,” Twenge says. It is a parent’s job to set up guard rails and boundaries. “When you’re a parent, you’re not raising children; you’re raising adults, because that’s the end goal—to raise a productive adult.”Book Cover.Twenge, Dr. Jean.Generations

Twenge says that increased life expectancy is leading to a “slower life strategy” for all generations; people have fewer children, invest more in them, and take longer to reach milestones. It is happening to everyone, so parents should not feel discouraged if they think only their child is slower to mature.

As for how we should approach our longer, healthier lives, Twenge urges listeners and readers to consider the tremendous amount of time that labour-saving devices and improved medical care have given back to us and to think hard about how we want to use it.

“Are we going to use it to enjoy each other? To enjoy the world around us and enjoy nature and get exercise and read a good book? Or are we going to use it watching TikTok videos? Mostly, we’ve done the latter.”

It is never too late to choose another path.

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