They're the first generation to grow up fully immersed in a high-tech, smartphone-driven world from the day they were born. They are "iGen" — the children, teens and young adults born in the mid-1990s through the early 2010s a name given to them by Jean Twenge, Ph.D., professor of psychology at San Diego State University, who has studied the group since 2014.

Dr. Twenge's  just-released book, "iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood — and What That Means for the Rest of Us," follows up her earlier book, "Generation Me," published in 2006.

That book focused on the millennial generation, those born in the early 1980s through the mid-1990s.

Baby Boomers: 1946-1964

Generation X: 1965-1979

Millennials: 1980-1994

iGen: 1995-2012

"[The new book] is for anyone who wants to understand how the changes of the last 10 years have affected Americans," explains  Twenge. "It's crucial for different generations to understand each other's perspectives so they can work together."

We sat down to ask Twenge what we should know about the iGen children, teens, and young adults who are coming up now -- how they're different, what they care about, and how they'll make their mark on the world.

 

Q: How is iGen different from their millennial predecessors and other generations before them?

Dr. Jean Twenge:  iGen was born between 1995 and 2012, so they are the first generation to spend their entire adolescence with a smartphone; this has had ripple effects across many areas of their lives. As teens especially, they spend their time differently from any generation before them.

iGen is more practical in their work attitudes than millennials were at the same age. They are more willing to work overtime to do a good job and less likely to have unrealistically high expectations.

However, due to their slow and protected upbringing, they are also less independent. iGen arrives at college with less experience with adult situations — including sex and alcohol — thus, they may not know how to handle them.

Compared to previous generations, iGen high school seniors are less likely to drive, work, drink alcohol, date, have sex, or go out without their parents. This is part of a broader cultural trend toward growing up more slowly and taking longer to become an adult. 


Q:  What is the significance of iGen being the first generation to spend their entire adolescence on a smartphone?

Dr. Twenge: Around 2012, I started to notice big shifts in the large national surveys of the teens and young adults I use in my research. Depression and loneliness started to rise sharply and soon reached all-time highs.

In a separate project on time use, I found that teens were spending less time with their friends in person. Additional analyses showed a correlation between time spent on electronic devices and depression.

Also, given that the percentage of Americans with smartphones crossed 50 percent in 2012, that points in the direction of smartphones possibly being behind the rise in mental health issues.

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Dr. Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State, has been studying generational differences for more than 25 years. Photo courtesy of Jean Twenge 

Q: According to your book, iGen is more interested in safety and tolerance than any other generation. You also write that they "have no patience for inequality." Where does this generation's values come from?

Dr. Twenge:
 iGen was born into a more individualistic culture than previous generations, one that favors the self more and social rules less. [This culture] treats people as individuals instead of as members of groups, and thus promotes equality for all. This is a central tenet of individualism and iGen reflects that.

Q: What are some of the clashes the millennial generation and iGen may face?

Dr. Twenge: The [differences] between the millennials and iGen are more [obvious] than others, particularly in mental health and optimism.

It remains to be seen, but it's possible the optimistic, self-confident millennials will not understand their less-positive, younger iGen counterparts. They will understand their attachment to their smartphones, but will wonder if iGen takes it too far.

Q:  How does iGen see higher education?

Dr. Twenge: iGen is more likely than previous generations to go to college to get a good job and less likely to go to get an "education." Although we have to bring students around to the idea of the importance of education for its own sake, we also have to keep their practical goals in mind when reaching out to them and teaching them. 

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iGen brings unique experiences to the classroom. As just one example, they have spent much more time online and much less time reading books than previous generations. That alone means we have to think about teaching them differently.

 

Dr. Twenge's new book is "iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood — and What That Means for the Rest of Us."