A Vast Brain Experiment
By Hal Lindsey
High school students today are far less likely than previous generations to have a job. They study less. They rarely read books or magazines. They watch less television. They go to fewer movies. They don’t attend as many social events. They don’t spend as much time hanging out with friends on street corners or at the mall. They date less.
So, what do today’s high schoolers do with all this extra time? If you have one, you already know the answer. They spend it on the phone.
The word “phone” can be misleading. These are not the “Bell Telephones” of decades past. We call them phones, but that’s like calling Clark Kent a regular guy. Today’s smartphones are really supercomputers.
Dr. Jean Twenge of San Diego State University’s Department of Psychology has been researching generational differences for 25 years. She uses the term “iGen” to refer to people “born between 1995 and 2012.” She’s not an old fogey on a nostalgia kick, but an objective scholar.
In a recent article for The Atlantic, she warned about the profound changes now taking place in young people. “Around 2012,” she wrote, “I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states…. In all my analyses of generational data — some reaching back to the 1930s — I had never seen anything like it.”
Dr. Twenge points out that 2012 was the year smartphone penetration crossed the 50% threshold among Americans. A large survey done this year found that three out of four U.S. teenagers now own such a device.
“The arrival of the smartphone,” she wrote, “has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household. The trends appear among teens poor and rich; of every ethnic background; in cities, suburbs, and small towns.”
Some of the results have been good. Today’s teens are less likely to die in a car crash. A high school girl today is less likely to get pregnant. But the reason for those things is that the average teen is spending close to 8 hours a day staring, mesmerized at their phones and other electronic devices.
Smartphones have largely taken over the lives of the young. A quarter of teens still don’t have a driver’s license when they graduate high school. Of those who have them, many did so because they said their parents nagged them into it. “12th-graders in 2015,” Dr. Twenge wrote, “were going out less often than eighth-graders did as recently as 2009.… Only about 56 percent of high-school seniors in 2015 went out on dates; for Boomers and Gen Xers, the number was about 85 percent.”
The lack of person-to-person social interaction is having a profound effect. “Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011,” Twenge wrote. “It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones.”
The modern phone is a marvel of communication. You can use it to make a movie, or broadcast a live television show. It serves as studio, editing suite, and transmitter. You can create amazing music, or take excellent photographs. It’s a new canvass for artists. You can send a brief text to a friend, or write a book and publish it to the world — all without leaving the device.
As for incoming communication, you carry in your pocket a machine that gives you access to the films, photographs, sounds, books, and articles of every generation that had the various technologies needed to preserve such things. Or, you can use your phone like the old Bell models, and just talk.
But despite a level of communications power that defies the imagination, the teens using these devices 8 hours a day are the loneliest, most isolated generation in history.
Don’t worry. I’m not for banning smartphones. They’re enormously useful tools. And social media can be a great way to keep up with family and friends. The digital assistant in your pocket never (or rarely) forgets an appointment.
So, don’t throw your phone away. Just remember that the device serves you, not vice versa.
When it comes to young people and phones, use common sense. For their safety, some of them may need to carry a phone. But you can use the power of the phone to limit what the phone does, and when. Look for parental control apps.
And be involved. Do what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends. Be your child’s “media mentor.”
The most important thing you can do is give your children a grounding in God. Teach them His word. Pray with them, and teach them to pray. Make church a central part of their lives. Also, stay active. Go fishing, hunting, or hiking. Play ball with them. Love them and discipline them. Remember that they will sometimes fail. You did and I did. So, don’t go postal on them when they goof up. But give them high standards and expect them to live up to those standards.
With a new generation of iPhones just announced, it’s a good time to pray for a generation hooked on such devices. It’s retarding their growth as human beings. It’s changing the patterns of their thought. It’s a vast brain experiment being carried out on our young, and we don’t yet know the consequences. Pray for a Christian revival that will sweep the world.