February 28th, 2020

iGen - Why Are They Acting They Way They Do?

While there is much written about the Millennial generation, we're getting past that as the marker for people entering the workforce and not what Gene M. Twenge calls iGen in her book of the same title. Twenge backs her writing on iGen on 4 major representative surveys of the generation. She uses this data to draw broad trends shaping the generation which map to her choice of chapter titles.

Early on Twenge takes pains to identify these trends not as good or bad, just different, than other generations. While The Death of Expertise aligned with what Twenge says in iGen, it did not expend any effort on this front and fairly firmly labelled the trends as a bad thing.

While Twenge identifies 10 trends, it seems to me that it's simpler than these 10 trends. In many ways the trends are simply the outcomes of some core difference in how iGen has been raised.

Slowed Growth in Maturity

First up is that iGen seems to have a slowed growth into what has typically been considered adulthood. They have sex later, drink and do drugs later. They're less likely to head out on their own without parents to see friends until late high school, or even college.

Contrary to the prevalent idea that children are growing up faster than previous generations did, iGen'ers are growing up more slowly: 18-year-olds now act like 15-year-olds used to, and 13-year-olds like 10-year-olds. Teens are physically safer than ever, yet they are more mentally vulnerable.

While they're more safe, they're also much more like porcelain dolls1. While they may drink less, adult rates of drinking remain about the same which means iGen'ers ramp up their drinking fast as they reach their early 20's.

Part of this is because of the smaller families they are a part of. No longer are parents simply trying to survive with many children, they're focused on providing a much smaller number of children with the best "high quality" experiences. To go with this parents hover and cocoon their children2.

Some suggest that this cocoon mentality is behind recent campus trends such as "trigger warnings" to alert students that a reading or lecture material might be disturbing and "safe spaces" where students can go if they are upset by a campus speaker's message.

More Screen Time Less Connection

One of the markers used by Twenge to say who is in/out of iGen is the kids that entered middle school at a time when cell phones were all but required by peer groups. This means that smartphones are a fairly big topic when it comes to the changes that she sees. In fact she says that smartphones coincide with the fastest shift in reported views and behaviours ever in research of this type.

Since kids are less likely to see friends in person they connect with friends over social media, spending about 5 hours a day on "new media". That's nearly all the time outside of school they have when they're not sleeping. The preferred social media has also changed, with Snapchat being seen as a safe network since images can't come back to haunt you later3.

iGen is reading way less than previous generations, and finds it hard to concentrate on longer passages of text at all. They're switching between tasks faster (about every 19 seconds) and there is a sentiment that the Internet has replaced the need for books. While other writers have placed the fix for this on the generation saying they should just learn to focus, Twenge says that educators need to meet them in the middle. She says that we should tailor textbooks to the attention spans and lower the reading level of material to cater to iGen.

The outcome of this increase in screen time is that teens with more time on screens are less happy and more likely to say they're lonely or depressed. On the bullying front, you can't get away from a cyber bully by changing locations, they continue to follow you online. You can't shut off notifications because you might miss a message from a friend, so teens are subjected to regularly bullying at all hours.

This screentime has also impacted the community connection that iGen feels. Since screens are low-bandwidth communication devices4, teens aren't learning social skills. They don't have immediate feedback on how their behaviour affects people, so they can become less empathetic.

This is shown when iGen says they care about others, but show less empathy for those unlike themselves than past generations have. They say that helping is important, but they don't want to be the ones doing it either physically or with their finances. They'll change a social media avatar, but that's about where it ends.

Where religious groups helped form community in the past, iGen is less likely to be in a house that is religious. Those that are in a religious house are much less likely to buy in to religion than previous generations. Many of them would not even say they're "spiritual".

One of the places that iGen differs from many religions is their vie on LGBTQ issues and sex before marriage. They're much more likely to engage in same sex partners because they feel they love someone and engage in the behaviours associated with that regardless of gender. In the Christian circles, Twenge highlights that they more often define themselves by what they are against (often LGBTQ) than whey they stand for.

More Mental Health Issues

iGen'ers look happy online, making goofy faces on Snapchat and smiling in their pictures on Instagram. But dig deeper, and reality is not so comforting. iGen is on the verge of the most severe mental health crisis for young people in decades.

Because of their lack of social connection and learning, iGen is dealing with more mental health issues. As already stated, you can't get away from online bullying. Girls in particular are caught in a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario.

Girls often feel that they can't win - a sexy photo will get lots of likes, but it also invites slut shaming.

Insecurity

On the career front, iGen feels they have to run twice as hard to get half as much[5. Where previous generations have wanted jobs they enjoyed, iGen is much more likely to say that they want a job they don't hate.

iGen often feels that the system (both job and political) is rigged and they have little chance of succeeding in such a system. You can see this in the sentiment that they need job experience to get a job, but no one is willing to give them an initial chance. This also combines with the desire of iGen to get immediate results, which they experience with streaming and next day shipping. They don't see the results in the bigger picture of their lives and have a hard time sticking the course.

On the family front, iGen wants kids, but despairs about providing for them. They don't want to make the sacrifices needed at the end of a long day of work to provide for someone else's concerns. Along with this, most of iGen wants a committed relationship, but also feel that most of their peers only want hookups without relationship.

Other Connections

While reading iGen I was struck by many connections (see the footnotes above for some of them) but I want to comment on a few in particular. First, Twenge says that one of the reasons that iGen is much harsher on words and safe spaces than censorship is that they haven't seen censorship at work so don't know it's troubles. They've been the victim of words, so view stopping that as very important. You can see the natural outflow of this in the work of Tom Nichols in The Death of Expertise. For a counterpoint to Nichols writing read Kids These Days by Tristan Harris.

The difficulty now is that if someone says he was offended, that is proof enough, even if the other person didn't mean to be offensive. This is the reason why iGen'ers have gained a reputation for oversensitivity, with their strong emphasis on people being offended by words.

Another point made my Twenge is that iGen watches less news than previous generations. While this may be true, she fails to talk about how news has changed into a quest for eyeballs and filler. Much of news is more polarizing and of less value than in years past. Again, Death of Expertise has an entire chapter devoted to this idea.

Takeaways from iGen

iGen concludes with some takeaways to help your iGen'ers. First, delay a phone as long as possible. Here I remember that I had more freedom and less opportunity for my parents to intercede than most kids today. This was not a bad thing, and we should try to create it as much as possible6.

Along with this idea, make sure you encourage face-to-face time for your kids with no adults present.

For shorter attention spans, Twenge seems to fall firmly on the side of making things easier. I fall a bit more in the middle, call iGen to longer attention spans, but do it with materials they're interested in.

Going with this we need to teach iGen to vet the online resources they hold above "old" books. They need to have a better grasp of how to identify resources that are worthy of their time and those that shouldn't be looked at in any fashion.

For work, iGen is hard workers but they'll need more careful instruction than previous generations, because they always grew up with careful instruction. If you need more advice on how to handle iGen workers The Coaching Habit is a great resource.

Should You Read iGen by Gene M. Twenge

Overall, I enjoyed the research backed writing of Twenge in iGen. When multiple explanations were possible for generational change, she did an effective job of eliminating factors that were likely not involved. While there are a bunch of charts and references, the writing is not so academic as to make it hard to follow her points.

I enjoyed iGen and can see it becoming a commonly referenced book in my library.

Purchase iGen on Amazon Purchase iGen on Book Depository


  1. See You Are Awesome for more on this idea 

  2. See Kids These Days for a deeper discussion around the results of this 

  3. See Kids These Days for more on the forever consequences kids face these days 

  4. See Digital Minimalism for high vs low bandwidth emotional communication 

  5. Kids These Days was basically all about that feeling](https://curtismchale.ca/2019/07/24/how-hard-is-it-to-be-a-millenial/) 

  6. See Digital Minimalism for tactics to curb your own digital addictions