The Smartphone Generation (iGen)

  • In 2012, an abrupt shift occurred in teen behaviors and emotional states. It was the most dramatic shift in a century, based on generational data. Why? The proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50%. By 2017, ¾ of teens owned a smartphone.

    The constant presence of the internet, particularly social media, is changing the behavior and attitudes of today's teens: they are less likely than the previous generation to hang out with friends or date, they are more likely to feel lonely and less likely to get enough sleep. 

    Let's look at some of the issues and concerns as well as what parents can do to reduce the impact of social media on teens. 

    Most Popular Social Networks of Teenagers (2019)

    1. Snapchat            41%
    2. Instagram          35%
    3. Facebook           6%
    4. Twitter                6%
    5. Pinterest             1%

    Dating and Social Media

    • Teens report that a delay in a significant other's response to a text message can make them feel ignored or unimportant.
    • 27% of teens who date have had a partner use social media to track their whereabouts.
    • 27% of teens who date say that social media makes them feel jealous or unsure of their relationship.
    • 69% of teen daters agree that too many people can see what is going on with their relationships on social media.

    Reported Benefits of Social Media Use

    • Socialization (Especially socially isolated youth)
    • Connectedness
    • Staying in touch
    • Making new friends
    • Community engagement
    • Share collective creativity
    • Grow ideas (blogs, podcasts, videos, gaming)
    • Foster individual identity and social skills
    • Enhance learning opportunities

    Reported Harms of Social Media Use

    • Bullying, clique forming, sexual experimentation
    • Parents do not often have the technical abilities or time to keep pace with their child's online activities
    • Vaguebooking – posting unclear but alarming sounding posts to get attention
    • ADHD, ODD, anxiety symptoms, depressive symptoms, loneliness, and FOMO (fear of missing out)
    • Screen time is linked to diminished happiness
        • 6-9 hours/week – 47% more likely to feel unhappy
        • 10+ hours/week – 56% more likely to feel unhappy


    FOMO is a persistent worry that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent. This can lead to a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing.

    • Correlated with anxiety and depression
    • Adolescents with high FOMO exhibit higher levels of distress when they have limited access to social media
    • 21% of teens report feeling worse about their own life because of what they see from other friends on social media


    • Can lead to depression, anxiety, severe isolation, and suicide
    • Girls are affected greater than boys
    • Cyberbullying has shown to be more frequent and severe than offline bullying


    • A person who intentionally starts arguments or upsets others by posting inflammatory remarks
    • The purpose is to entertain, offend, get attention, feel powerful or upset the victim
    • Advice: Do not engage with trolls.

    Sleep Problems

    Increased social media use is correlated with sleep problems. Consuming social media when they should be asleep is a common problem. Stimulation from the lights on the screen can make sleep difficult.

    Privacy Concerns

    Teens have a disregard for privacy, often sharing too much. The digital footprint they create today can have an impact on their future reputation (college, jobs, etc.). It can also make it easier for marketers and fraudsters to reach teens.

    The minimum age for most social media sites is 13. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends following the age guidelines.

    Girls vs. Boys

    • Girls use social media more than boys
    • Girls are more likely to feel lonely from social media use
    • Girls have higher rates of depression tied to social media use
    • Girls have an increase in suicide attempts (50% vs. 21%)
    • Girls are at higher risk for cyberbullying

    Recommendations for Parents


    • Know Your Teen
      • Some teens lean on social media for support
      • Some get sadder and feel lonely after using social media
      • Some feel creative and inspired
      • Some become angry and irritable
    • Parents can become better educated about the technologies their kids are using
    • Create a Family Media Plan:
      • Schedule regular family meetings to discuss online topics, check privacy settings, and online profiles for inappropriate posts. Focus on healthy behavior, not punitive action.
    • Use social media in moderation
      • Fewer social media platforms, unfollow/block negative people or pages, take social media breaks (you'll see positive effects within 7 days), put down the screen and DO SOMETHING.
    • Carve out screen-free time such as meals, before breakfast, during homework, car rides, lights off/screens off, bedtime. 

    UMKC School of Medicine, FOMO, Instafamous, and Trolls: Navigating mental health in the age of social media; Chettiar, Ram; 2019

    San Diego State University. Screen-addicted teens are unhappy: A new study finds that more screen time coincides with less happiness in youths, ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 January 2018.