PTF Parent Up Speaker Jean Twenge Discusses Impact of Excess Technology Use Among Students

The 2018-2019 PTF Parent Up Speaker Series, which has a focus on health and wellness, kicked off last week with a presentation by Jean Twenge, who dived deeply into the social and emotional impact of technology use among students in front of more than 250 parents in Hurlbut Theater.

Dr. Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, has researched the troubling decline of happiness among teenagers that accelerated earlier this decade, and shared some of the more intriguing links between that trend and an overlapping increase in smartphone ownership and social media use during that same timeframe.

Dr. Twenge noted that happiness among teenagers dropped significantly, and depression and anxiety symptoms rose, around 2012. It was in this same year that smartphone owners became a majority in the United States.

Ironically, she asserted, the devices that have unprecedented ability to connect people are causing unprecedented levels of anxiety, depression and loneliness as this generation spends less time interacting with others in person.

Dr. Twenge also spent time discussing one of our biggest sacrifices in the name of technology—sleep. Smartphone habits have left students sleep-deprived as they text, engage in social media and play games deep into the night, and studies show the “blue light” that smartphones and tablets emit throws off the body’s circadian rhythm and negatively impacts sleep.

The good news is, there are ways to tackle this issue. Dr. Twenge, herself a mother of school-aged children, suggested setting up a charging station outside of the bedrooms and requiring all technology to stay there overnight. She also suggested shutting down phones and tablets an hour before bedtime to reduce the impact of blue-light exposure to sleep.

In the end, Dr. Twenge reiterated that many causes of depression and anxiety are out of our control, but technology use and its correlation to these symptoms is one that can be addressed.

“We can control how we spend our leisure time,” she said.

Dr. Twenge spent time after her presentation answering questions and signing copies of her book iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy—and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood. Later in the day, she took part in “Office Hours” where members of the St. Margaret’s community could meet with her to ask questions and gain further insight on the topic of technology use among children.

The next PTF Parent Up speaker will take place Friday, Dec. 7, when Dr. Michael J. Breus shares his expertise on children and sleep cycles.
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