Move Over, Millennial 'Narcissists,' There's a New Generation for the Olds to Get Wrong

Techno-panic finds a new target in Jean Twenge's "Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?"


Jean Twenge/Twitter

The trope that millennials ushered in a "narcissism epidemic" can be pinned squarely on one crackpot generational consultant, Jean M. Twenge, whose cherry-picked data and superficial analysis have somehow made it into just about every major media outlet over the past decade. Now Twenge is turning her techno-panic-fueled farce to the post-millennial cohort, Gen Z, in an Atlantic magazine cover story asking, "Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?"

Short answer: no, and nothing in Twenge's shoddy research reasonably leads to this conclusion.

For a longer answer, check out my recent Buzzfeed article. As I point out there, "almost all of the problems with Twenge's millennial bullshit are on display in her somber analysis of Gen Z," defined as folks currently between the ages of five and 23 years old.

Perhaps aware that she needed a new shtick to stay at the top of the generational-guru game, Twenge is now claiming that, around 2012, data started showing that "many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear" (she does not say what data shows this). And Gen Z isn't just psychologically far-removed from millennials, she says—they spend their time in far different ways, too.

All of this she blames on smartphones—and it's a superficially appealing idea. Elementary school kids now have their own iPhones. My best friend's 3-year-old can take a selfie. It's quite possible that growing up with smartphones and social media may produce distinct psychological and social effects.

But it's way too early to call them yet. And Twenge's data doesn't back up her attempt to do so.

Instead, she makes grave proclamations based purely on anecdotes, correlations—such as smartphone ownership rising alongside higher rates of teen depression—and selectively wielded data. For instance, she brings up a study suggesting more unhappiness among eighth graders who are heavy social media users, but doesn't mention that the same study found no effect for 12th graders.

Twenge "reviews only those studies that support her idea and ignores studies that suggest that screen use is NOT associated with outcomes like depression and loneliness," objected psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh in Psychology Today. And "nowhere is Twenge's bias more obvious…than in some research that she actually does review but then casts aside as seemingly irrelevant to her thesis—namely, the vast counter-evidence to the 'destroyed generation' thesis contained in her headline."

So far, the counterevidence shows that the youth of Gen Z—like millennials—have lower rates of suicide, unprotected sex, teen pregnancy, illicit drug use, cigarette smoking, car accidents, and alcohol consumption than their Gen X and Boomer predecessors. As Cavanagh comments: "This is what a destroyed generation looks like?"

Read the whole thing here. For some still-relevant millennial myth-busting, see: