Imagine a child born into a world in which he gets a trophy just for showing up. Little Johnny shows up for kindergarten soccer and gets a participation trophy. Little Susie plays the piano in a recital. She, too, gets a trophy just for showing up.
Now imagine these same children grow into adolescents whose parents would rather be their friends than impose boundaries or enforce discipline. Overlay that with the fact that these sweet darlings have never known a world in which smart phones don’t exist. Finally, picture an entire generation of dear little Susies and Johnnys.
You may be surprised to find that the outcome for these fortunate and dearly loved children isn’t all good. Sadly, in spite of what were our best intentions, we are effectively raising an entire generation of young adults who are severely lacking in self-esteem.
Jean M. Twenge, a researcher who has studied generational differences for, well, generations, has found that teens today, or post-Millennials, have drastically different views and spend their time quite differently than teens of generations past. Their daily life is a radical departure from how the Millennials ahead of them spent their time. Ms. Twenge calls these youngsters the iGen because, having been born between 1995 and 2012, members of this group were born just after the proportion of Americans who owned a smart phone surpassed the 50% mark. That occurrence was followed by the emergence of social media. So these iGen youngsters grew up having smart phones and Instagram accounts before they entered high school. They don’t remember life without the internet. Consider the fact that a 2017 survey of more than 5,000 American teens found that 75% owned an iPhone. Staggering.
The result is a generation of teens across the nation and crossing all socio-economic demographics whose lives are defined by the access to technology. There have been tremendous advantages to having technology in their lives, but the consequence to their mental health has been shocking. The way they conduct social relationships has shifted dramatically as they often demonstrate a preference to be alone at home experiencing the world virtually rather than out living amongst others. As a result, they have become psychologically more vulnerable than generations past.
Ms. Twenge describes the coming of age rituals of previous generations that many readers may find nostalgic. Typically teens would embrace opportunities to gather with friends as often as possible and seek independence from parents and the supervision of adults. Teens liked to make their own choices and risk the consequences as they enjoyed the new freedoms that come with growing up. Today’s teens, however, are less likely to leave the house without a parent. In 2015, studies show, high school seniors went out less often than 8th graders did in 2009. It was a surprising and rapid shift in behaviors from previous eras.
Today, teens are also less likely to date. In 2015 only 56% of high school students went out on dates versus 85% for Boomers and GenXers. Trends show teens getting their driving licenses later, as well. Teenagers used to work part time jobs in order to finance the freedom they so desperately sought. In the 1970s, 77% of high school seniors worked. By the mid-2010s, only 55% of seniors held jobs. From 2000 to 2015 the number of teens who spend time with friends daily dropped nearly 40%. Because teens don’t need to leave the house to interact with their friends, they’ve become homebodies in astounding numbers.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse Monitoring the Future Survey, a study which has asked high school seniors more than 1,000 questions every year since 1975 and included 8th and 10th graders since 1991 in research designed to measure teen happiness and how much leisure time is spent on various activities, our children are significantly less happy today than in generations past. Recent study results indicate that teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy. Conversely, teens who spend more time than average on non-screen activities are more likely to be happy. The more time teens spend on tech devices and the less time they spend on social interactions, the more likely they are to report feelings of social isolation and depression. Ironically, social media with its premise of linking people socially actually causes loneliness for many.
There is compelling evidence that technology has played a profound role in altering the lives of this generation. That, coupled with shifts in parenting and culture, has created a lack of self-esteem in the young. In our career coaching practice, we often observe young adults with exceptional qualifications who come to us with a complete lack of confidence in their employability. Some are truly paralyzed with self-doubt while others are only somewhat encumbered by concerns of whether they’re job ready.
Addressing the problem would mean fixing our culture by encouraging our children to earn the praise we give them, pushing them into social situations outside their comfort zone, and managing the time they spend with technology and discouraging excessive use of social media while requiring them to spend more time in actual social situations and activities that engage them with others. In the meantime, coaching has proven an effective means of supporting young adults in recovering their self-regard and gaining momentum towards productive living and employment. We look forward to a future when our coachees come to us with ample confidence, energized for a job search. In the meantime, finding tangible ways to bolster esteem and guiding them through small achievements that rebuild broken egos has become a standard part of the career coaching domain.
DEBBIE VAN SOLKEMA, is a career coach with expertise in guiding Digital Natives towards identifying their passions, teaching them to target jobs that will best utilize their skills and tap their interests, and providing them with the confidence and tools they will need for a lifetime in navigating their careers. To connect with Debbie on how she can assist you and your organization, visit our contact page or message her directly at DebVanSolkema@hotmail.com.