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Studies indicate smartphones may be slowing teenagers down socially

Teens communicate with one another but it's over apps and text messages. They rarely talk on the phone with one another.

Posted: Nov. 21, 2017 9:47 AM
Updated: Nov. 21, 2017 9:57 AM

The first iPhone was released in 2007 and many people wondered how much it would change the world. Ten years later we're finding, it's changed how teenagers learn, socialize and communicate. In a series of studies we've learned that Generation X, or the iGeneration is nothing like their parents. Or even older siblings.

"I don't see a lot of one-on-one boy and girl dates like we're used...like we grew up on," said Randy Campbell, the president of a teen center that hosts teenagers after school throughout the year. "They're just not used to being alone with other people. Especially face-to-face."

Talking to teenagers you get similar answers; "I hate talking to people", "It's so awkward to sit across from someone I don't know well" are common themes from 13-year-olds all the way through college, and they all say it's their smartphone and apps that make communication awkward.

"They just don't have those 'soft skills', to be able to deal one on one with people," said Campbell.

Teens communicate with one another but it's over apps and text messages. They rarely talk on the phone with one another. Dating? Not so much.

"They consider dating, or 'talking', they really don't call it dating anymore, they call it 'talking'," said youth pastor Payne Stockard, who spends time with the 25-30 teenagers in his church. "When I'm with them they're always texting or SnapChatting with that person rather than going face to face. They don't know how to act, they don't know how to talk."

Recent studies support what Stockard sees every week. Among the findings of a massive study: 

  1. Between 1976 and 1979, 86% of high school seniors had gone on a date. Between 2000-2015 only 63% had.
  2. During the same time teenagers who've earned money at a job dropped from 76% to 55%.
  3. Alcohol use dropped from 93% to 67%.
  4. Teens with a driver's license dropped from 87% to 72%.

The general consensus: high school seniors are growing up slower, and most say smartphones and technology are a big factor.

"Technology and texting, those are good things," said Stockard. "There's just sometimes harming this young generation of learning some personal skills that will advance them in the life to come."

Another study published in Fortune magazine last July revealed a huge increase in the number of young men between 21 and 30 were putting off getting jobs, choosing to live at home with their parents or a relative and playing over 520 hours of video games a year.

So what's the answer? Stockard says he understands that parents want their kids to have smartphones for safety reasons, but there's something that's worth trying every now and again.

"I know this sounds crazy, to encourage their kids to go to a friends house and maybe even leave their phone, just get the parent's phone number," he said. "So they're forced to be in a room together so they're not looking down. They're looking up at each other and creating conversation."

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