The advent of the smartphone and its cousin the tablet was followed quickly by hand-wringing about the deleterious effects of “screen time.” But the impact of these devices has not been fully appreciated, and goes far beyond the usual concerns about curtailed attention spans.The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health.These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household.The trends appear among teens poor and rich; of every ethnic background; in cities, suburbs, and small towns.I had grown accustomed to line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and valleys. Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states.
She answered her phone—she’s had an i Phone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. ,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month.In all my analyses of generational data—some reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it.At first I presumed these might be blips, but the trends persisted, across several years and a series of national surveys. The biggest difference between the Millennials and their predecessors was in how they viewed the world; teens today differ from the Millennials not just in their views but in how they spend their time.Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so.Millennials, for instance, are a highly individualistic generation, but individualism had been increasing since the Baby Boomers turned on, tuned in, and dropped out.