Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
I would have never guessed that I would write a post on loneliness of the next generation, but research and studies consistently show that this is a problem. And it’s a problem not just the millennials, but also Generation Z, the oldest of whom are now just finishing high school.
I recently participated in an email dialogue about this topic based on a study in the U.K. The friend that sent it, Fred Berkheimer, said he was absolutely “shocked” at the results.
Studies by Barna and Pew Research have all consistently shown a high level of depression and suicide in the millennials. So, it is not entirely “news” that the next generation is one of the loneliest and lost generations.
They would rather sit next to each other and text one another than have a relationship with a face to face conversation. So much is lost in the digital world, including body language and personal interaction.
What started the email conversation was a recent study by a British department store that does marketing research on its customers to see what brands are relevant. They initially did a study of 800 of Generation Y (also known as the millennials). They found the results stunning.
To assure that they had not gotten a bad sampling, they redid the study with yet another 800 participants. The results were identical.
The findings showed an increasingly lonely and lost generation, who had lots of “friends” on social media platforms, but few if any real relationships. They noted that more people live alone than in any time of our entire social history.
The average digital usage of the millennial approaches over 6 hours a day. “Many who were interviewed view work as something that they fit in between Facebook and lunch.”
One of the participants in the email was Dr. Jolene Erlacher, an educator and author. This summer, she has been teaching continuing education courses for teachers of K-12 (these kids are Generation Z). From these teachers, she has learned some disturbing facts.
For one, kids are having a hard time working in pairs. The either “get nervous talking to one another, or just don’t talk.” She continues: “However, if given devices, they can communicate easily via the devices sitting next to each other in the classroom.”
The other phenomenon is what is described as the “silent” cafeterias, where students are engaged on their cellphones rather than speaking to one another. My recollections of lunchtime in school was always a noisy place with conversation going on constantly. Not anymore. “Students now sit in silence, chatting with their friends around them via their devices.”
Effectively, these kids are totally isolated from one another, even if they are three feet away. Instead of talking to each other, they are texting each other. And, it doesn’t stop in the cafeteria.
My daughter, Liz, recently gave me a book to read (not keep, mind you). It’s by Andy Crouch and is entitled “The Tech-Wise Family”. In reviewing this book, I was impressed by his thoroughness. He cites Barna studies, where almost 80% of parents believe that bringing up children today is more difficult than ever. 65% of parents also rate social media/technology as their biggest concern. So, if you are a parent reading this, you are not alone.
Perhaps the scariest statistic in the book was the revelation that only 53% of millennials say that families make up a “lot” of their identity. That’s almost half. When we talk about the breakdown of the family, a statistic like this shouldn’t be shocking. Almost 40% of children are being brought up in single parent homes.
Crouch sets forth several principles, one of which bears repeating: “Technology is in its proper place when it starts great conversations. It’s out of its proper place when it prevents us from talking with and listening to one another.” Can I get an amen? The book contains practical steps for putting boundaries on technology in our lives.
By the way, the book is a short book. I generally only recommend short books, you’ll be glad to know. Parents chose four areas as the most difficult, with the top choices being: 1) discipline, 2) time management, 3) helping their children develop good moral character, and 4) monitoring technology and social media.
One of the premises of the book is his discussion of the “nudge”. In simplest terms, “nudges are small changes in the environment around us that make it easier for us to make the choices we want to make or want others to make. Nudges don’t generally make us do anything, but they make certain choices easier and more likely.”
Studies show that we have a limited amount of willpower. “Nudges help us make some of the right decisions without having to use up that precious limited supply of willpower. “
He goes on to say that the makers of digital technology are absolute masters of the nudge. Even if you put your cellphone down, there is a constant noise accompanying a notification that you have an email, or a text waiting for you. It’s addictive.
He concludes by saying that nudges will never be enough to build the wisdom and courage we need. “We need something inside of us to develop the strength to make good choices, even when everything around is nudging or pushing us in the wrong direction.”
I won’t attempt to paraphrase the book, but I will recommend it to any parent, or even a mentor, to help their children or mentees develop stable habits when it comes to technology.
One concept that Crouch recommends is that at least one hour of every day, one day a week and one week a year, you should have the discipline to turn off all devices, and replace them with other things like play, feasting, worship, family time.