Parenting the iGeneration

For years now, if anyone mentioned a generation, chances are it was all about the Millennials. (To be honest, I enjoyed all the attention as an older Millennial!) But there’s a new generation in town. I recently read a book about called “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us.” The author is Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University. It started a journey for me thinking through the implications for both parenting and pastoring this next generation.

Who is iGen?

iGen is made up of people born from roughly 1995 to 2015. The most significant influences on iGen seem to be the rise of the internet around 1995 (basically the i in iGen) and the ubiquity of smartphones starting in 2007. iGen’ers grew up online—they don’t know any other world. Growing up online has led to numerous changes (good and bad) in communication, mental health, safety, sexuality, politics, and more. If you are interested in this, I would highly recommend reading the book. A few major trends that Professor Twenge observed include:
  • My Phone is My Life: As of 2015, 2 out of 3 teens had an iPhone. Social media apps (Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, etc.) and texting are the primary forms of communication for iGen. For most teens (and adults!), phone use has developed into a full-blown addiction consuming multiple hours every day. iGen’ers are working less, going out with friends less, and spending less time face to face with others. They are replacing that time with screen time playing video games, watching YouTube or Netflix, and texting with friends. With the increase of cyberbullying and an addiction to getting likes and followers, depression, anxiety, and suicide have all increased dramatically. Teens are more connected than ever but more lonely and insecure than ever.
  • Delayed Adulthood: iGen waits longer to get a drivers license, try alcohol, have sex, start dating, move out, get a job, get married, have kids, etc. Teen birth rates have gone down, and teens apparently don’t party like they used to. Parents are more involved in their kids’ lives than previous generations and kids are waiting longer to “adult.” (e.g., “I hate paying bills” #adultingishard) However, they do seem to catch up in their 20’s in many areas leaving a steep learning curve when they do move out.
  • The Need for Safety: iGen values both physical and emotional safety far more than previous generations and is safer in many ways. This is one reason for many of the delays to adulthood, but this has also given rise to the trends of requiring safe-spaces on college campuses and the impulse to censor speakers or speech that is considered offensive (for any reason). Long-term relationships appear risky so, ironically, the hook-up culture (fueled by dating apps like Tinder) appeals to the need for safety. Pornography has also contributed to the separation of sex from emotional connection.
  • Individualism: Many religious, political, and sexual views of iGen emphasize the importance of the needs/desires of the individual over a social group or state interest. iGen’ers are more racially diverse and more inclusive in attitudes on sexuality, race, and gender than previous generations. But as a result, they are hesitant to label anything as wrong for someone else. The thinking is, “You need to ‘do you,’ and be true to yourself.” iGen tends to be political independents and less involved in religion, although evangelicals have not seen the same drop off that mainline denominations have.
I’m interested in understanding this for two reasons: 1) I’m a pastor, and I need to know how different generations think, what their influences and values are, and how the gospel might connect with and challenge their lives. Know your audience, right? And 2) I’m a dad of three iGen’ers, and I want to know how to help my kids grow up, find healthy relationships, meaningful vocations, and vibrant faith. As a dad, I get a front row seat to see the differences of iGen compared to Millennials, Generation X’ers, and Boomers before them.

3 Tips for Parenting the iGeneration:

  1. Limit Screen Time. This is a painful one for the kids (actually it’s the best consequence for misbehavior). Studies have shown that the more people use social media, the less happy they are. But interacting with friends and family face to face, exercise, being outside, and helping others all contribute to greater happiness. Our family rules are no phones in your bedroom or bathroom and no more than 1 hour of screen time after school. We recently bought our kids alarm clocks for $8, so they didn’t have to have their phones as alarms. Everything in moderation. But this means that we adults have to put our phones down, too! It takes an effort to play ping pong, chess, or basketball, to read a book, or even run errands with kids after working all day. But trust me, the kids are happier and healthier; it’s so worth the effort.
  2. Encourage Responsibility. We try to balance the need for learning responsibility with the fun of just being a kid. Let kids bake a cake by themselves (it’s ok if they make a mess!) or cook mac and cheese for dinner. Consistently have them do chores, so they learn how to do the dishes or laundry. Let kids decide how to spend/save money and don’t bail them out right away if they make a dumb decision. Stop driving teens everywhere and help them find a summer job. A lot of experience with little decisions helps kids make better choices when they face big decisions. Talk with your kids about working, marriage, having kids, and “adulting” in a positive way, so they get a positive vision for their future. I can’t stress this enough! A positive vision for their future is empowering and will assuage fears of adulthood and the unhealthy need for safety.
  3. Point Them Higher. God calls people into a saving relationship with him as individuals. The individual does matter to God. But in Christ, we are connected to something far more significant than individualism—God adopts us into his family and then sends us out on a mission to love and share good news with others. Ask kids who in their class needs prayer and then pray for them together. Talk about what a good friendship looks like and how this can be a way for us to love others how God has loved us. Bring kids to church and talk about your faith at home. Talk about how different jobs serve the common good. Ask kids how they might encourage their teachers or coaches. Serve people in need and explain how the gospel motivates this behavior. All these things help kids understand their purpose and place in God’s kingdom.
The truth is, every generation needs help in growing up. And every generation needs help in learning to follow Jesus—this is what discipleship is all about. I firmly believe that God loves iGen’ers and knows what they need. And I trust that God will guide and equip us as parents, pastors, and fellow Christians in loving, serving, and leading the next generation.
Photo by Steinar Engeland on Unsplash