Psychologist Warns Against Smartphone Overuse

By Alexandria DeVita '21, October 2, 2018
San Diego State University Professor Jean Twenge spoke as part of Media for Social Responsibility course.

As if the teenage years weren’t difficult enough to navigate, today’s teens are experiencing an increase in unhappiness, loneliness, and depression stemming from a modern necessity: their cellphones.

That’s according to psychologist and San Diego State University Professor Jean Twenge, who visited Ithaca College last week to discuss her latest research on how technology is negatively affecting the “iGeneration.” Her lecture was part of a Media for Social Responsibility course taught within the Roy H. Park School of Communications.

A caucasian, blonde woman sits and smiles at the camera.

Jean Twenge. (Photo provided.)

Twenge, who studies generational differences, is the author of a new book titled: “iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.

Twenge concludes that increased smartphone use is the underlying cause in the rise of negative emotional states in teens. By 2011, a majority of the population were using smartphones, and students were spending more of their leisure time on their phones and less of it interacting face-to-face.

The reality that smartphone usage could contribute to unhappiness among middle-schoolers and high-schoolers was a surprise to Elias Elliot ’22, a cinema and photography major and one of the students who attended Twenge’s talk.

“I wouldn’t have thought people that young could have a major depressive episode,” Elliot said.

Twenge cautioned against the persistent, always-on pull of smartphones, reminding the audience that social media apps are designed to have addictive properties. “The smartphone is a tool you use—it should not be a tool that uses you,” she said.

She advised the audience to use smartphones in moderation and offered several suggestions for doing do: put them away at night, do not use them as an alarm clock, and shut them off during interpersonal activities.

Recognizing that many people—especially students—have to use their phones for work and school-related reasons, she also recommended limiting leisure usage to one to two hours a day.

Overall, students left the event with a deeper understanding of how technology is affecting their generation. “I’m more informed about [the dangers of smartphone overuse] and can make my family and friends more aware as well,” said Madelynn Thompson ’22.