Last night, while cleaning up from dinner, I was listening to the PBS News Hour (via the DC classical radio station) and a story caught my ear: Are Smartphones Making a Generation Unhappy?
The piece focused on an article in The Atlantic magazine: Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis. The author, Jean M. Twenge, has a forthcoming book elaborating on the specifics of her finding.
Both the PBS piece and The Atlantic article share some striking conclusions: due to a significant amount of hours on smartphones, youth spend less time with friends, date less, sleep less, and have greater feelings of isolation and depression. Twenge looks at generational differences and she noted it was in 2011 when a shift in behavior occurred which correlates directly with the rapid adoption of smartphones.
The article goes on to say youth are less likely to get involved in drugs, drink alcohol which resultes in less substance based car accidents, and have less sexual relations resulting in less teen pregnancies. These changes all sound like positives, but the use of smartphones have negative consequences too. Twenge says: "18-year-olds now look more look like 15-year-olds did just five to 10 years ago."
The article has other great info, along with some engaging graphs, and is very relevant to parents with children, but what is most striking for me is the amount of time youth are missing in nature and in the garden.
I am currently a third of the way through this fascinating book: Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature and the Shaping of the American Nation by Andrea Wulf.
Our earliest American leaders were deep lovers of their gardens, public gardens, and nurseries. So far, the book has chronicled Washington's development of his Mt. Vernon estate with native American plants, Adams and Jefferson tours of English gardens (often finding many American natives), and the first constitutional congress's delegates finding unity while seeing the vast diversity of plant life from throughout the thirteen colonies thriving in Bartram's Gardens.
While our Smartphones are a wonderful way to stay connected to one another, we are missing the quality time with others in places of natural beauty all around us. Maybe studies like the one above will inspire us to reintroduce our young people to the natural world and its divine vibrancy. Maybe a reminder of the founding gardeners and their wonder of God's creation will inspire us to learn more about flowers, trees and shrubs and find ways to cultivate them in our backyards.
If nothing else, when you find yourself outside and on your Smartphone, take a moment to put it down, appreciate the natural beauty around you, and offer a small prayer of gratitude. Then of course pick up the Smartphone, take the picture and send it out for others to enjoy.
Artwork from The Atlantic magazine