More Screen Time Equals More Loneliness for Gen Z


Gen Zers are feeling more lonely, and screens are to blame. ABC News reports, “a new study has found that as digital media use has increased among teens who are part of Generation Z, aptly dubbed iGen, so have their feelings of loneliness and depression.”

Jean Twenge, Brian Spitzburg, and W. Keith Campell published their findings in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships in an article titled “Less in-person social interaction with peers among U.S. adolescents in the 21st century and links to loneliness.” The authors found: “iGen adolescents in the 2010s (vs. previous generations) spent less time on in-person (face-to-face) social interaction with peers, including getting together or socializing with friends, going to parties, going out, dating, going to movies, and riding in cars for fun.” Instead, they are spending more time on the phone, tablet, or computer, sometimes eight to ten hours each day.

Twenge and her fellow researchers found, “Adolescents low in in-person social interaction and high in social media use reported the most loneliness.”

That’s a major burden. We do not want Gen Zers to be burdened by loneliness. But this also means there are basic health benefits to being in the presence of others, and that routine activities like fellowship with a Christian community could be restorative, healing, and provide a sense of belonging or stability. Youth leaders can encourage their students to put their phones away and to create experiences where students interact with adults and with their peers face to face and in person. The church can help, just by creating spaces for mutual presence.

Cal Newport recently released a book called Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. Newport’s previous book, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, focused on workplace productivity, but his readers wanted a guide for applying those insights on focus and work to their interactions with screens in their personal lives.

Newport’s Digital Minimalism instructs us on how to undergo a digital decluttering and in reconnecting with others using the stuff we did before the phones invaded our lives, like playing board games or watching movies with other people. It also includes plenty of research on how social networks and apps are designed to keep your attention, exposing us to the tricks the tech company employ to keep us clicking. There may be lessons in this book that could be translated and applied to the needs of Millennials and Gen Zers in your church fellowship.

The ubiquity of screens has created a challenge for all of humanity. We’re attracted to the cool glow and the feeling of connection, as well as the intermittent social rewards that come from a comment or like in our feed. But phones can’t replace flesh and blood human interactions. We need it. God designed us this way.

There’s no need to heap guilt on those who enjoy being on their phone. Gentle invitations will suffice. Now you have a little research that helps to explain what we’ve all been feeling, those moments of loneliness that weigh us down. We can put down the phone for a little while. We can help one another.

By being present. By being a friend. By being there.