Monday, May 14, 2018

Book Review: "iGen" by Jean Twenge

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 UsiGen: 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 by Jean M. Twenge

A well-researched, well-written and thoroughly terrifying book.

Jean Twenge understands my kids’ generation, and she’s good at explaining them. The iGen (or GenZ or Founders Generation or whatever name eventually sticks) is different from the Millennials you’ve heard so much about. These are the young people who haven’t just had the internet all of their lives–they’ve just about always had a powerful smartphone in their hands. And just as or maybe even more significantly, they have been super-protectively parented.

Twenge is a professor of psychology who has combed through the mountains of social science data of the generation coming of age today and draws out fascinating generational trends. For example, this generation is growing up more slowly and is constantly connected to their friends (but not necessarily with them in person). They are insulated which ironically makes them generally insecure, anxious, and focused on making money (for security, not for shopping). They are largely putting off key markers of adulthood–sex, driver’s licenses, marriage, children. They are socially inclusive (think LGBT and racial issues) and politically independent (think Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump). And they are largely agnostic or irreligious. In fact, many would self-describe as not only “not-religious” but also “not-spiritual.”

For all of these features, there are many exceptions, of course. These are only generalities not particularities, but both the data points and anecdotal evidence seem to bear them out. (One of the things I found most interesting was the differences between Millennials and iGen young people. They are decidedly not the same.) Twenge tries hard to be objective and not judge some aspects of these young people’s behavior as “good” or “bad.” But she’s the mother of three iGen daughters, so she can’t help caring a lot, and it’s clear that she has her own opinion about right and wrong.

And it’s in the realms of morality and reality that the book concerns me the most–the realms most directly addressed by Christianity. If we are going to reach this new generation, we will need to tailor our methods to their particular profile, problems, needs, and strengths. And speaking as a GenXer, it seems like a bewildering task. They seem like such strange creatures to me! I have four of them in my house–17, 16, 15, and 14. And while mine might buck a number of the trends (due to their particular circumstances), I see the patterns come true in some of their peers. For example, they don’t read books! “By 2015, one out of three high school seniors admitted they had not read any books for pleasure in the past year, three times as many as in 1976.” What to do?! Twenge isn’t interested in helping make disciples of Jesus even though she ironically has a concluding chapter titled, “Understanding–and Saving–iGen” so we’re going to need some fresh missiological thinking.

Thankfully, there are some good and faithful minds who are doing just that. At the top of the list, I recommend this 5 part blog series by the EFCA’s Shane Stacey that takes the generational markers and provides help and hope for reaching iGen for Jesus Christ. And even more importantly, I believe Jesus deeply loves this generation and has promised to build His prevailing church in them, with them, and through them (Matthew 16:16-18). So let’s not expect them to be like us (or like any other generation), but that’s a good thing! Let’s let them be themselves and also minister to and with them for Jesus’ sake.

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