Screens are everywhere. Whether at work, school or home, no generation is exempt from tech’s influence in this digital age, especially as society moves further into a COVID-shaped reality that has necessitated an even greater dependence on devices.
While utilizing technology and media has its benefits, turning to devices too often can have harmful repercussions as well—and recent Barna data show that at least the younger generations (namely, Gen Z) are speaking up about their ambivalent relationship with technology. Teens and young adults in new Barna studies are articulating both the positive and negative impact screens have in their lives. Is it time to push the reset button on our technological leanings?
Gen Z Largely Believes Their Generation Spends Too Much Time on Screens
While it’s no surprise that Gen Z may be more engaged with their screens than previous generations, exactly what is an appropriate amount of screen time? Many experts in the medical, mental health and education fields recommend using screens less often and for shorter periods of time—and Gen Z, it seems, are inclined to agree with this advice.
According to recent Barna data featured in the Gen Z: Volume 2 study, three in five teens and young adults (60%) say their generation spends too much time on screens. This assertion is likely tied to the fact that, asked how they feel about their personal screen use, more than half of Gen Z (53%) admit they often feel bad about the amount of time they spend. Still, one-quarter says they and their peers spend an appropriate amount of time on screens, and 13 percent assert that screen time doesn’t matter.
Half of Gen Z Young Adults Blame Tech for Feeling Distracted
In Amy Crouch’s new book, My Tech-Wise Life, she shares how her Gen Z peers often turn to tech for distraction from the real world. Crouch asks, “Has staring into our phones replaced staring out the window—have we swapped daydreaming for scrolling? The data certainly indicates that, when it comes time to ‘zone out,’ respondents are opting for screen time.”
According to recent Barna data, Gen Z shows signs of self-awareness concerning these negative tendencies. More than half of teens and young adults ages 13–21-years-old (53%) say they put off or procrastinate doing homework or other things because of technology. They also blame technology for feeling more distracted (50%) and less productive (36%), for wasting a lot of time (54%) and for shortening their attention span (30%).
Technology might be a good numbing agent, but given its tendency to separate people from others, it can also be a barrier to seeking needed help.
So what are Gen Z to do? Much of the modern conversation on this topic focuses solely on limiting the amount of time spent on screens—and while this metric is undoubtedly important, time limits alone are not a holistic approach. Screens are here to stay, and Gen Z needs thoughtful, informed and sound guidance for digital health. In short, the emerging generation needs screen-literate leaders to offer wisdom for their digital lives.
This is a need both Amy Crouch and her father Andy Crouch recognized while writing the Tech-Wise books. Now, Barna and the Crouches have come together to create a challenge that invites readers into a time of re-thinking their relationship with technology. The Tech-Wise Challenge is not solely about eliminating or limiting screen time—instead, this 7-week challenge (commencing with the Lenten season) encourages participants to examine the role tech plays in their lives and reconnect with their family, friends and faith without leaning on devices. Join us in resetting your device-driven routines and sign up for the Tech-Wise Challenge today.
Eager to learn more about discipling Gen Z? Join Barna’s CoLab on Reaching Gen Z to gain helpful insights and discover practical ways to refresh your ministry to young adults.
About the Research
Gen Z: Volume 2: Interviews for this study were conducted using an online consumer panel of 1,503 U.S. teens and young adults ages 13 to 21 between June 15 and July 17, 2020. Quotas and minimal weighting were used to ensure data are representative of known U.S. Census ethnicity, gender, age and region. Margin of error is ±2.53 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.
My Tech-Wise Life: In order to understand what young people are feeling and experiencing, we talked to a lot of teens and young adults, ages thirteen to twenty-one (1,154 of them, to be exact) who own a cellphone or smartphone and have access to a PC or tablet. The group we interviewed comes from across the United States and was randomly selected to represent the whole population of thirteen- to twenty-one-year-old Americans. The survey was conducted between June 26 and July 11, 2019 and has a margin of error of ±2.7 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
© Barna Group, 2021