Author Jonathan Haidt and his 2024 book Anxious Generation

Ban smartphones from schools

Parents and schools should treat social media like they do cigarettes — unhealthy addictions that are distracting from learning and development.

That’s the big argument in “The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness,” a new popular book by psychologist Jonathan Haidt that has gotten widespread media attention.

“Social media use does not just correlate with mental illness,” he writes: “It causes it.”

Haidt has written several books on living healthier and happier, and he has researched social media use for years. But it’s this book at this time that met the moment: I’ve seen him interviewed by countless national media and at conferences. His advice marks one set of strategies for how parents and wider society can respond to the mounting evidence that algorithmic feeds of addictive content is especially challenging for children to overcome.

Below I share a few points I’m taking into my own parenting.

Quick notes:

  • The book’s opening compares giving kids smartphones and social media to sending them to an experimental colony on Mars
  • Whenever I read about silencing a kid with screentime, I think of the Victorian habit of getting kids to sleep with “Godfrey’s cordial,” which was essentially opium
  • Treat social media companies like tobacco companies (addictive and dangerous for kids)
  • Jean Twenge’s research that technologies and experiences both define generations
  • Great rewiring of childhood
  • Not just technology but also over protective parenting that began with how Boomers raised their Millennials (started from play based to phone based childhood
  • “Social media use does not just correlate with mental illness; it causes it”
  • Nir Eyal’s 2013 book “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” has been influential on product design, though it includes a call on the morality of manipulation
  • To date, teenage girls have been addicted to Instagram, and boys on porn and video games, but it’s all essentially the same: we’ve given kids something they get addicted to

Most constructively, Haidt argues for four key, clear and actionable outcomes (that certainly sound common sense)

  1. No smartphones before high school (try a flip phone without internet access)
  2. No social media before age 16
  3. Support phone-free schools
  4. Give more unsupervised play and childhood independence (As he writes: Parents worry too much about in-person risks and too little about online risks)

Leave a Reply