Monday 1 April 2024

Top Psychologist Blames Smartphones, Social Media For Decay Of Gen Z, Rise Of Transgenderism

 Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at NYU-Stern, said in an interview this week that smartphones and social media have led to numerous problems for Gen Z.

Haidt made the remarks while speaking to “Firing Line” with host Margaret Hoover about his new book, “The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness.”

He explained that “the great rewiring” refers to a five-year period between 2010 and 2015 when society fundamentally changed for adolescents with the emergence of smartphones and social media.

“In 2010, adolescents had flip phones. They had no, most did not have high speed internet,” he said. “Over the next five years, by 2015, most American teens have a smartphone with a front-facing camera, high speed internet. They have an Instagram account or other social media accounts, Snapchat, a bunch of other ones. And now, in 2015, it’s possible to spend almost every waking hour online, and many do. And so my argument in the book is that all of a sudden, boom, in the blink of an eye, childhood became about sitting down and looking at a screen, hour after hour, year after year. And that, I believe, is the major reason why rates of mental illness go skyrocketing around 2012, 2013.”

He said that the very concept of social media — posting things that make you stand out because “you’re desperately fighting for attention” — has been detrimental to adolescents because they are learning these behaviors during puberty.

“So the millennials were basically through puberty by the time this great rewiring happens. That’s why they’re okay, I believe,” he said. “The definition of Gen Z, I would say … is that they went through puberty on super viral social media, on a smartphone in their pocket, that was giving them notifications and calling them away from whatever they were doing, calling them away from people, calling them away from their friends. You can see them sitting in a lunchroom next to each other, each on their phone. That is not a way that a human being can grow up. And that all happened between 2010 and 2015.”

He said that young people’s brains were very vulnerable during this time period because it’s the time when adolescents are supposed to be shaped by the adults in their lives into knowing how to act and how make the transition into becoming an adult.

“We don’t do that. Instead, what we do is hand you this device. So this is about the worst thing you can imagine to give kids at the beginning of puberty,” he said. “And the great rewiring radically altered the inputs to children, taking away most of what they used to do, most of their older inputs, including other people, and swapping in screens.”


He said that another mistake that parents have made is being overly protective of their children in the real world while not setting boundaries and watching them in the digital world.

“And for human children, the best kind of play is a group, mixed age group, out in the neighborhood. They make their own games. They make their own rules. They enforce their own rules. That’s how you basically mature for a democratic society,” he said. “But beginning in the 1980s, we began to get very afraid. We begin to get the milk cartons with the missing child. Even though true abduction is very rare, Americans get scared. They begin to clamp down on free play and childhood independence. And they think that they’re being good parents by always keeping them supervised. That’s the safest thing to do. Well, it is safe in the sense that external harm won’t come to them. But as rates of childhood death have gone down and down and down from all causes, they’re now going up and up and up from suicide. We’re blocking our children’s development. So this is the other half of the story, the very sudden and complete replacement of a play-based childhood with the phone-based childhood. And that’s why all of a sudden in 2012, Gen Z gets anxious and depressed.”

“There are a few things in the world that get better when you drop them, and you have to drop them periodically. You have to challenge them. They have to face obstacles,” he later added. “So muscle and bone and the immune system are all anti-fragile. If you take it easy on your muscles, take it easy on your bones, they get weak and brittle. It’s a principle of human psychology that we grow by being toughened. And so that’s why kids seek out risk. And the possibility of getting hurt is actually part of what makes it beneficial, because then they learn how to face risk and how to not get hurt. And the 90s, when we said, ‘no more risk, you’re not going to do anything that could possibly get you hurt,’ we blocked that process and our kids began getting more fragile.”

He said that the correlation between social media use and depression and anxiety are high among girls, but very low among boys.

“It took me longer to figure out what happened for boys, but it’s a very interesting and a very sad story,” he said. “Boys, it turns out, have been withdrawing from the real world since the 70s and 80s. Boys are less likely to graduate from high school, less likely to go to college, less likely to get master’s degrees, PhDs, become doctors, lawyers. Boys are dropping out of society. And a big part of that, we believe, is that the virtual world has gotten so enticing. Boys, adolescent boys, care a lot about sex. They’re really motivated to get sex, which is hard, very hard to do. You have to learn all kinds of skills, and it’s very scarce to get sex. Oh, but just go online. You have the most amazing, vivid pornography available to you. And, you know, boys love adventure. They love teamwork. They love sports, they love competing, you know, but it’s hard to make a team. And there’s all kinds of challenges there. Oh, just turn on your Xbox and you’ve got a team versus team situation. So we made life easier and easier for boys, which is a terrible thing to do to them. So they don’t exert themselves. Boys are not doing the things that would turn them into men.”

He said that when it comes to girls, “the loss of in-person time is the biggest single thing.”

“But then there’s also the constant social comparison,” he added. “If you have an 11 or 12-year-old girl on Instagram several hours a day, on TikTok several hours a day, most of what she sees is happy girls living beautiful lives. Is this going to be good for her? Hell no. So kids shouldn’t be – you know, of course, social comparison is part, part of being young, but let it be within your small group of friends. Don’t let it be among a billion people, many of whom are gorgeous and fake.”

He added that the explosion of transgenderism is a social contagion caused by social media and smartphones.

“So there’s very important, older research by Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler where they looked at, they had gigantic health data sets, the Framingham Heart Study, and they were able to see that, you know, if one person takes up smoking, their friends are more likely to take up smoking, but actually, so are their friends’ friends and even friends’ friends’ friends,” he said. “So the things we do spread out through social network, we affect each other. Now it turns out, when you’re looking at emotions, girls and women, when they study women, when a woman is depressed, that spreads out to her network. Whereas when a man is depressed, it doesn’t. Women talk about their feelings. They’re more connected in that way. Girls are connecting on social media, where it just turns out in many communities, the more anxious and depressed you are, the more you get support. The more extreme your symptoms, the more you get likes and followers. You know, of course it’s good to destigmatize social, mental illness. We don’t want people to be ashamed. But boy, is it a terrible idea to valorize it, to tell young people, ‘You know what? The more you have this, the more popular you’ll be, the more support you’ll get.’ And so you get this explosion, not just of anxiety – anxiety is in part, I think, spread sociogenically, it’s called, from social causes, not from internal causes – but we get it for dissociative identity disorder. And it seems to be the case for gender dysphoria as well.”

When asked directly if “the data demonstrates” that the increase in transgenderism “is above and beyond just the phenomenon of coming out and increased awareness,” he said, “Yes.”

“Yes. Because it happens in clusters of girls,” he said. “It happens in clusters of girls who had no previous gender dysphoria when they were young. So it’s very different from the kinds of gender dysphoria cases that we’ve known about for decades. I mean, it is a real thing. But what happened, especially when girls got — was YouTube and Instagram early, but then especially TikTok, girls just, you know, girls get sucked into these vortices and they take on each other’s purported mental illnesses.”

He said that parents need to band together and form small groups where they have the same rules for their kids so that their kids don’t feel like they are being left out by not having a smartphone or not being allowed on social media.

Hoover noted that the four main reforms that Haidt is pushing for in society is no smartphones before high school, no social media before 16, phone-free schools, and significantly more unsupervised play and childhood independence.


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