The effects are large and sometimes bi-directional
What about online pornography?? I can't understand why porn isn't discussed along with the other variables of internet use. Are we too puritanical? Boys are becoming addicted to it (At what ages? Since when? Where is that data?) and girls are aware and exposed to it too. Billie Ellish has spoken about the detrimental effects of this which I'm sure are widespread. Nobody wants to be a spoilsport I guess? Or we want to pretend the seamy side of human sexuality doesn't exist? I'm not for banning porn for adults, but any discussion of teen mental health is missing a crucial factor if porn use is delicately erased from the conversation.
I am no scholar but have a personal interest in much of what your study reveals. I had a late life child and according to your analysis as well as other comments, there are perhaps a myriad of factors that are/have driven my severely ADHD/Asperger’s’ daughter to become very addicted to TIKTOK. Like most teens(not sure what tag aka gen z or post millennial) born after 2000, she has grown up in an online world. I don’t think the last two years of high school having been all and then partly distance-learning were helpful either. She discusses her “conditions” as if they are the only lens through which she views herself and her relationships. I remain concerned that her excessive viewing of social media is not mentally or physically healthy. I believe it to reinforce the gender identity crisis now plaguing a large number of especially teen girls. It’s become another way to fit-in in our evermore sick world. I think banning TIKTOK especially might be good for teens and kids in general.
Online friends are no replacement for FTF relationships.
Super interesting, thank you!
Thank you for your work. I have been following since I stumbled on the book Rightous Mind.
Perhaps you already mentioned or researched it, but I wonder the influence of the age of the fathers and even more the mothers when pregnant of this cohort of children ?
Knowing that higher maternal age (especially for primo-) pregnancies has a negative influence on the health of the ofspring. I heard of greater risks of autism, ADHD (and other neurodevelopmental disorders) due to the foetus being exposed to (relatively) more maternal testosteron as oestrogens diminish with the age of the mother and cumulative environmental toxins in the mother's body.
Age of first pregnancies has steadily risen since the 70's I would believe (I might be wrong on the timescale though).
Would be really interested in your and other readers opinion on this.
I also ask myself like other commentors here what the influence of exposure to pornography (which is more and more violent over time) has on preteen children.I know my son came home one day from school at 10 years old and told me he was utterly shocked and disgusted by what a classmate had shown him on his phone .....
Noy to speak for the utterly distorted vision it gives to preteen and teens of a "normal" sexuality with respect and consent being primary.
I am very live and let live and have absolutely no problem with consenting adults doing what pleases them but I question the influence on the development of young children.
I apologise for my english. It is not my native language ....
Thank you for reading me !
Thank you for your thoroughness and responsiveness to feedback!
It's great to hear you are also teaming up with Richard Reeves. His book is on my to-read list, but listening to him on podcasts give me the impression he'll make a valuable contribution to the book!
My daughter is a first-year undergrad and observed that the majority of students seem to have either mental health or learning problems, often talking about their issues quite freely, as if it were a normal part of life for all students. This made us wonder whether an additional driving force (in addition to social media) to the mental health crisis could be the Mass Formation narrative discussed by Mattias Desmet:
"They feel lonely and isolated.
They lack a sense of meaning or purpose.
They experience “free-floating” anxiety—they feel anxious though they don’t know why or can’t connect it to anything specific.
They experience “free-floating” aggression and frustration—again, they can’t connect these feelings to a specific source."
For a summary on the Mass Narrative hypothesis see https://pilgrimsinthemachine.substack.com/p/mass-narrative-the-voice-of-the-machine
Good info 👌
What about the effects of glyphosate and other chemicals in the formative years? It disrupts the gut biome. I’m glad I’m in my late 50’s. I know from personal experience that it has a direct correlation to mental health issues. I had anxiety and depression that improved with whole food and supplements based on blood work from my integrative medicine doctor. Back when I was in high school, the only trend was to be thin and many of my peers had eating disorders. Now there’s so many to choose from!
Could trans identification be playing a factor? Depression among LGBT teens has skyrocketed along with everyone else (despite massive increases in gender affirming support at home and in school) and was always way higher to begin with. Also as Jon pointed out liberal political views are associated with depression which may be attributable to the messaging they've been receiving online, but liberalism/leftist views have existed for centuries and the internet for nearly a generation. But it'd be hard to find a messaging among liberals more altered over the last decade and a half than the explosion among the "Is LGBT right for you?" messaging teens receive. The psychological "benefits" found in other studies from "coming out" or transitioning could be placebos that mask the underlying psychological harms, and bias in the way in which studies are conducted seems likely. Issues of replicability and ethics may also compromise the quality of these studies. Also does the issue of social contagion play a factor? 20% of Gen Z self-identifies as LGBT, but few among the elderly identify that way, even to pollsters. Perhaps many of those who claim to be trans simply are grabbing on to whatever can potentially explain their mental state in the moment (itself a confounding factor that confounds data about whether identifying as trans is harmful). Perhaps the dancing around that question is needed to not send everyone into orbit, but someone might as well ask it point-blank, even if less polarizing answers like social media use are also a main (and perhaps the main) cause.
I’I assume that when they say “social media” they are referring to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. Does YouTube count? It has that addicting quality in that the algorithm is designed to keep feeding you things and keep your attention. Much of the content is low quality compared to TV or movies. But, it doesn’t seem to involve much social interaction between people who know each other in real life. Classmates and friends don’t really interact with each other on YouTube. At least not what I’ve seen of it.
I have two questions:
1. How identity crisis develops in social media environment? It can set the unrealistic and unreachable goals overwhelming already insecure teens through their adolescence. Perhaps high achievers have a goal set in front of them and are therefore less vulnerable to identity crisis.
2. Is it possible that social media extends bullying from school grounds to just everywhere? Since the boy's bullying is mostly physical, it is confined to schools and boys suffer less from depression, while girl's bullying is more subtle and social media suddenly offers much wider and farther reach to bullies. It would explain why "lower-achieving girls showing the highest depression rates".
Adding one more question:
What role does the permissive parenting play in increased depression rates? Since the permissive parenting is mostly practices by left-of-the-center parents, it correlates strongly with the trends described in your article. Do children that ruled their family life stay away from real life, which is not as permissive as they are accustomed to, and find the refuge in social media?
Comment #1: Is social media really worse than other online activities? There's no way to truly know, because it's near-impossible to comprehensively measure other online activities and compare, sorting for time spent with each activity and running a regression analysis to remove other variables, and doing this cross-sectionally by age. BUT, social media has specific attributes (Likes, measures of engagement, endless scroll etc) that kids self-report make them feel badly, and any parent who's been with a kid whose edited a post or discovered being left out of a party, etc. doesn't need further proof to know the harms.
What interests me at this point, and the work I'm doing through www.GetMediaSavvy.org (join us!), is trying to wake people up to basic media literacy which includes recognizing the role of media–and all types of info—in shaping our neurobiological development and capacity for executive function, which is directly tied to attention & behavior issues, as well as mental health.
While the number of suicides amongst males is always higher, attempted suicide is higher amongst females.
Jonathan Haidt. This is one of the most important conversations we can have right now. Thanks for helping lead the way and your humility in doing so. I'm currently researching this issue, especially the destructive entertainment that is being released, aiming point blank at our kids. I.E. 13 Reasons Why, Euphoria, Hellavu Boss, etc. But there has been research by JAMA linking 13 Reasons Why to teen suicide.
These are incredibly damaging but hard to track. One way is though hashtags on social media. Best of luck, I'm a huge fan of this work and am currently working on a project called Breaking Strongholds. Also, currently reading The Righteous Mind. Your work is invaluable.
I laid out more fundamental questions here: