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I thought White Hatter's preferred explanation was unlikely. "There's been a rise in misogyny, racism, and homophobia". I came of age in the 80s and all I can say in response is: "huh?" All that stuff was way worse back then.

This seems like "every bad thing is caused by this thing that I don't like" reasoning.

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Note: I am a technologist, so my work supports the possibility of social media through creating the basis for the hardware it runs on.

After raising 5 children, and how helping with 6 grandchildren, having grown up in a age with lots of freedom and access to nature, I take a principled view that is not based on data, just simple observation. Humans evolved in nature. Culture formed in nature. Now, culture has grown so large it has flipped, and nature is in culture.

This causes many problems, and the antidote is almost always to reverse the relationship on a regular basis. Humans need to be in nature. Humans need to interact face to face. Humans need to play with each other. When this need is satisfied, all the cultural overlays are checked, and there is little harm. But, cut all this out, isolate and live in totally in culture, especially a virtual one, and shit is gonna happen.

This implies to me, withholding social media from youth does not solve the basic problem. The problem manifests in other ways, such as no more recess, no more sports, no more outdoor play, and so forth. You must address the bigger problem of our relationship to nature and each other.

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"People are scary!" a 12 year old girl explained with a shudder last week when asked why she didn't want to participate in a pen pal activity with another class. I've seen her go from a happy, carefree, bubbly little girl to a withdrawn, depressed shadow hiding under a black hoodie. Phones and social media may be the unhealthy medium, but the *message* about what it means to become a young woman in our world is what's terrifying our girls.

If there is any flaw in this excellent research it is underestimating the effect of ubiquitous violent porn and horror genres on girls coming of age. Nobody has really paid much attention to girls coming of age stories, we read about boys much more, but most women can tell you what those preteen summers are like when you suddenly have creepy attention coming from seemingly everywhere. Now girls see horrific images and videos online of what those creeps want to do to them, and it's more than they can handle emotionally. People are scary, but children need to feel safe. We are failing them.

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Good lord! I feel sometimes like academics are too smart for their own good. The fact that we have to show unequivocal evidence for something we know to be true is frustrating. We know how addicted adults are to the smart phone medium and we are watching our children not learning social skills. STOP waiting around for the government, the MSM and anyone else to keep your kids off their phones. PARENTS LIMIT IT. It is hard, yes. I have 3 young adults and we battled it all through high school and College. But don’t throw in the towel- get them on hikes, make them play sports and games (not video) and to have social outings and take the time to have friends and neighbors over.

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As a counselor I have come to the surprising realization that a major part of this problem, at least on America, is the complete lack of assertiveness skills being passed down. I was shocked at the response from clients when doing assertiveness training. First off, when presented with all the possible treatments, they always choose AT first, and when I talk about it they respond unlike the way they respond to anything else.

Once we start working on it, there is a switch in their heads that flips very early on, and it is astonishing. It's like the "adult" switch never got flipped during adolescence and they've been stuck. In the 70s, the book "your perfect right" (now in its 10th ed) came out and was huge. Assertiveness training became popular. But (according to their leadership guide, now out of print) it split into two paths. Corporations began using it to train employees, and it is still used that way today. Outside of Corporations, the assertiveness craze expanded to all sorts of other social skills training and it morphed into something more generic used for people who lack basic social skills, like people with intellectual disabilities. The original assertiveness training for normal adults who just need to become better at expressing themselves in a way that doesn't harm relationships kind of disappeared.

But it is much worse today. Assertiveness skills have to be learned and passed down. And for some reason, in the 90s or so, they just started not being passed down, and the vast majority of people born in the 2000s never learned them. I even have to go further than the book goes to give more specific advice on how to approach assertiveness.

Without these skills, people have to either lose relationships by being aggressive, or be passive and get taken advantage of (until it builds to the point they blow up and then damage the relationship). Thus, they feel powerless. They either avoid confrontation at all costs, or attack the person and add them to their long list of enemies.

You've talked a lot about people not being able to disagree and still be friends, and this is a big part of it. They honestly don't know how. The only way to have relationships is to be passive and never stand up to anyone in their group about anything.

I promise you, there is something here! I strongly suggest looking into it!

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Beyond all the compelling data, there's the plain reality we can all check -- which is that we know social media makes us feel bad because that's how we feel after becoming intensely engaged in it. Anybody who has spent time around adolescents knows it's a problem for them, because they will frequently tell you so. As a society, our reaction to this has so far been a collective shrug, as if we are powerless to shape a medium we invented, that has been around for relative heartbeat. Our passivity when it comes for forces shaping the way we live and engage in the real world is most depressing of all.

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I have a few questions. For context I was born in 1977--I consider myself a young Gen Xer. I had my kids in 2006 and 2009. My childhood was very much a leave the house and come back when it gets dark kind of childhood. My parents both worked from the time I was 4th grade on (latch key kid). So there was a lot of unsupervised time with my siblings and neighbors. I would say that while we did prioritize play and outdoor play specifically with our children--there was not a lot of unsupervised, independent play. They were not left to their own devices very often at all. I think these are the issues that Mr. Haidt brings up in the Coddling book (although I haven't read it). And while I agree with the premise around it (that children are less resilient) my question is--what made my generation treat our children differently than what we were treated? This is not so much related to social media (my kids do not have it) but how my kids were parented differently. I was trying to question myself as to what made me do things differently than my parents. I do think some of it was social pressure to conform to what other parents were doing (constant supervision, organized playdates, scheduled activities). But I also think that it was a response to my feelings surrounding my "freedom" as a child. There were many times were I felt scared, confused and uncertain or like certain situation were out of control and would have appreciate a little more parental involvement. I'm sure it was those exact situations that helped me develop resilience but my memories of them I think impacted the way that I parent. So I was just curious as to whether or not you have ideas for the reasons behind why Gen Xers parented differently than they were parented.

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Laurence Steinberg, here.

This is a very reasonable perspective, but I'd like to add a couple of other cautions.

1. The high plausibility of reverse causation. Let's accept the estimate that the correlation between social media use and mental health problems is around r=.20 I think it's probably lower once other confounders are taken into account, but never mind that for now. Surely one must admit that it is more than plausible that teenagers who are depressed or anxious may turn to social media as a response to their psychological distress, in which case the observed correlation is due to the impact of psychological distress on social media use, rather than the reverse. We don't know what proportion of association is due to this, but it's got to be something, and my guess is that it isn't miniscule. Girls, we know, are twice as likely as boys to suffer from internalizing problems, so the fact that the correlation between distress and social media is higher among girls is consistent with the reverse causation possibility.

2. Part of the correlation may be spurious, attributable to unmeasured third variables. As I suggested in an op-ed I published in the Times a couple of years ago, on Instagram, there are many plausible unmeasured variables that fall into this bucket. One that strikes me as highly likely is family dysfunction, which is a well-established risk factor for adolescent depression. It's likely that kids living in a home with high levels of family conflict turn to social media as a means of escape. Thus, the correlation between social media use and distress could be driven in part by the correlation of each of these variables with family dysfunction (not to mention the dozens of others that are plausible explanatory variables).

3. Even if there is a causal relationship between social media use and adolescent psychological problems, without understanding the underlying mechanism, it isn't clear what the policy response should be. Derek Thompson, who has written about this for the Atlantic, and I have discussed this extensively. Jon's post refers to this, but let me reiterate Derek's point: social media use may have a harmful effect on kids' mental health because of WHAT IT DISPLACES not because of what it is. If it leads to sleep deprivation, sedentary lifestyle, diminished IRL interactions, and so forth, it may contribute to depression, but not for the reasons we usually think of (e.g., social comparison, FOMO, etc.).

4. Heterogeneity in response. Three times as many kids say that using social media makes them feel better about themselves as say it makes them feel worse, according to well-done Pew surveys. If this is the case, what are the implications of implementing age-gating policies, or telling parents that they shouldn't allow their kids to have smartphones before the age of 16. Wouldn't it make more sense to try to figure out which kids are vulnerable to the harmful effects and helping parents determine whether their child is one of them?

5. How large of a correlation warrants a broad-scale policy response? I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about the connections between the science of adolescent development and social policy. If, as I believe is the case, that a large part (perhaps half) of the .20 correlation is due to reverse causality or unmeasured third variables, then the true amount of variance in kids' well being accounted for by social media use is very small -- maybe on the order of 1 percent. Is this worth all the fuss? I'm not sure.

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Ironic that this particular issue has flipped the sides of the "coddler" debate, with Haidt now on the side of protection and those usually among the coddlers claiming he is being alarmist and paranoid. What can explain the sudden reversal?

Of course, some things are truly dangerous and require protection, whether you are worried about overprotection or not, and social media might be one of those things. And yet, Pascal's Wager, cited approvingly above, is essentially the coddler's credo.

On the other hand, you might imagine those inclined to overprotection would accept even the slightest whiff of danger in order to shield their children and raise a moral panic, but the opposite has happened here. Why do they seem not to care at all about so large a (potential) danger? Is there some great value or benefit they perceive in it beyond the harm? Is it too fundamental to their and our lives to consider pathologizing now? Is it mere partisan reaction?

I can't figure it out. Thoughts?

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Well done Haidt and company. These are the kinds of helpful disagreements that drive better research.

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Choose just one possible source of anxiety and depression -- like climate change, for example -- and the smart phone effect magnifies its power over a young mind. A 16 year-old with a climate doomscrolling device will probably experience anxiety about climate. If they argue about climate change with strangers on their phones, ruminate about climate change on their phones, post videos about climate change all the time, they will live inside of their anxiety through the device. But now multiply that times the power of body image, war, covid, and everything else. It's not just any one source of anxiety streaming out of the small screen in their hands, it's all of them, all the time, forever, that is changing the climate inside their brains.

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Your coverage of this epidemic is very important and the news needs to spread. I am slightly worried about the message.

The main message is that almost 60% of US girls are seriously anxious and depressed. There is a major epidemic underway.

Government agencies and media pundits should be deeply ashamed that they are ignoring this disaster. That almost 60% of US girls are so desperately unhappy is utterly unacceptable.

The secondary messages are about what might be causing the problem. My guess is it is a mixture of causes but social media is magnifying the other causes. The sex differences suggest endocrine disruptors may be playing a role.

If social media is a magnifying agent, multiplying the effect of an underlying cause, then it cannot escape liability. If I smoke I am 25 times more likely to get lung cancer from asbestos exposure than a non-smoker but no epidemiologist would say it is fine to smoke because the real cause of my cancer was asbestos.

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Even as an adult who spent 28 years without social media, I am 100% sure that it has caused me to have depression and anxiety, to prefer isolation, and to feel cut off from any real world truth and companionship outside of my family. I have to take long breaks (a year) about every 2 years. If my adult brain responds this way and I can tell a marked difference when I am on break, I can't imagine a rapidly adjusting teen girls brain. In my opinion, your premise and conclusions are indisputable.

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Girls are bombarded with negative language and images about what it means to be female on a daily basis from the minute they're born, in a way that boys do not experience. Hardly a surprise that the language and semiotics of social media are especially detrimental for many girls, and for some adult women, it's the perfect concentration of toxic or unattainable messaging in a hand held device.

Of course, social media also affords the possibility of girls finding healthier messaging and role models.

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I'm wondering if you think online porn, more ubiquitous and more violent than previous generations' porn, is a factor. Kids are no doubt passing it around at earlier ages, too. The violence in porn is directed against women. What does it do to girls' psyches to see this casual erotization of their abuse?

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"Increases in school shootings and mass violence since 2007; sexualized violence; increased rates of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny; increased rates of child abuse; housing crisis; concerns about climate change; the current climate of political polarization, and many more."

My argument would be the inverse of this - k-12 schools (both public and private, because their ethos is downstream of Education programs in public schools and Humanities departments in private schools) have become activist centers, constantly telling children that they are born into a dying world plagued by the problems above, and that our hegemonic culture of capitalist white supremacy will make change impossible. This messaging is thoroughly distributed in pop culture as well - I remember punk bands like The Dead Kennedys and Propaghandi or some of the more intellectual hip hop groups with lyrics that are intensely critical and hopeless in the 80s and 90s, but that posture seems to be the norm for pop stars now. So who wouldn't be depressed and anxious when all the cool people are depressed and anxious?

EDIT: re-reading this it sounds rather reactionary. It would be more accurate to say that there's been a shift in the middle of political opinions between people who attended college (everyone who is a teacher) and those who didn't (most of the parents of kids they'll be teaching), and that shift has a ton of consequences for kids. There are probably still conservative teachers, probably in elementary and middle school more than anywhere else, but the ratios are way off in high school and college.

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