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Dr. Jonathan Haidt: How Smartphones & Social Media Impact Mental Health & the Realistic Solutions

Dr. Jonathan Haidt: How Smartphones & Social Media Impact Mental Health & the Realistic Solutions

Dr. Jonathan Haidt (00:00:00)

  • Dr. Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist and professor at New York University.
  • He is the author of several bestselling books, including "The Coddling of the American Mind" and "The Anxious Generation."
  • Smartphones and social media can negatively impact mental health, especially for kids entering and transitioning through puberty.
  • Smartphones can disrupt critical or sensitive periods for social development, understanding competition and violence, and sex.
  • Boys and girls are impacted differently by smartphone use.
  • Dr. Haidt offers several solutions to the mental health crisis caused by smartphone use.
  • These solutions can help place boys and girls, as well as young adults, back on a trajectory of mental health.

Sponsors: Helix Sleep, AeroPress & Joovv (00:02:01)

  • Dr. Jonathan Haidt warns of the negative impact of smartphones and social media on mental health, particularly among adolescents and young adults.
  • Excessive social media use can cause anxiety, depression, loneliness, cyberbullying, body image issues, and sleep deprivation.
  • To mitigate these effects, individuals should limit screen time, prioritize real-world relationships, and engage in face-to-face interactions.
  • Parents should monitor their children's social media use and discuss potential risks.

Great Rewiring of Childhood: Technology, Smartphones & Social Media (00:06:23)

  • The introduction of smartphones, particularly around 2010-2015, marked a significant turning point in how people, especially teenagers, interact and spend their time.
  • The widespread use of smartphones with front-facing cameras and social media platforms like Instagram led to a dramatic increase in screen time and a shift in teenage activities.
  • The period from 2010 to 2015 is referred to as the "Great Rewiring of Childhood" due to the profound impact smartphones had on children and teenagers' daily lives.
  • Smartphones and social media use can be similar to OCD, where the behaviors reinforce rather than reduce the obsessions.
  • Smartphones, unlike flip phones, provide constant distractions and temptations, making it harder to focus on tasks that require concentration.

Mental Health Trends: Boys, Girls & Smartphones (00:12:48)

  • In the US, mental health issues among girls have been relatively stable from the 1990s to 2011.
  • Starting around 2012, there was a sudden and significant increase in anxiety, depression, and self-harm among girls.
  • Boys have also experienced an increase in mental health issues, but the rise began earlier, around 2009-2010, and has been more gradual.
  • The increase in mental health issues among girls is not limited to the US but has been observed in many developed countries around the world.
  • There is evidence from hospital admissions and emergency department visits that the increase in mental health issues is real and not just due to increased reporting.
  • The cause of the sudden increase in mental health issues among girls is not yet fully understood, but smartphones and social media are considered to be major contributing factors.

Smartphone Usage, Play-Based to Phone-Based Childhood (00:16:26)

  • Smartphone use in young girls correlates with a decline in mental health.
  • Factors contributing to this decline include:
    • Time spent on the phone.
    • Specific content viewed.
    • Social dynamics associated with phone use.
    • Effect of constantly looking at a screen close to the face.
    • Disruption in sleep.
    • Additional blue light exposure.
  • Young people in America spend about 5 hours a day on social media, mostly on short videos like TikTok and YouTube.
  • Girls spend slightly more time on social media than boys.
  • This amounts to 35 hours a week of potentially harmful interactions with strangers online.
  • When including other activities on a smartphone, total screen time can reach 7 to 10 hours a day, not counting schoolwork.
  • The shift from a play-based childhood to a phone-based childhood since 2010-2012 is incompatible with healthy human development.

The Tragedy of Losing Play-Based Childhood (00:20:40)

  • In the 1950s and 1960s, children had more freedom to play outdoors due to a strong sense of community and trust among neighbors.
  • The 1970s and 1980s saw a decline in children's outdoor play due to rising crime rates and a loss of trust in neighbors.
  • The 1990s brought heightened fears of child abduction and sexual abuse, leading to further restrictions on children's outdoor play and the decline of the play-based childhood.
  • The availability heuristic, which exaggerates the fear of kidnapping, has contributed to overprotective parenting and a rise in suicide rates among children.
  • The rise of the internet, particularly social media, in the 1990s and 2000s has led to an "internet-based childhood" for both boys and girls.

Dr. Jonathan Haidt: How Smartphones & Social Media Impact Mental Health & the Realistic Solutions (00:00:00)

Sponsor: AG1 (00:28:13)

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  • Social media can be addictive and can lead to negative mental health outcomes, such as anxiety, depression, and loneliness.
  • Social media can also contribute to political polarization and the spread of misinformation.
  • Social media can be a source of cyberbullying and other forms of online harassment.
  • Social media can activate the brain's reward system, leading to a dopamine hit that can be addictive.
  • Social media can also lead to negative social comparison, which can damage self-esteem.
  • Social media can disrupt sleep, which can have a range of negative consequences for mental and physical health.
  • Social media can also lead to anxiety and depression, particularly in young people.
  • Limit social media use to 30 minutes per day.
  • Take breaks from social media, especially before bed.
  • Be mindful of the content you consume on social media and avoid negative content.
  • Don't compare yourself to others on social media.
  • Use social media to connect with friends and family, rather than to broadcast your life to the world.
  • If you find that social media is negatively impacting your mental health, consider taking a break or deleting your accounts.

Girls vs. Boys, Interests & Trapping Kids (00:30:02)

  • Smartphones and social media negatively impact mental health, especially in young people.
  • Lack of community trust and fear have led to a decline in play-based childhoods, resulting in children spending more time on devices.
  • Sex differences in interests influence boys and girls' preferences on the internet.
  • Girls focus on social dynamics and prefer platforms like Instagram for social interactions, while boys are drawn to systems and enjoy platforms that simulate hunting, war, or violence, such as first-person shooter games.
  • Boys are naturally inclined towards activities involving war and have an interest in sexual content, which has evolved from magazines to more explicit forms.
  • Hormones like testosterone and estrogen play a significant role in brain development and behavior.
  • Boys are drawn to remote control activities like cars and helicopters, while girls may have different preferences for activities involving remote control vehicles.

“Effectance,” Systems & Relationships, Animals (00:37:31)

  • Effectance is the desire to be a cause and have an effect on the world.
  • Boys tend to focus more on mechanics and the physical world, while girls tend to focus more on relationships and the social world.
  • Girls are generally more compassionate than boys and tend to want to be veterinarians more than boys.
  • Horses require a lot of caretaking, which may be why girls are drawn to them.
  • Biophilia is the term used to describe our species' love of nature and animals.
  • A phone-based childhood takes children away from nature and animals.
  • Aquariums are interesting because of the complex systems involved in maintaining them.
  • It would be interesting to see if there is a sex difference in interest in aquariums.

Boys Sexual Development, Dopamine Reinforcement & Pornography (00:41:47)

  • Pornography consumption during puberty can impact sexual development and future dating life by disrupting the brain's ability to evoke dopamine from healthy relationships.
  • Pornography's easy accessibility on the internet leads to excessive consumption and diminished reinforcement over time, creating an addictive pattern.
  • The dopamine reinforcement system is trained for fast reinforcement through pornography, which does not translate to real-world interactions, leading to issues with erectile dysfunction and anxiety.
  • Individuals may retreat into a world where they view potential partners as distant and foreign objects due to the inability to translate their online experiences to the real world.

Boys, Courtship, Chivalry & Technology; Gen Z Development (00:49:19)

  • The importance of slow, meaningful connections in courtship is emphasized for developing relationships and transitioning from boyhood to manhood.
  • Excessive exposure to pornography and instant gratification from smartphones hinder the development of real-life social and relationship skills.
  • Traditional values of chivalry and slow-paced courtship are contrasted with modern dating app culture, which prioritizes quick responses over genuine connection-building.
  • Smartphones and social media impact mental health by reducing the need for effort and learning, hindering the development of social skills, initiative, and confidence in Gen Z individuals.
  • Gen Z employees often lack the ability to take initiative, fix problems, and handle challenges independently, raising concerns in the corporate world.

Play & Low-Stakes Mistakes, Video Games & Social Media, Conflict Resolution (00:55:24)

  • Boys are experiencing hyper-stereotypical male experiences through smartphones, such as first-person shooter games and pornography, while girls are experiencing hyper-stereotypical female experiences, such as highly relational dynamics.
  • In both groups, conflict and friction are not being resolved among the participants, but rather there is an outward-looking for some rule, policy, law, or oversight to come in and intervene.
  • Aggression and cooperation are part of human nature and are necessary for success in the world.
  • Natural play with no adult forces children to learn social skills that are essential for democracy, such as making rules together, deciding how to govern themselves, and resolving disputes.
  • Video games lack the disputes and infractions that are present in natural play, which deprives boys of the opportunity to learn these crucial social skills.
  • Conflicts on social media are often indirect and can quickly escalate, involving a potentially gigantic group of people, which can be terrifying for kids.
  • Low-stakes mistakes in play are important for learning, but mistakes on social media can have serious consequences, such as becoming a laughing stock and triggering thoughts of suicide.
  • Kids need to be immersed in small groups of other kids that are stable over years for the healthiest environment.
  • Mixing kids with potentially gigantic groups of strangers online, who are not engaging their normal empathy skills but are being performative and judgmental, creates an inhumane environment in which to raise kids.
  • American kids had a recognizably human childhood with a lot of time together with other friends until 2010, but that time has since plunged, and childhood is now largely happening alone on a screen.

Dr. Jonathan Haidt: How Smartphones & Social Media Impact Mental Health & the Realistic Solutions (00:00:00)

  • Dr. Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist, discusses the impact of smartphones and social media on mental health.
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  • Hydration and adequate electrolytes are crucial for optimal brain and body functioning.
  • Dehydration can negatively affect cognitive and physical performance.
  • LMNT makes it easy to ensure proper hydration and electrolyte balance by dissolving one packet in 16 to 32 ounces of water.
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  • To try LMNT, visit and claim a free element sample pack with the purchase of any element drink mix.

Social Media, Trolls, Performance (01:01:23)

  • Social media can be both entertaining and informative, but it can also negatively impact mental health.
  • Online interactions often lack context, leading to misunderstandings and conflict.
  • Social media amplifies negative behaviors, making it difficult to have productive conversations.
  • The fear of negative reactions discourages participation in online discussions.
  • Social media disrupts natural social dynamics, leading to a breakdown in cooperation and trust.
  • The online world disproportionately amplifies the voices of extremists and jerks, distorting their prevalence.
  • People feel pressure to perform or present a certain image on social media, leading to inauthenticity and anxiety.
  • Social media and smartphones can negatively impact mental health.
  • It's important to be aware of the potential dangers of social media, such as misinterpretation and the desire for others to see you fail.
  • As followership increases, the potential for negative consequences also increases.

Dynamic Subordination, Hierarchy, Boys (01:06:47)

  • Dynamic subordination is like a flock of birds, where the hierarchy evolves in real time and the more people embrace it, the better the group performs.
  • Males are more hierarchical than females and benefit from practice being leaders and followers.
  • Groups of boys tend to have different skill sets that complement each other, while groups of girls tend to have one dominant girl.
  • Online, these natural tendencies seem to be erased.

Girls & Perfectionism, Social Media & Performance (01:10:15)

  • Girls tend to be more perfectionist on social media, spending more time editing and choosing photographs to present a perfect image.
  • Boys are less concerned with such details and may not even notice if their socks don't match.
  • The fear of missing out (FOMO) affects both boys and girls, leading to insecurities and a desire to be constantly connected.
  • Girls engage in more complex social dynamics online, while boys' interactions are often more straightforward.
  • These differences are believed to be influenced by the organizing effects of prenatal hormones on brain development.
  • YouTube is primarily a male-dominated platform, with a significant amount of "clapback" type comments.
  • The comment section on YouTube is known for its outrageous and humorous nature, often showcasing men displaying their cleverness.
  • One prominent figure in this online culture is Jocko Willink, who is seen as a trustworthy and authoritative figure, similar to a football coach.
  • Jokes about Jocko Willink are popular, such as the doctor saying "it's a man" when he was born or him telling his father "you're the man of the house now" when leaving for college.
  • This type of humor is characterized by its quick and impactful nature, receiving many likes and propagating rapidly.

Phone-Based Childhood & Brain Development, Critical Periods (01:14:00)

  • Social media use can negatively impact the mental health of young people, especially girls, who are more likely to experience despair, anxiety, sadness, and depression.
  • Boys are more likely to experience heightened neural circuits related to sex and violence, leading to extreme behaviors and interactions.
  • Excessive and rapid social media use during development can disrupt normal brain development and have severe long-term consequences, similar to the effects of junk food on the developing brain.
  • Smartphones and social media can negatively impact mental health, especially in young people, and excessive exposure to intense and violent content can alter dopamine response and affect neural development.
  • A varied and balanced range of experiences, including healthier stimuli, can promote a more adaptive dopamine system.

Puberty & Sensitive Periods, Culture & Identity (01:21:15)

  • Sensitive periods are periods when learning something is easier.
  • Puberty is a sensitive period for culture learning and identity formation.
  • Initiation rites in many cultures help adolescents transition into adulthood.
  • Smartphones and social media can negatively impact mental health, especially in adolescents.
  • Excessive use of social media can lead to anxiety, depression, and sleep problems.
  • Social media can also contribute to cyberbullying and the spread of misinformation.
  • Smartphones and social media can disrupt sleep, leading to fatigue and impaired cognitive function.
  • The constant stream of information and notifications can be overwhelming and lead to stress.
  • Social media can create a culture of comparison and unrealistic expectations, leading to feelings of inadequacy.
  • The fear of missing out (FOMO) can lead to anxiety and a constant need to check social media.
  • Social media can also lead to addiction, with users spending excessive time on their devices.
  • Smartphones and social media can interfere with face-to-face interactions and social skills development.
  • The use of social media can lead to a decrease in empathy and an increase in narcissistic tendencies.

Brain Development & Puberty; Identity; Social Media, Learning & Reward (01:23:55)

  • Puberty involves rapid brain changes, particularly in the hypothalamus and forebrain, affecting impulse control and social development.
  • Social media use during puberty impacts identity formation and self-concept, with excessive filter use and validation-seeking reinforcing certain behaviors.
  • Dopamine-driven neuroplasticity, more sensitive to rewards than punishments, shapes social dynamics and learning.
  • Traditional learning methods and identity formation may be diminished by selective self-presentation on social media.
  • Acetylcholine enhances focus and muscular control, while reinforcing experiences strengthen neural circuits, promoting repetition of those behaviors.

Tool: 4 Recommendations for Smartphone Use in Kids (01:33:37)

  • To protect children and adolescents from the negative impacts of smartphones and social media on mental health, it is recommended to raise the minimum age for their usage to 16 or 18.
  • Schools should adopt a "phone-free" policy to reduce distractions and improve learning outcomes.
  • Children should engage in more independent play, outdoor adventures, and real-world experiences to promote their social and emotional development.
  • Parents and society should collaborate to create an environment that emphasizes real-world experiences and minimizes excessive screen time for children.

Changing Childhood Norms, Policies & Legislature (01:41:48)

  • Excessive smartphone use during a critical period in brain development can lead to negative outcomes such as increased suicides, depression, anxiety, and reduced learning and adaptive behavior.
  • A ban on smartphone sales to children under 14 has been considered in the UK, but a more effective approach may be to change social norms around smartphone use and develop a consensus that sees smartphones in the hands of children as being similar to cigarettes.
  • The current law (COPA) allows children as young as 13 to sign contracts, give away their data, and make deals with companies without parental consent.
  • The age limit for social media use should be raised to 16 to protect children from the negative impacts of social media.
  • Laws should be implemented to prevent helicopter parenting and incentivize play-based childhood in the real world.

Summer Camp, Team Sports, Religion, Music (01:49:13)

  • Summer camps offer a technology detox and encourage social interaction without phones, benefiting children's mental health.
  • Team sports, such as those promoted by organizations like the YMCA, foster cooperation and social interaction, acting as protective factors for mental health.
  • Playing an instrument, particularly in a collaborative setting, enhances neuroplasticity and brain connectivity.
  • Synchronized activities, like marching or playing music together, create a sense of unity, reducing the sense of self and leading to positive mental health outcomes.
  • Rituals that bring people together synchronously, such as singing in a choir or playing in a band, can create thrilling, self-transcendent experiences.
  • Face-to-face interaction is crucial for synchrony and attunement, which are lacking in asynchronous communication on social media platforms like Instagram.

Boredom, Addiction & Smartphones; Tool: “Awe Walks” (01:54:36)

  • Smartphones and social media usage may negatively impact kids' mental health, leading to addiction-like behaviors.
  • Some kids use social media and other online activities as a form of self-medication to cope with loneliness and anxiety, driven by the fear of missing out and the need to keep up with others.
  • Excessive information consumption from smartphones and social media can hinder kids' ability to process and digest it all, leading to difficulty in developing their inner thoughts.
  • Regaining control of attention by turning off unnecessary notifications, limiting social media access, and engaging in mindful activities like walking without distractions can help reduce anxiety and promote well-being.

Casino Analogy & Ceding Childhood; Social Media Content (02:03:14)

  • Smartphones and social media platforms have become the primary environments where young people spend their time, often at the expense of real-world experiences.
  • These platforms prioritize keeping users engaged and addicted, disregarding the potential negative impact on their well-being.
  • Excessive time spent on these platforms can have adverse effects on eye health, leading to nearsightedness.
  • Limiting the total time spent on social media and addressing disturbing content are crucial for young people's mental health.
  • Social media is more addictive than television due to its constant reward system and the pressure to live one's life in front of a camera.
  • Delaying children's access to social media during puberty is a more effective solution to protect their mental well-being than solely focusing on reducing harmful content.

Adult Behavior; Tool: Meals & Phones (02:09:33)

  • Parents' use of phones while with their children can be seen as modeling behavior.
  • Young children often copy the behaviors of adults, including their parents.
  • By the time children reach adolescence, they are more focused on their peer group's opinions than their parents'.
  • Parents should try to improve their phone habits, especially during meals, to model positive behavior for their children.
  • Parents should set limits on their children's screen time and model healthy phone use.
  • Families should have regular "device-free" meals and activities to encourage face-to-face interaction.
  • Schools should provide education about the responsible use of technology and digital media.
  • Social media companies should develop features that promote responsible use and limit addictive behaviors.
  • Individuals should be mindful of their own phone use and take breaks from technology to engage in other activities.

Regaining Childhood Independence; Tool: Family Groups & Phones (02:11:45)

  • Create a rebellion against smartphone addiction by portraying social media companies as the enemy, similar to how the media portrayed tobacco companies.
  • Unlike tobacco addiction, social media addiction is a social addiction that affects almost everyone, including middle school students.
  • The solution is not to take away smartphones but to provide kids with an exciting childhood full of adventure and experiences.
  • Encourage kids to spend time outdoors, explore their surroundings, and engage in activities with friends without the constant presence of adults.
  • Coordinate with other families to implement phone policies and create a supportive environment for kids to enjoy their childhood without feeling deprived.

Screens & Future Optimism, Collective Action, KOSA Bill (02:16:09)

  • Dr. Jonathan Haidt believes positive change is possible regarding smartphone and social media use among children and teenagers.
  • Excessive screen time negatively impacts children's mental health, leading to widespread recognition and frustration among parents.
  • Dr. Haidt's book, "The Coddling of the American Mind," provides psychological concepts and solutions, empowering parents and educators to take action.
  • Collective action, such as forming reading groups and advocating for phone-free schools, is gaining momentum and leading to positive outcomes.
  • A growing movement towards phone-free schools and reduced social media use among children is showing promising results.
  • Parents should encourage independent adventures and self-supervised activities to mitigate the negative effects of technology on children's mental health.
  • Supporting organizations like Let Grow and advocating for the Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) are important steps in addressing the issue.
  • Dr. Jonathan Haidt's work in researching and advocating for children's well-being is commendable and inspiring.

Zero-Cost Support, Spotify & Apple Reviews, YouTube Feedback, Social Media, Neural Network Newsletter (02:24:52)

  • The summary of this section is not needed as it only contains information about the podcast and how to support it.
  • Dr. Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist and professor at New York University.
  • His research focuses on the intersection of psychology and social issues, including morality, politics, and religion.
  • In this discussion, Dr. Haidt discusses the impact of smartphones and social media on mental health, particularly among young people.
  • Negative Impacts:
    • Increased anxiety and depression, especially among teenage girls.
    • Reduced attention spans and ability to focus.
    • Sleep deprivation due to excessive screen time before bed.
    • Fear of missing out (FOMO) and constant comparison to others.
    • Cyberbullying and online harassment.
    • Addiction to social media and technology.
  • Positive Impacts:
    • Social connection and support.
    • Access to information and resources.
    • Creative expression and self-discovery.
    • Educational opportunities and skill development.
  • Factors Influencing the Impact:
    • Individual differences in personality and resilience.
    • Family environment and support.
    • Socioeconomic status and access to resources.
    • Cultural norms and values.
  • Individual Level:
    • Set limits on screen time and social media use.
    • Practice mindfulness and meditation to reduce stress and anxiety.
    • Engage in regular physical activity and exercise.
    • Prioritize sleep and establish a consistent sleep schedule.
    • Seek professional help if experiencing mental health issues.
  • Societal Level:
    • Develop educational programs to teach digital literacy and responsible technology use.
    • Encourage parents to talk to their children about online safety and mental health.
    • Hold social media companies accountable for their role in mental health.
    • Advocate for policies that protect children and young people online.

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