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Jonathan Haidt On How Social Media Is Rewiring Childhood

By April 22, 2024No Comments
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Episode #827



Our children are being shaped by a world that starkly contrasts with the analog era of the past—transformed by the rise of social media and the ubiquity of smartphone technology.

What was once the stuff of science fiction is now the stark reality for Generation Z and those who follow.

My guest today is Jonathan Haidt, a leading social psychologist and the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He has dedicated himself to untangling the complex web of consequences arising from this extended digital rewiring of childhood.

Jonathan doesn’t shy away from addressing the alarming trends he’s observed—trends that point to an epidemic of anxiety, depression, and self-harm sweeping through our youth, all detailed in his latest New York Times bestseller, The Anxious Generation.

Through extensive research and poignant anecdotes, Jonathan paints a vivid picture of a generation grappling with identity, belonging, and mental health in an unprecedented digital landscape. Puberty is a critically important period of child development, during which the brain rewires based on the inputs it receives. Gone are the days of carefree, unsupervised play—replaced by constant online performance, curated personas, and the ever-present threat of public shaming and scrutiny.

He identifies key inflection points, like the release of the iPhone, front-facing cameras, filters, and notifications, that served as catalysts for this transformation—one marked by attention fragmentation, addiction, and the atomization of community. The data is clear: the mental well-being of today’s youth is in crisis, with suicide rates doubling since 2010.

“Kids need less time on their screens and more time with each other.”


Today, we talk about the profound impact of technology and social media on young people’s mental health and well-being. Jonathan explores the loss of childhood independence, the rise in suicide rates, and gender-specific differences in how technology affects mental health. Critical harms of hyperconnectivity, such as social deprivation, sleep deprivation, and addiction, are discussed. We also examine the broader societal implications, including tribalism, polarization, erosion of trust in institutions, and the need for regulation and collective action to address the challenges posed by technology and social media for the younger generation.

Jonathan offers more than just a clarion call—he provides a concrete roadmap to our collective action problem aimed at reclaiming children from the grips of technology. From delaying smartphone access to restricting social media use, his proposed reforms and new societal norms seek to restore the delicate balance between the digital and the real, empowering the next generation to thrive.

For those who prefer a visual experience, the conversation is available on YouTube. As always, the audio version streams wild and free on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Jonathan’s work is profound, and this conversation really struck a chord. This one is a must-listen if you’re a parent or simply a concerned citizen.

The time for action is now, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

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