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Today’s episode is about what I think, is one of the most interesting and disturbing mysteries in America right now.
That is the stunning rise of teenage sadness and anxiety.
The facts are these in the last decade, plus the share of American High School, students, who say, they feel persistent sadness, has increased by 70% to the highest level ever recorded by the CDC today, more than four in 10 teenagers say Are consistently sad, hopeless, or anxious.
Now most sociological Trends are what I call spiky then like they’re specific to a few places or a few key demographics.
Like, you would say you don’t violence is increasing in America, but it’s really being driven by a few cities or video game.
Sales are booming, but it’s mostly driven by men under 40.
It’s actually kind of hard to find a trend more Universal than this one since 2009.
Has has increased for teenagers of every race for straight teens and especially for LGBT students.
It’s increased for freshmen and increased for sophomores, and increased for juniors, and especially increased for seniors.
It’s increased for teens in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
What is happening here?
So, I think of this topic and my attempt to solve this mystery a bit like a detective story.
And what I want to do is line up all The Usual Suspects and unusual suspects today, the pandemic social media parenting, the news to see if we can arrive at some kind of answer to this big fat important fascinating mystery.
I’m very happy to report that my fellow detective is the NYU social psychologist.
Jonathan haidt, Jonathan is the author of the righteous.
And at the coddling of the American mind, he is also the author of a very big, very good essay in the Atlantic about what social media is doing to our culture.
In today’s episode is I think one of the most interesting and important ones that we’ve done so far because at the bottom of the mystery of what today’s teens are going through the mystery of why they are so sad, really is a question that makes contact with all of us.
What is sadness?
What is happiness?
And what is it about, America?
That is making it so hard for today’s teenagers to find.
I’m Derek Thompson.
This is plain English.
Welcome to the podcast.
Thank you so much.
What a pleasure to talk to somebody whose work.
I have read.
Well, it’s mutual and speaking of work that I’ve read often.
I wrote this piece for the Atlantic.
Why American teenagers are so sad and it spread way further online than I anticipated, but my article has For one solitary second been the most popular article on the Atlantic because it happened to come out the same day as your big critique on social media entitled.
Why the past 10 years of American Life have been uniquely stupid and your essay has I’m pretty sure Ben the most read article on the Atlantic site for every minute and every hour of the last two weeks straight and this is no normal achievement.
Like your essay is like the Joe DiMaggio of online leadership.
So I thought I would do is have you on this podcast to braid, your analysis of social media.
And your previous rating of Youth mental health into my sociological detective story, this mystery of rising teenage sadness and that together you and I might through debate and discussion come to some clear answers here.
So how does that sound?
That sounds great because you know, I’m a social scientist and I like to tell sociological detective stories.
In fact, when Greg Luciano from I wrote the Colleen American mind, we framed the whole second half of the book as a sociological detective story.
What the hell happened to gen Z and we had all these Threads and all these things to me then.
And then I write this Atlanta article on what social media is doing to democracy and I kind of focused on one thread, namely social media.
And I, you know, I know I agree.
There are a lot more threads that I didn’t cover.
And so, actually, I’m very glad to, to what do you say, interweave interpret ever, we’re going to do.
Let’s do it.
Let’s weave, let’s braid.
So my first question for you is, how do we know that this phenomenon is real?
Like the CDC has Found to its various surveys that persistent sadness and hopelessness among high school students has increased in the last decade and Spike during the pandemic.
But I think some people might look at this and say, well, you know, kids have always been Moody growing up.
His always been hard.
Sadness, is always been a part of the youth experience, and only looks like some phenomenon is rising now because kids are more willing to disclose their mental health issues today than there used to be, but there are objective measures outside of surveys that tell us.
This is a real Is that right?
So on the day that the coddling, the American mind the book was published was like, September September 7th 2018 on that very day.
The New York Times, had an op-ed by psychiatrist, Richard Friedman, whose work, I like very much, but the headline was the big myth about teenage anxiety, subhead relax.
The digital age is not wrecking your kid’s brain.
This was as late as 2018 and what Friedman was arguing was relax.
It’s just self-report data.
Yeah, I mean, you know, we’re just looking at all these surveys and to be sure the kids say they’re depressed but that just shows that they’re comfortable talking about it.
That’s a good thing.
They’re not repressing it.
They’re not ashamed.
So that’s a good thing.
There’s nothing real.
Your kids can have iPhones.
So that was 2018.
And and by then actually, the data was already in that, it wasn’t just self-report data.
The suicide rate was sort of reached the kind of a low in 2009.
There was a little dip in 2009.
It begins Rising after that.
But it begins Rising much faster, especially for preteen girls as a big jump between 2012 and 2013 and then it just keeps going.
So suicide rates began Rising the early 2010’s self-harm rates.
It’s like it’s a hockey stick.
What happened to us?
And this is not self report.
This is Hospital a group in the US and then a different group.
In the UK.
They looked at Medical Records Hospital admissions for self harm and those numbers for the, for the The older teen girls, it goes up.
So I think it’s like 80 percent over the next few years from 2012 to 2015 about 80% for the preteen girls.
Or this is 11 to 14.
I think was the way they cut the data is because I think it was a hundred and fifty percent.
So, preteen girls didn’t used to be hospitalized for self-harm as late as 2011 2012 but by 2015, they’ve more than doubled their rate.
So this is not just soft report.
This is, this is an epidemic of Self-harm and suicide.
I think it’s important to say that both things are true.
It is true, that there has been destigmatize ation of mental health issues.
That people might be more likely to disclose what they are feeling to their parents or to the CDC or to a therapist.
And also, as you said, we have all of this evidence from eating disorders and self-harming, behavior, and suicides and emergency department visits for mental health.
Emergencies, that showed that there is an objective increase in in Rising, you think?
Xiety and sadness.
What I want to do here is that now?
I’m satisfied that we’ve established as a real Trend.
I want to basically Focus the rest of the conversation about why it’s happening.
Why is American teenage sadness?
Increasing, I have four main culprits that I want to hit and I’d like to, just run through them.
One, two, three, four, so, you do it and I’ll support you or shoot you down.
Okay, let’s hit that to do it.
The first corporate that I name in my article is social media use, and I want to give you the floor here because you wrote this huge.
About social media and what it’s doing to our culture and our brains, and our politics, specifically on the issue of American teenage sadness.
Why do we think that social media use is a core culprit here?
So there’s there’s a number of reasons.
So the first is that the timing is impeccable.
We have teens, you know, they’re getting on Facebook and 2004-2005 but you have to be a college student to do it and they are flip phones.
Don’t have it.
It’s Only after the iPhone comes out, 2007.
And then by 2009, teams are beginning to have them more commonly.
So before 2019, s aren’t on social media on a daily basis.
Whereas by 2012, they are social media has changed.
It’s become much more engaging.
Instagram has come out, which is very engaging to girls.
So between 2009 and 2012 teen social life in the United States and Canada and Britain, and other countries has really changed.
And now Most teens are daily users of These platforms which are now much more viral, interesting, engaging and addictive than they were, as recently as 2008.
And so what I and then so that’s by 2012 and then the mental health epidemic begins in 2013.
So the timing is impeccable.
It’s exactly what you would predict.
Now of course correlation does not show causation as a thousand listeners are screaming at the podcast for me right now.
I always like to let me 11 scream a little bit and then I come back and say Here’s here’s why we can go way beyond that.
So the standard social science, response is exactly.
So then we take our cues from correlational studies, that we test an experimental e.
So, it’s not just that these two things co-occurred like, you know, television spread in the 1950s and 60s, you know, and so did crime like even if it’s that you can’t just say that.
So it’s as you said it’s that a there is direct correlation 11.
It’s that the more you use it the more depressed you are but it’s actually that’s a curvilinear relationship.
We’re using it like an hour or two a day.
You don’t find much but the Users.
You do find actually that they’re much more depressed.
So there is a direct correlation 11/10 user by user on it.
And just to jump in here, you and Jean 20 have compiled a Google doc, with hundreds of studies, at least over 100 cities, looking at the relationship between social media and teenage mental health, and most of them have found that more social media use is correlated with worse, mental health, but it’s not just these studies.
It’s also Facebook and Instagram that have found this connection.
Very Honestly, there was an Instagram study a piece of internal research that was leaked to the Wall Street Journal last year and they’re famous Facebook files.
And that internal research reported quote 32 percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse.
We make body image issues, worse for one in Three.
Teen girls, quote, teens blame, Instagram for increases, in the rate of anxiety and depression.
Is unprompted and consistent across all groups and quote.
So it’s not just the timing.
It’s not just oh these things both started in 2012, is that when Facebook asks its own users, what’s going on?
This is what they say.
The victims themselves point to the killer.
I mean, it’s like, you know, it’s like people are all there’s no evident.
We’ve got a dead body, you know, we have a suicide epidemic in a depressed, but, you know, there’s no evidence that this was the killer.
Well, you know, there’s correlational evidence.
There’s experimental evidence, and the victims themselves.
Elves point, you know, from the grave and say he did it.
He did it, you know, ask you talk to any group of teenage girls.
I have never found one.
I do this a lot.
Whenever I’m, you know, I annoy my nieces and my friends children, but I’ve never found a teenage girl or grouper girls just said, oh no, it’s a great weird.
You know, it’s so good for us.
I think it’s really thinks it’s good for them.
Yeah, the the gold standard here, you’re pointing to some of these some of these experiments the gold standard here for me is the 2019 study, the welfare effects of social media.
This was in part done.
Economist Matthew against CAO at Stanford.
And basically, these are researchers.
They paid people two randomly deactivate Facebook for the four weeks before the 2018 midterms, and they found four things in his treatment group.
They spent more time doing things offline.
Sometimes, watching TV alone, but often hanging out with family and friends and we’re actually going to get back to that in just a second.
Number two, it reduced both factual news knowledge and political polarization.
We’re going to get back to that as well in just a And number three.
It increased subjective.
Well-being, people were happier when they were paid to be on Facebook and number for many of them continued that behavior when they reflected on that happiness.
So I just think it’s really important for people that are coming to this argue that are coming to this podcast, not particularly interested in hearing the argument that social media and smartphone usage is having this negative effect to understand that we have timing, we have correlation.
We have surveys and we have experimental.
Data my question for you.
And this to a certain extent is a million-dollar question, is what’s the mechanism right?
In case of it, to be fair?
We have freaked out about technology.
Basically, every time there is new technology.
Like Plato said writing was bad for us.
Thea said the printing press is bad for us.
What is social media doing two teenage Minds?
That is having this negative effect.
So what’s the mechanism?
Well, like many complicated phenomena when you radically changed childhood life.
There are a variety of mechanisms, variety of paths by which this can be harmful.
And so what I’ve come to see in digging deep into the the set of hundreds of studies in looking at the sex difference in the age difference is.
So let’s focus on what I think is the most harmful pathway and that is girls going through puberty posting photos of themselves for others to rate.
That is the most damaging.
If there is what I’m finding just from talking to girls and reading about this is it’s not just you know, we all know you look at everything else is perfect.
Like that’s the thing that everyone talks about is.
Oh, you know, everyone’s life looks better than yours and they have filters and they only take their best moments.
And of course, your average is always worse than their best.
So we all know about that, the social comparison.
That’s a, that’s a big process, but I think the most poisonous, dangerous damaging process is not just over.
Life, is better than mine or oh, lots of people like Her post.
But not my, it’s not that it’s you post photos of yourself, your body, your face for strangers to rate.
Even if you keep it just to your friends.
So that, you know, the amount of time that girls spend composing these and then the pain, they feel when people make a critical comment or when they say nothing at all.
So I think what we have here is a platform that is unsafe at any speed, you know, people talk about how to tweak it.
Well, let’s hide the like counters, what Instagram tried but let me say this very clearly There is no way, no tweak, no architectural change, that will make it.
Okay for teenage girls to post photos of themselves while they’re going through puberty for strangers or others to rate public leak.
There that is unsafe at any speed there.
So, you know, we didn’t know this in 2012.
We thought oh what a great outlet for creativity, but now we do, you know, we have this mental health catastrophe unfolding, there is no other explanation.
Let me be very clear about this.
I’ve been saying this stuff’s, you know, since 2018 and I keep saying, okay, if you Another explanation.
Let’s hear it.
Nobody has won many people say, oh, well, the global financial crisis, you know, but okay, I will get to that because that’s your bad news.
But yeah, I have other explanations that I think, are you suspended metaphor before like ingredients in ingredients in the jambalaya, but I think it’s important to begin with this ingredient because I really do think that social media is just an enormous part of young people’s lives.
And this brings me to my number two explanation.
So number one is the Direct effects of social media.
Use my number two.
Especially posting photos of your special notice of yourself for teenage girls.
My number two explanation, is that the rise of Youth sadness has something to do with the decline of social life for teens?
And that, that has to do with the fact that social media use has a displacement effect.
Teens, spend According to some surveys between five and seven hours a day.
On their phones.
Most of which time is Went on social media, and that’s 40% of their waking hours.
And it is as the Matthew against CAO study that I just mentioned.
It’s room, is displacing time with friends and family.
So I want to ask you how important you think.
This displacement effect is as a corporate for Rising you sadness.
I think it is huge and it’s much worse than you say because it’s not just displacing, it’s more than that.
So to talk about this one, here’s where we have to talk about normal mammals.
Element because mammals have this unique life plan.
We have big brains were very social and we have, you know, live birth huge investment by the parents, but there’s a long period of childhood play all you know, puppies and kitties play a lot and human children.
Play a lot for many many years.
And humans have this really interesting pattern, where our growth actually slows down between around age, 7 and 12.
And then we hit a growth spurt and some have speculated that this is like a kind of a slow, a timeout period of physical growth.
Earth to allow for cultural learning.
So all over the world once kids, reach around the age of seven.
They can take the cattle down to the river.
They can, you know, scavenge and scour and learn hunting.
They’re copying adult Behavior patterns, but they’re still very, very playful.
So this is a crucial period of brain development, Social Development, H 7 to 12 and all over America and everywhere.
Not well, but we’re America Canada UK.
I always ask when I give a talk, I say, at what age were you let out?
And I just say, if you were born before 1982, tell me what age.
Could you go?
Play No adult supervision.
And the answer is always six seven or eight, you know, and you know me and others we grew up during the crime wave.
Like there was a lot of crime in the 60s, 70s and 80s, but kids went out and played on supervised.
And then all of a sudden the nineties we freaked out about child, abduction, even though the crime rate is plummeting and even though nobody is abducted but in America other than by a non-custodial parent, we freaked out about it and we keep we lock our kids up.
We say it’s too dangerous for you to go out.
And of course they can be on television.
They can be on computers, but then When when the iPhone comes in and social media comes in.
Now, this is so fun and so addictive.
And there’s, there’s this kind of a response reinforcement pattern with a touchscreen that is much more addictive than anything on a computer on a computer, which is not a touchscreen, or on a television screen, which is not responsive at all.
The way I see it.
It’s, like kids need millions of experiences of conflict, getting lost struggling with something failing, in a low state.
That’s what plays all about.
Play is what bait develops our brain, but we did beginning around 2009, was we put all of our kids on experience blockers.
That is we said all that experience that you’re supposed to be getting, you know, going out with your friends and making a fort in the woods and learning how to shoplift or not shop that whatever it is.
All the experience.
The kids are supposed to get.
Let’s, let’s just stop that.
And to be clear.
I just jump in here.
Everything that you are saying is backed by data, compared with their counterparts.
And the 1990s and early 2000s.
Today’s teens are less likely to go out with her friends by their own admission.
This is this is the CDC asking kids asking high school students time report time.
He says how much time you spend with your friends that has gone down the share of kids, getting driver’s license that has gone down the share of kids, participating in Youth Sports.
This isn’t self-reports.
These are the youth sport leagues, saying, how many kids are signing up for youth sports?
That has declined as well.
So you have less sociality, you have less.
Out, and you have less literal play.
Also, I think it’s important to say that, although you point out.
This is more than just displacement.
It does seem to be displacing sleep, the share of high school students who say, they get eight or more hours of sleep per night, declined, 30% between 2007 and 2019 and to me when I think about the, the mechanisms here because I want theories that only of what is happening.
But why like, how are the Domino’s clicking into each other like being around people?
It’s play it teaches, you resilience, of course.
It’s also like it’s a social tonic.
It’s a social medicine.
Like I’ve had sad moments in my life.
I’ve had said years in my life.
And I know personally for me that what makes me happy is being around the people that I love the most.
And so if you live in a stressful world and growing up is so stressful.
It will always be filled with ennui.
There’s no innovation that can get us around that, but if we take away sociality, if we take away, hang out with people in person, then you keep the disease.
And you remove the social tonic, you remove the medicine of just being with the people that you love and that’s the part that really worries me the most about about youth being sucked and funneled into the screen of the phone.
So I love your metaphors and I think the, you know, the idea of you know, medicine atonic is very good.
I’ve been playing with the metaphor of food, you know, when I was, I was born in 1963 and it was all about the space program and Tang this like fake.
Orange juice substitute, which has vitamins in it.
And instant breakfast.
It was the idea that well if we know science can make a better breakfast in nature and we have we put all these vitamins and just have this.
And now we know know that food has so many micronutrients.
There’s all kinds of phytochemicals, as all kinds of things.
You need a balanced diet.
We need a vast range of Fort Meade.
A range of foods in order to develop healthily.
Now what would happen if someone said, you know what the perfect food is rice, let’s just give kids rice and They could live for a long time on rice, but they would pretty quickly get scurvy, because if you don’t have vitamin C, you’re going to get scurvy.
And you’re, you know, you get all deformed and you go insane.
And so I think what happened?
Because let me be clear.
Phones are a kind of experience and video video games.
Actually multiplayer video games.
Actually have a lot to recommend them.
I’m not, you know, I’m not a Luddite.
My son got on.
We kept him off Fortnight that when he was in sixth grade when other boys were getting on and getting addicted, but we did let him on an eighth-grade just especially before covid.
It was actually really good for him.
So to be clear, video games and screens, and even social media.
It is a kind of experience that.
And there are some good things that come from that experience, but it would be like, saying, okay, we’re going to give you just fortified rice.
So it’s rice with vitamin C and some other vitamins it, but it still just rice.
And if we fed our kids on, basically, we’d be giving them, you know, food blockers, like all of your diet is just as one narrow stretch, and of course you’re going to come out deformed.
And so any of the numbers that you gave before, you know, if kids are on safe.
Five hours a day on their phones.
And most of that is social media.
Well, for girls on social media, the time on the app isn’t all of the time.
Because, you know, I watch them walking around New York City, and you watch them composing the photos and it’s, you know, they carefully sculpt the photo for Instagram, the amount of time that they spend thinking about their posts and thinking how they’re doing.
So if they’re on for five hours a day, their mental space is probably eight or nine hours a day.
And, you know, my kids are busy my Was in high school.
He has no time.
If someone came to me and said, hey, I’ve got this thing.
It’s going to take 30 hours a week from your son’s life, and it probably has many more harm than benefits.
Would that be okay with you Dad 30 hours a week of your son’s time.
Are you crazy?
I’m going to have you arrested.
That’s an interesting way of putting it.
And I think about this aspect of social media a lot.
I think about this aspect of work a lot.
The fact that I spend all this time thinking about it that can’t be captured by any typical time you sir.
Like my phone can tell me to the very minute to the very second.
How much time I spent the previous week on Twitter.
It can’t tell me how much time was destroyed in my life because someone said something really mean and nasty about me on Twitter and I have CEST about it for the next 36 hours.
But that is how the poison of social media can insinuate itself in Us in ways that these surveys aren’t capturing.
You know, I’ve said before that just had a food metaphor to your food metaphor to my original metaphor.
I’ve called social media attention alcohol.
And the reason I like to call it attention alcohol is that I think it’s important to say that social media can be good.
I learn a lot from Twitter.
I have gotten a lot from various social media platforms and it’s just like, alcohol, there’s some aspects of it that are very pro-social, but as with alcohol, we know that it can create severe problems.
Dependency problems, depression problems.
Among a minority of the population.
And so as a result, we develop a social infrastructure around talking about alcohol, we say, you know don’t have that fifth drink or have someone Her now, or don’t drive home or you should see someone we’re having an intervention.
We have this really Lush social vocabulary around alcohol because we’ve been around it.
Not just for decades for thousands of years.
We do not have that social infrastructure around social media around the attention alcohol.
And yet it is creating a lot of very similar problems for us.
I love the metaphor and I can, I can improve it for you.
Please, part of our a tip part of our adaptation is that we’ve decided, Added that, you know, it’s too hard to ban it.
And actually many people get a lot of pleasure from it.
So we do let adults have it, but we’ve decided that under 18 when I was a kid.
It was under 18, you’re not supposed to be drinking, and then it turned out that, you know, my generation and before we would get drunk and we would drive and that would kill people.
So we said, you know what?
21, you can’t.
You can’t drink, you’re not allowed to drink until 21.
And I think we are now at the point, we need to do the same thing with social media.
I think other whether it’s 18 or 16.
I’m not sure.
I think it’s clear, you know, kids going through puberty should not be on social media until they’re well past puberty.
And so, I think it’s 16 is the minimum age that we should be letting kids have accounts that allow them to post for strangers.
Now, let’s be really clear.
Social media is broadly defined includes Zoom.
Texting was a social media, right?
We are talking over Zim.
Yeah, but but that, but we’re communicating we’re not well, okay, I was gonna say we’re not performing on a platform.
Actually, of course, we are doing this for public, but the point is, Technologies that connect kids so they can talk to each other.
It’s the performance aspect.
It’s a platform on which you’re not talking directly to your friends.
You’re using the platform to perform to try to impress people.
That is what we’re not going to stop adults from doing that.
If adults want to spend their life managing their brand, their social brand fine.
I’m not, I’m not going to tell adults well-to-do, but if platforms are hooking my kids without my permission without my knowledge, in ways that seem devastating and where’s the basically, take up 30 hours a week of their time.
I’m mad as hell about that.
And I think we need to have Hmm, that needs to be enforced.
You constructed a pretty convenient on-ramp to the number three variable here, which is changes in parenting.
So, to review, we’ve done Direct effects of social media, and indirect effects of social media, my displacement thesis, you mentioned that in the 1980s 1990s.
There were fears about what was happening to kids.
There were fears about violence.
And since then we have seen again, both in self reports and in studies that time spent with Has increased tremendously and it’s strategies of parenting have shifted toward being more with some people call accommodating, not just helicopter parenting, but parenting that is designed to keep our children from feeling stresses, and that this might have a blowback effect in creating a generation of anxious kids.
What is your thesis about how much parenting Styles have to do with the phenomenon of rising teenage sadness and anxiety?
So there’s two things here.
One is, the data is very clear.
That fathers are spending more time with kids than they used to, and we generally think that’s a good thing.
But here’s the weird thing, mothers are spending more time with kids in the used to to and even though women or families are having many fewer children.
And even though women are working a lot more than they used to in the 50s and 60s.
So what we have is very small families.
Typically only one or two kids with two parents when the parents are married with two parents, who are Spending a lot more time with the kids.
So now, of course, there are many kids that are still in the collected, but in your, in sort of more typical middle class and above families.
There’s way too much parenting.
Now, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, if the parenting the skillful, but it’s not skillful because Americans, I think we do just about the worst job in the world to raising kids because we bought into some ideas that are really, really harmful.
And one is the idea that stress is bad.
And what is true is that chronic stress is bad for us.
If we leave our stress system turned on.
Or days and days, you know the body evolved humans evolved like all mammals to have emergency response systems and if they’re left on for days and days you get stress-related disorders, so you don’t want your kids to be anxious, of course.
Bullying is destroys is so damaging when it goes on for a long time, but we’ve accepted the idea that even short-term stress is back, which is exactly wrong.
Kids need a lot of short-term stress, and I don’t mean to fear for their lives, never, that’s that.
But to feel a challenge, To go out and take a risk to get lost risk.
Taking is a crucial, human skill.
And so, you know, most of us learn this, you learn climbing a tree, you take the risks yourself.
You learn to size up a branch as far as I can.
New Zealand, is the last English speaking country where kids are allowed to climb trees.
We basically said, we don’t want our kids to take any risks.
Are playgrounds are so safe that our kids don’t have a chance to learn anything.
There’s no risk that you can take on a playground.
So, the key idea should have introduced this.
In my first sentence is the wonderful concept from the same tool.
They’ve called antifragility.
And this is the key thing that American parents, don’t seem to understand, just, just to just to put some meat on that bone.
And it seemed to lab is a, extremely is an incredibly diverse creative.
Creative strating frustrated.
Really interesting writer about about economics and finance, and he has this theory of antifragility, which essentially says that some systems are fragile.
Some systems are resilient.
In some systems are anti fragile.
Is that the right sort of triptych?
We are endless.
Talk about how kids need to be resilient.
But as fertility points out.
Resilient means that when you drop something like a plastic sippy cup, it doesn’t break.
Its resilient, you know, glass is fragile.
So if you drop your brakes, we don’t like kids have glass, you know, play with wine glasses.
We can sippy cups, but if you drop a sippy cup, it doesn’t get better.
And what to let was trying to figure out is what are the systems that actually get better when you drop them?
And I think that I can’t remember what I Think we came to it was, he’s one of the few people who predicted the global financial crisis.
He wrote that book, The Black Swan, and he could see that the banking system was so fragile.
It hadn’t been tested.
If it had been tested repeatedly would have adapted to those tests, but it wasn’t.
So he said this thing can all come down, all of a sudden and that’s what happened.
And so I think I can’t remember if this was his exact story, but I think he then came to think about, are there other systems like that.
And of course, now, we all understand the immune system really well and the immune system is anti fragile.
You protect your kid from dirt and germs.
Then the immune system doesn’t have a chance to develop and your kids will have autoimmune disorders because you’ll have antibodies, you won’t understand.
Won’t understand that there are certain things like peanuts that are not harmful.
And so, peanut allergies have tripled since from the 90s through the early for the wood throughout 2010, precisely because we try to protect kids from peanuts, but they needed exposure to peanuts in order for their immune system to learn that peanuts are.
So so once you understand antifragility now, you can see why it’s so important that kids be let out on the playground let out to explore and you know what happens when they do that they get into arguments, they tease each other and you know, we many of us think.
Oh, we can’t let that happen.
We can’t near teasing as bullying hurt feelings.
We don’t want that.
But if you do that, it’s like, you’re protecting your kid for emotional peanuts, and your kid is going to be so hypersensitive and easily harmed.
And then you’re going to send them to us at universities and we said, starting in 2014.
What is going on?
What what is happening with students who can’t take?
The presence of a speaker with ideas.
They hate were some who criticize that their idea.
They experience it as a personal attack, you know, it’s like some of the Gen Z students who came in around 2014.
It’s as though they had no skin.
And, of course, it’s not their fault, but it happened for exactly this.
This reason that you are saying, and that we said in the Talib, says, kids are antifragile.
You know, it’s interesting.
So another Atlantic feature was by Kate, Julian 2020 called what happened to American Childhood and her thesis is very close to the point that you just made.
She said, That researchers in amongst developmental psychology and parent researchers have noticed this increase in which she called the accommodative parenting style.
So what that means is, for example, if a girl is afraid of dogs and accommodation would be that, you never visit a friend, a friend’s house who has a dog or if a boy, won’t eat vegetables, you feed him.
Nothing but turkey loaf for four years and that unfortunately is a actual story from the article.
I think it’s important to say Those behaviors do come from love, right.
Parenting is hard.
No one wants to see their children suffer.
Even these these micro stresses but a part of growing up for both children and parents is learning how to release negative emotions in the face of inevitable stress.
And that is something that has to be inculcated.
It’s something that has to be taught and so much of Kate’s article was essentially about teaching parents.
The Mm of exposure therapy and exposure therapy.
For anyone who’s been in clinical therapy, is this idea that if you do have a fear of something, if you have a version to something, it’s very helpful to find, safe environments to confront that fearful stimulus.
In order to stop feeling the same kind to fear from it.
So for example, if the kid doesn’t like broccoli, maybe like caramelized some broccoli.
Yes, for a sugar mix.
You got it.
Put some, put some brown sugar on that broccoli.
Make it sweet as hell.
And then after a while, the kid will eventually enjoy, brussels sprouts, and broccoli.
And that’s, and that sort of that sort of anti, commutator parenting writ small, right caramelized the broccoli.
So that you’re so that we don’t raise a generation of kids that has this sort of vegetable aversion in life.
And that’s very well.
Put and the idea of accommodation sounds like a good word.
And of course since the Americans with Disabilities Act were all, we’re all required to accommodate various disabilities, and that includes mental illness.
And whose depression anxiety.
And so, you know, I remember one of the Articles, one of the example from the K.
Julian article is the kid who was so anxious that, you know, the boy or girl was would like if the mother was out of earshot, if the mother was couldn’t couldn’t be reached verbally at every moment, the kid would get very anxious and they moved houses.
They moved it to a different house.
So that the mother could always be within earshot of the kid with it has a different design.
That’s the ultimate and accommodation.
Whereas, as you say the You know, the the whole point of childhood is to give the kid the experiences that will give them the skills to cope with the world to the one.
The only thing I disagreed with uses thing about, it’s important that they learn to express or release emotions that I don’t think that’s, that’s not the issue.
We don’t have to express ourselves.
It’s you have to develop the actual skills.
And you do that through trial and error children, like other animals learn by trial and error.
If we don’t learn much by adults.
We learn by going out, trying something and then we fail in a low stakes environment and then we do it better the next time, you know, I So, I live in New York City on Governors Island.
We have this wonderful junkyard playground and no adults were allowed in.
We have to sign a big waiver before our kids are allowed in but it’s junk.
It’s all kinds of the junkyard and I remember watching from the fence.
They let us watch from far away a kid Had A Hammer, he was pounding nails and then he had his thumb and he shakes out his thumb and then he keeps pounding Nails.
Whereas, the normal thing would be what we would never let the 10 year old kid.
Use a hammer like Fewer hits his thumb, but that’s how you learn, how to use a hammer.
So, accommodation generally is bad for kids.
What we need is great.
As you said, graduated to a gradual exposure and that’s how they learn to tolerate, or Master the world that they were going into really quick question this point before we turn to my fourth, culprit for Rising teenage sadness and anxiety.
What do you consider the most important drivers of this accommodative style of parenting?
Because again, I I want to bend over here and be and be fair to the fact that a lot of it just comes from a lot of it comes from love, right?
It comes from parents who love their kids so much.
They don’t want to see them suffer.
But that ironically as if some is it by some ancient Greek curse, you know in trying to keep their kids from suffering end up sowing the seeds of future suffering, but where does this instant come from?
So so so love is part of it, but actually I don’t think it’s the Heart.
I think fear and shame are gigantic, especially on women at that is, you know, if a man encourages the kids to go out and do something like, oh, you know, he’s teaching them life skills, but I think women get much more shame and attacks from others, especially from other women.
When they try to do this, I think women who want to raise their kids to free range, kids, it State, you know, others.
Some others, even if most approved quietly, they’ll be attacked and especially now, with social media makes it easy to attack everyone all the time.
So, So, so I think a lot of the craziness that Americans do is actually not just love.
It’s actually fear and shame or fear of Shame.
Secondly part of what’s happening is just Prosperity.
So there are problems of prosperity is where glucagon up.
I talked about in our book and others have talked about well as you get prosperous and as women get education and as the economy changes from agrarian, people don’t have 12 kids when I was growing up there.
A lot of Families of four, and five kids in my town and we have four or five kids.
You can’t possibly hyper parent them at.
You know, they’ve got a gang and then they go out there other.
There’s lots of other kids around so as family size shrinks, it becomes possible to over parent.
But more than that, you’ve got all your eggs in one basket and and and you know, if you have one kid, you really are afraid with that kid is is late to come home.
You don’t know where he is.
You you can you can Panic.
Whereas if you have four or five kids, you just literally don’t panic as As much.
So it’s problems, Prosperity.
Which include shrinking family-sized putting all your eggs in one basket and then something unique to United States.
Although it’s actually true of all the Anglo countries are communist got much more competitive in the yes. 90s.
This was the neoliberal turn and there’s a really good book.
Oh shoot, who’s it by Scandinavian author, who talks about how, you know, I think it’s in.
Scandinavia your kids going to go to a university and it’ll be public universities not so competitive.
Where as in the 80s. 90s, as family size was shrinking.
And as applications to colleges top colleges were Rising.
Now, American Childhood became much more like the family is the pit crew, the chart.
The one child is the racing car and it’s a race life is a race and if you’re middle class or higher, you know, our job is to get you into the top college.
Like, oh, you came in second, you know, you go to Princeton or Yale, whatever, you didn’t get into Harvard.
Oh no, but okay.
And that didn’t happen in Continental Europe, but the Anglo, you know, because because all the things we’re talking about are true in all of the Anglo countries, but not as true on Continental Europe.
I don’t know as much about Latin America, but the French and the German countries, especially the French because they hate anglo-america, like they hate Anglo culture.
So they really try to be different and the Germans the Germanic cultures.
They’re actually they raise the best kids, I believe because they totally get antifragility.
They have for schools.
They let their kids start learning to learn how to play with fire when you’re seven.
That’s what our Sisters did from millions of year, 1 million years.
I want everyone in podcast, Lana know that my rate of knotting was increasing exponentially throughout your answer.
I think you got just about all the variables that I had.
Top of mind.
I think that when you put together Rising wealth shrinking, family size fewer, kids more time invested, crooked Rising competition, especially within the meritocratic Bonanza that is college admissions.
What you get is within the middle.
And upper-middle class, particularly is more and more accommodative parenting, more time, spent with kids, more time spent pressure.
And kids to get into schools is if that is the singular threshold of Personal Achievement of their life.
Put it all together, mix it around the pot and I think you have a decrease in what you called, anti-fertility, and increasing anxiety on top of the first two things.
We pointed to social media and its displacement effects.
I want to move on to number 4 here and the fourth Culprit that I’m pointing to is the stressors of the world and is actually two products.
One Nation part one, is that the world itself is more stressful potentially arguably and part two, is that there is more negative news about the world, stressors and action to take these one by one.
So I reached out to Lisa D’Amour who is a clinical psychologist and author, who said that in this is something that I’ve heard in a lot of my reporting on the subject, the teenagers often come to therapy are the virtual to physical and say that the state of the world is a A huge source of their distress.
Whether it’s gun, violence, or school shootings were climate change.
And so, I want to ask you.
If you buy this argument that the state of the world is an important driver of kids stress today.
No, not at all.
So, first, the last few years.
Things are, you know, in a lot of ways, things are getting worse, the last few years, but this all started in 2012, 2013 and we had just gone through the Global Financial.
This and the economy was to getting better and better employment rate was going down.
The unemployment was going down and down.
So so as the economy got better and better, the depression rate should have gone down.
But in fact it went up.
So Steve Pinker, many others have written about progress and how people have in all ages have said, oh things are terrible, but in fact, things are getting better and better and that was true up until a few years ago.
So if we go back to 2013, 2014, almost everything was getting Better not just the economy, you know, their long-term declines and racism, sexism, you know, huge rapid rises in rights.
So if you’re, if you’re politically Progressive, you should be celebrating the incredible progress that we made decade after decade.
Another thing is, people that this naive idea that, oh, if the world is terrible, I should kill myself.
And that’s not true at all.
What Emile durkheim discovered going through?
Suicide statistics need 1890s, Emile durkheim the frame.
Yes, is that when a terrible thing happens, like War the suicide rate goes down and that happened with covid.
To when there’s an emergency, when there’s a national disaster, people don’t kill themselves.
They don’t kill themselves because the news is bad, they killed themselves because they feel isolated and alone.
And when does a National Emergency, people actually don’t feel alone, they often come together.
And if you and I just saw some suicide stats during covid.
Suicide went down for every age group except for the young, it went up for a went up 40.
Jeans, so so but continue on this thread.
So the world was actually getting better and better at least until a few years ago.
But maybe it’s just that.
Oh, well, maybe kids are exposed to more that it more news.
That’s what happened.
Hyper connects kids not to reality but to little bubbles of other kids like them.
And so, a really important finding which is not widely known only came out of a year or two ago is that In the few data sets.
I know of only two, that ask teenagers, what their political identification is.
Do you are you a Republican or Democrat or liberal, conservative?
The two datasets 1 from Q 1 is.
It’s one of the Federal National data sets.
Both of them show, the same thing, which is that girl’s on the left got depressed first and fastest.
They’re the first ones to go and that’s 2012.
Then I can remember those boys on the left or girls on the right who go next.
But this is all under the Obama Administration.
There is no way that you could say that girls on the left should be particularly upset about the way the world is going with the state of the world.
I believe that in social media which creates these intense Bubbles and in which girls are more susceptible to Shared emotion the sort of the world view.
The ideology on the left is this emerging victim culture that Greg and I wrote about in the cotton American mind.
There’s a book of Manning and Campbell’s to sociologists have A book on victim of culture.
So the girls are sharing this this ideology about negativity oppression, you know, they don’t they don’t seem to agree that things are getting better for women.
Better for African Americans.
Generally better for the environment of the course global warming.
That is the one thing that is going the wrong way.
But Rising global warming should not make people depressed.
I grew up in the 70s when it looked like everything was going to go to hell and nuclear war and over population and the environment and my sister.
My oldest sister spoke with my mother about her feelings and I don’t want the exact quote with me.
But my mother said they just have.
It was sweetheart.
You know, I was born in 1931 and you know what?
I lived through and the way the world look to us and, you know, things, you know, things have a way of working themselves out things, you know, things get better.
So I do not agree for a moment that terrible catastrophes in the world will make people depressed, anxious or suicide.
Let’s just not what history shows us.
It’s also the case.
That the suicide depression rates aren’t responsive to, who’s in the white house.
So you’d think that oh, well democrats should be more depressed.
If a Republican president, vice versa, but that’s not what happens.
So, we’re affected mental health is not affected by what’s happening in the world.
In the newspaper.
It’s affected by what’s happening your social world and the more connected you are on social media platforms, the less, communication and connection.
You have your performing on platforms.
You’re not actually connecting.
Yeah, so I’m very torn on this issue.
I think there are things that you said that.
With and there are things that you said that.
I don’t agree with what I agree with is that there is not a clear historical record of like, big global news events, causing anxiety disorders, in America that said on anxiety and leftism.
I’m very interested in this topic.
I don’t feel that confident one way or another.
I would say that heightened sensitivity to Injustice is a good thing, but I can also imagine how that Sensitivity to the world suffering, might lead to some personal suffering and I want to get back to that in a second.
Like I want to get back to how we find a balanced way to care about, fixing a broken world without feeling broken ourselves.
But I want to plant a flag on a different point that I feel very very strongly about which is in the general new space.
And that is that journalism has a famous bad news bias, right?
Like cliche if it bleeds it leads and social media.
Has a high arousal, emotion virus, it makes anger and outrage, and fear, aerodynamic.
And when you put those two things together, it means that when kids go online, they’re like choosing to dunk their heads in a vat of negativity.
Now, why is that bad?
Well, maybe besides the obvious one of the most popular modes of modern Clinical Psychology.
Today is CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy and CBT Builds on an ancient.
It says that we can’t control the world, but we can control the way we think about the world.
So Buddha said life is suffering.
And of course many kids today would agree, but it is profoundly in our power to change the way we think about our life and by changing our Thinking by taking maladaptive thoughts that are harmful and turning them into adaptive thoughts.
We can change the way that we feel and we can suffer a little less.
We can make our minds are friends.
But when you go online, you’re choosing to subject yourself to like an assault of maladaptive thinking all the emotions that a good therapist would try to restructure that, pointless, outrage and constant, anger, and obsessing about things, you can’t control.
All those things are fucking rampant online.
And so it’s almost as if like the demand for CBT among therapist is increasing in lockstep with the fact that kids are dunking their heads in a world of maladaptive.
And I wonder how you feel about that.
Oh, 100% agree.
So my first book was called the happiness hypothesis, finding modern truth in ancient wisdom.
And I read all the wisdom literature.
I can find East and West.
I took it every psychological claim and the two richest sources of wisdom.
I believe are the Buddhist tradition and the stoic tradition, they really understood, Consciousness and relationships and as I’ve been rereading them in part because as the world, you know, got really complicated in the last five or so.
Years and I was kind of frightened about the way things were going, which doesn’t make you depressed, anxiety, or being upset, doesn’t make you depressed.
But I started reading this.
The stoics in the mornings and my God, they understood social media.
Like they, they had warnings to us that how to use it.
What’s going to happen.
Let me read you a couple.
So here’s Epictetus.
So, so the most classic line, it is not events that disturb people.
It is their judgments concerning them.
That’s basic CBT.
It’s not the, it’s It’s what we make of it, but here’s even more important.
He says, if your body was turned over to just anyone, you would doubtless, take exception.
Why aren’t you ashamed that you have made your mind, vulnerable to anyone who have to criticize you so that it automatically becomes confused and upset.
So anyone listening to this, consider getting off Twitter, you know, where any any platform that’s like, it just makes makes you poor people attack you, you get upset because we’re turning over to others the power to ruin our day.
Here’s Marcus, Aurelius, the things you think about determine the quality of your mind, your soul takes on the color of your thoughts.
So once I once I got used to be on Twitter more when I greatly reduced it, and I sometimes would go on just once a week.
Just for various obligations, when I go on, it really felt like opening a trash can and seeing rats and scorpions fighting in the dirty water in the bottom of the trash can.
And I see my friends who spend a lot of time on.
I think why why come out of there don’t spend Time on that.
So the stoics and the boot is understood how vulnerable our Consciousness is to contamination and to other processes.
And so, yeah, I don’t think it’s that we get bad news from social media.
I think it’s a bad platform for human beings.
Yeah, the metaphor that I’ve used for social media is that it’s a library with a food fight in the lobby.
So it theoretically, could be a source of all of this knowledge and intelligence and Brilliant perspective, but we walk into the library and we get stuck in the food, fight in the Maybe you have to push through it, to get to the elevators to reach the intelligence tax, but I want to close here and suggest some on some prescriptions because we’ve talked about sort of my, my main culprits Direct effects of social media displacement, effects changes in parenting and the rise of negativity, in the news discourse.
One of the things I think is really hard about about growing up and just being around.
Social media is having access to all the bad news in the world and disentangling.
The interesting caring about that news.
I’m letting it rule your life from letting the bad news.
Be like the horse that drives the card if your of your of your emotional state and that they’re just a quick example that I felt this week that I wanted to ask you to comment on for just as a matter of closing.
I was scrolling through Twitter.
And for some reason it was showing me a bunch of meteorologist, talking about how bad the weather was in Boston.
I live in Washington DC.
So I have nothing to do with whether in Boston, but I still felt that like frisson of like terrible.
You sometimes feel when you come across bad news, like your body is like, provoked.
It goes into overdrive.
You want to do something about the bad news that you saw, and they just, as I was that wave of anxiety was coming over me.
I had this moment of like sort of beautiful Clarity where I thought.
Wait, that’s not my weather as well as text.
What is their right think you’ve got a new mantra.
Hey, that’s not my weather.
Like it’s sunny and my world.
This news only makes contact with my life virtually, if I put down the phone, the news disappears.
And what I try to do since then is like Very purposeful about like cultivating that exact same mindset about everything else that produces that’s an emotional reaction and me, right?
Like, the Tempest in the world, they exist.
It can be logical and reasonable to care about them.
But sometimes we just have to say that’s not my weather.
How do you feel about that?
So at first I rallied to it.
I thought, oh, that’s wonderful.
But it also sounds a bit like hey, I’m not going to worry about any problems that don’t affect me personally, but I think what I think we can save it by just saying this is actually what the stoics.
The Buddhist said you should be the same in success and failure.
You should not get upset about these things if you can affect it, do so, but if not don’t, and in any case, don’t go into the whole run of negative emotions.
So, so I think social media is really good at having us be upset about something without actually being able to do anything.
Social media is great for tearing things down, but it really isn’t very good at building things up.
And in that Spirit, let’s build things up.
What do we do about this?
What do we do?
Specifically about social media?
So, in my article, I close I belong section on the three big things we have to do or three categories, and things will just briefly mention them and then on a focus Point individual stuff with you.
So the three big categories of reforms of systemic reform.
Structural reforms are one, is we have to harden our Democratic and epistemic institutions.
That is the institutions that generate knowledge, universities journalism, courts, all sorts of processes we to harden them that they’ll work better even in an escalating culture War.
Or and so I co-founded heterodox Academy to help universities incorporate more Viewpoint diversity of healthier that discussions.
So that any any professors or administrators listening to this.
I urge you to just check it out and join heterodox hammy dot-org.
That’s one set of reforms to make our political institutions work better.
The second set is to make social media less toxic to our institutions, and our minds the and for that I think we we need to big one is user authentic identity authentication.
You can still post A fake name, but in order to get access to a platform that enjoys section 230 liability protection from lawsuits and that gives you massive algorithmic amplification.
This isn’t a free speech question.
This is a question of, you know, does every we should such a platform just accept anyone.
Like, even if that, you know, a Russian agent making 1,000, fake accounts, like know, these things are systemically and democratically important.
So you should at least have to verify that you’re a real person in a particular country and you’re old enough to be using the platform.
So there’s a bunch of her.
Forms, we can make the social media.
The third is, we have to raise the next Generations that they will have thicker skin and better skills of conflict negotiation, which are especially crucial during a culture war.
And in fact, we’ve rendered gen Z much less able to deal with complex.
We’re in big trouble in terms of the Next Generation.
Again, not their fault.
We did this to them.
So as the big three structural changes, but I wish that I’d said more in the article about what we can all do as individuals.
That’s what I feel to do.
And for that, I think there’s really two things.
So the first is simple, thing is just if you use social media, you know more than half an hour, a day consider cutting your use by 50% to 100%, You know, it does have many uses.
I’m not saying it’s all bad.
The feeling on Facebook is generally lot better than Twitter.
Twitter’s just such a cesspool, but even still just don’t generate so much stuff.
There’s just way too much stuff.
You’re not the customer, you’re the product.
So it’s not generating so much product.
If someone says something outrageous, don’t call them out on it.
Nor it you’re just contributing to the problem.
If you show your outrage at somebody that registry just don’t do that.
So we should all stop adding to the pollution.
The second thing is we have to all go easier on each other.
So this advice just comes to us from so many wisdom.
Here’s Marcus Aurelius to feel affection for people even when they make mistakes is uniquely human.
You can do it.
If you simply recognize that they’re human too that they act out of ignorance against their will and that you’ll both be dead before long and so.
We understand that we’re all getting sucked into this giant angry machine.
So even the jerks that you want to call out.
First of all, you know, they don’t understand you when they criticize you, they don’t understand.
They’re just, they’re playing this game because they’re manipulated to play it.
So, don’t play along.
Go easier on each other.
If we all go easier on each other, don’t forward so much outrage material, don’t take offense.
Don’t don’t you know and don’t know it, don’t give offense.
So we’re living in a very dangerous culture War.
Where on Is rapidly escalating, polarization cycle and the more Angry we get about it, the more we contribute to spewing hate against the other side, which is so terrible and awful, the faster the spiral spins.
My takeaway is a little less phones, a little more kindness, a few more scrapes dashes, ancient philosophy.
I’m not sure we’ve entirely cured The Surge of teen sadness here, but I do believe this is a pretty good start.
Thank you very, very much.
What a pleasure to exchange metaphors with you.
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