Jonathan Haidt (2024) The Anxious Generation. How the Great Rewiring of Childhood is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness.

When I was a kid, late sixties and early seventies, most of us watched the same programmes on telly. Jackanory when we were younger. Then Blue Peter. These were the kind of programmes parents would have approved. Educational and entertainment. It was part of the remit of BBC to provide for both. STV, later ITV, had Magpie. It tried to mimic Blue Peter, with the catchy tag: ‘Why Don’t You Go Outside and Do Something Far More Interesting Instead?’ The joke was on them. Telly was rotting our brains. I’ve never fully recovered.

Jonathan Haidt starts with a similar thought experiment. Send your kids to Mars. All expenses paid by a billionaire (tax dodger, fat chance). There are some minor problems. Children may survive, but they’ll be deformed. It would take a lifetime to fix their skeletal problems, hearts, eyes and brains.

Haidt’s analogy is we’ve allowed this to happen to our kids. Smartphones are the equivalent of sending a ten-year-old to Mars.

Graph warning. Haidt is a Social Psychologist. He can quote Durkhein on anomie. Thank god, he’s not Marxist, or he’d be out of work and homeless and not a Professor in a prestigious university in New York.

His argument is quite simple. Smartphones rot kids’ brains. The cerebral cortex doesn’t mature until kids reach the legal age to smoke and drink. Generation Z, that followed the millennials (born 1981-1995) got to play with all these shiny new toys. They got consumed by them. Technology companies that grew out of the West Coast of the United States and colonised the free and unfree world, consumed them. Access to company records and whistle-blowers from Facebook targeted kids as young as four with their apps and endless loops of entertainment. Must see and be seen.

Children became locked into their phones. Spikes in mental health problems, a sense of worthlessness, self-harm, a doubling in admittance to mental health facilities and suicides. Haidt charts this from around 2010, with the coming of smart phones. Girls and boys locked themselves in and out of what were normal social interactions. Girls tended towards social networking where everybody was their friend and nobody was their friend. A constant competition for social validaton that no girl could win. Boys tended towards gaming.

Haidt’s simple solution. Ban smartphones from school. He gives guidelines and suggests kids shouldn’t have a smartphone until they are sixteen. Perhaps his most compelling argument is those tech giants send their kids to prestigious schools where phones are locked out.

The second strand of his argument is to let kids play on their own, unsupervised. He charts the trend of moral panics many of the things we are familiar with. My partner’s best friend was going to Disneyworld in Florida. Her son and his wife were going with their children aged five and three. She was terrified that someone would kidnap them. She should have been more terrified of the prices she’d have to pay for a simple breakfast.

For us older guys that tried to memorise Erickson and Piaget about the importance of  stages of play. Theory doesn’t really matter. Practice does. There’s a rectangle outside our back gate. Kids ranging from two to eight, and it’s such a joy to hear them play. To see them. One little girl, aged six, told me she didn’t need to go to school, cause she already knew everything. I, of course, agreed. I wasn’t much good at school either. But I was late in maturing. I didn’t know everything until I was eight. You had to put two pence into a phone to make a telephone call in a box.

I’ve got a neighbour next door. He doesn’t sleep much, gaming for hours and hours and hours. He’s got issues, I’m told. I don’t know. I rarely seen him.

I feel sorry for Generation Z and those that follow. We need radical change. We need to tax the rich. But the free-libertarians won the propaganda war. And if, god help us, the moron’s moron wins the next election, Haidt’s book can go straight into the bin. He’s probably be labelled a subversive Commie and deported to the Trump equivalent of Rwanda.



"I’ve got a neighbour next door. He doesn’t sleep much, gaming for hours and hours and hours. He’s got issues, I’m told. I don’t know. I rarely seen him."

More and more schools are banning mobile phones. They are definitely a scourge for educational authorities. I have seen first hand how addicted kids get to them and simply can't give them up in class time. You get them sloping off to the toilets and not returning so that they can stay glued to the things. I imagine there must be similarities between mobile phone design and use and cocaine.

Admirabled, noble suggestions.

And the Orange One cometh, Again. It's America. It's inevitable.

yes, I can understand the addcitive qualities of phones. Same playbook as Big Oil. Deny. Distort. Delay. Deny...