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“No social media ’til 16,” and other fixes for a teen mental health crisis, with Dr. Jean Twenge: Lock and Code S04E10

This week on the Lock and Code podcast…

You’ve likely felt it: The dull pull downwards of a smartphone scroll. The “five more minutes” just before bed. The sleep still there after waking. The edges of your calm slowly fraying.

After more than a decade of our most recent technological experiment, in turns out that having the entirety of the internet in the palm of your hands could be … not so great. Obviously, the effects of this are compounded by the fact that the internet that was built after the invention of the smartphone is a very different internet than the one before—supercharged with algorithms that get you to click more, watch more, buy more, and rest so much less.

But for one group, in particular, across the world, the impact of smartphones and constant social media may be causing an unprecedented mental health crisis: Young people.

According to the American College Health Association, the percentage of undergraduates in the US—so, mainly young adults in college—who were diagnosed with anxiety increased 134% since 2010. In the same time period for the same group, there was in increase in diagnoses of depression by 106%, ADHD by 72%, bipolar by 57%, and anorexia by 100%.

That’s not all. According to a US National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the prevalence of anxiety in America increased for every age group except those over 50, again, since 2010. Those aged 35 – 49 experienced a 52% increase, those aged 26 – 34 experienced a 103% increase, and those aged 18 – 25 experienced a 139% increase.

This data, and much more, was cited by the social psychologist and author Jonathan Haidt, in debuting his latest book, “The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness.” In the book, Haidt examines what he believes is a mental health crisis unique amongst today’s youth, and he proposes that much of the crisis has been brought about by a change in childhood—away from a “play-based” childhood and into a “phone-based” one.

This shift, Haidt argues, is largely to blame for the increased rates of anxiety, depression, suicidality, and more.

And rather than just naming the problem, Haidt also proposes five solutions to turn things around:

  • Give children far more time playing with other children. 
  • Look for more ways to embed children in stable real-world communities.  
  • Don’t give a smartphone as the first phone.
  • Don’t give a smartphone until high school.  
  • Delay the opening of accounts on nearly all social media platforms until the beginning of high school (at least).

But while Haidt’s proposals may feel right—his book has spent five weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list—some psychologists disagree.

Writing for the outlet Platformer, reporter Zoe Schiffer spoke with multiple behavioral psychologists who alleged that Haidt’s book cherry-picks survey data, ignores mental health crises amongst adults, and over-simplifies a complex problem with a blunt solution.  

Today, on the Lock and Code podcast with host David Ruiz, we speak with Dr. Jean Twenge to get more clarity on the situation: Is there a mental health crisis amongst today’s teens? Is it unique to their generation? And can it really be traced to the use of smartphones and social media?

According to Dr. Twenge, the answer to all those questions is, pretty much, “Yes.” But, she said, there’s still some hope to be found.

“This is where the argument around smartphones and social media being behind the adolescent mental health crisis actually has, kind of paradoxically, some optimism to it. Because if that’s the cause, that means we can do something about it.”

Tune in today to listen to the full conversation.

Show notes and credits:

Intro Music: “Spellbound” by Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License
Outro Music: “Good God” by Wowa (

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