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Moving Life Online is Making Us Depressed

The phone-based childhood robs kids developmentally, says Jonathan Haidt

Jonathan Haidt is at it again, vigorously resharing the research that he has long extolled to a public that often seems to lack the ears to hear. Something happened in 2012 that significantly impacted the mental health of an entire generation. Several verdicts have been summoned, but the data seems to point essentially to one thing: the shift to living our lives online. This has particularly impacted life in many respects for the up-and-coming generation, also known as Gen Z. Haidt writes,

Once young people began carrying the entire internet in their pockets, available to them day and night, it altered their daily experiences and developmental pathways across the board. Friendship, dating, sexuality, exercise, sleep, academics, politics, family dynamics, identity — all were affected. Life changed rapidly for younger children, too, as they began to get access to their parents’ smartphones and, later, got their own iPads, laptops, and even smartphones during elementary school.

-Jonathan Haidt, The Terrible Costs of a Phone-Based Childhood – The Atlantic

Haidt notes that academic performance has also been falling during this time, which is why he has also advocated for “phone-free” schools so students can learn in digital-free environments. A new study also reported that students’ reading comprehension has drastically fallen since the COVID-19 pandemic. When schools stopped meeting in person and opted for online learning, millions of kids were left behind, and it might take years for them to catch up.

As debates now rage on Capitol Hill on whether TikTok should be banned, there’s one simple action parents and educators can take: make the houses and schools largely phone free. The distraction, the anxiety, and the lessened cognitive ability will start to unwind when these devices are removed from our homes and learning environments. There are better ways to learn and to connect with others; the way we’re handing out phones to kids like candy is not working.

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Moving Life Online is Making Us Depressed