What's the matter with kids today?
Teens are anxious and depressed: drivers' licenses decline; Richard Hanania looks at social media; Noah Smith blames smart phones. Cowen/Yglesias/Dreher see a progressivism connection
Jacob Siegel and Sean Cooper write,
In 1997, 62% of 17-year-olds had driver’s licenses. In 2020, that has fallen to 45%.
They do not provide a source for that data. As you know, I observed over the course of teaching high school from 2001-2016 a sharp drop among high school seniors in driving, dating, and overall maturity. Seventeen is the new fifteen.
Earning FITs points for changing his mind with an explanation and evaluating research, Richard Hanania writes,
This exact same pattern — iPhones preceeding increases in mental distress, and covid-19 preceeding an even larger deterioration — is found across most developed countries. We have a straightforward theory that fits the vast majority of the data. It is supported not only by correlational data linking higher levels of social media use to poor mental outcomes, but also a preponderance of the evidence in randomized control trials that ask people to reduce or eliminate social media use.
Based on the fMRI, the scientist demonstrated: Habitual social media checkers had significantly different brain activity than those who didn’t give a fig about Snapchat (and other social media). The differences observed were widespread and included the Amygdala (part of the limbic system, which guides emotions), Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (a part of the brain associated with executive functions such as focusing attention and decision making), Insula (part of the brain responsible for sensory processing, self-awareness, and emotional guidance of social behavior) and Ventral striatum (part of the reward system of the brain).
This is your brain on social media. The study says,
The results of this cohort study suggest that social media checking behaviors in early adolescence may be associated with changes in the brain's sensitivity to social rewards and punishments. Further research examining long-term associations between social media use, adolescent neural development, and psychological adjustment is needed to understand the effects of a ubiquitous influence on development for today's adolescents.
phones put young progressives in constant contact with progressive social media shouters, who are constantly bombarding them with tales of the death of democracy, spiraling poverty and inequality, oligarch-dominated politics, unstoppable climate change, ubiquitous hegemonic racism and cisheteropatriarchy, and so on and so forth.
The connection between Left thinking and high neuroticism (as a formal personality trait) is one of the most underdiscussed yet important themes in American politics (to be clear, the Right has its own pathologies as well). Here is one excerpt from Matt’s latest Substack (gated):
But I want to talk about something Goldberg mentions but doesn’t focus on: a 2021 paper by Catherine Gimbrone, Lisa Bates, Seth Prins, and Katherine Keyes titled “The politics of depression: Diverging trends in internalizing symptoms among US adolescents by political beliefs.” The CDC survey doesn’t ask teens about their political beliefs, but Gimbrone et. al. find not only divergence by gender, but divergence by political ideology. Breaking things down by gender and ideology, they find that liberal girls have the highest increase in depressive affect and conservative boys have the least. But liberal boys are more depressed than conservative girls, suggesting an important independent role for political ideology.
What’s the excuse of young progressive hysterics, male and female? They’re not mentally ill; they’ve simply been trained to know that catastrophizing and freaking out until those in authority give you what you want works. Why should they change?
…Eventually people are going to back away from you, realizing that you are a hopeless case, and that you are going to have to be left to deal with your stuff yourself. They are going to grasp that you are nothing but manipulative. And when the world runs out of people you can control by berating them and threatening to have a hissy fit, what then?
Suppose that you have a generally negative outlook, so you are attracted to the doomerist strands of progressivism that Noah Smith listed. Your generally negative outlook makes you less inclined to enjoy other people and less fun to be around, so you spend more time on your phone. On your phone, you find social media, which reinforces your negative outlook, both about yourself and about the world. In politics and social media, progressive influencers see a market opportunity in doomerist rhetoric (death of democracy, horrors of capitalism), so they cater to and reinforce your negative outlook.
It’s all one big unhappy loop of reinforcement, connecting a neurotic temperament, smart phone technology, social media, and pathological progressive politics.
Note thathas the opposite temperament. My father used to refer to people like Marc as “Mary Poppins on laughing gas.”
Substacks referenced above:
The obvious step is to ban smartphones and tablets in K-12 public schools. Even during lunch or recess or whatever. They shouldn't be allowed in the building, and given the controls schools have on entry/exit these days that isn't hard to do.
I can buy that people in their private lives or private schools can make these decisions themselves, but kids are largely beyond their parents control when they are in school and most people need to send their kids to public school. Note that even if a parent doesn't let their kid have a phone, if their friend does the contagion is complete.
I have encountered zero parents who think this is a bad idea and many that think it is a great idea and complain about how much time kids spend on phones.
And while some school districts have made some motions in this direction it remains a problem. I think that there is a mixture of a few things:
1) Teachers like that the phones make the kids passive an easy to control
2) Even if they don't like #1, they don't want to deal with the hassle of conflict to take them away
3) Schools have unfortunately integrated screens into daily life. The local elementary school makes kids do some of their work on a tablet and it's not even possible for them to do their work without interacting with a screen.
Even for those that eschew "regulation" I think "take phones away from children in the mandatory schooling they are more or less forced to attend" is low hanging fruit.
23-year-old here. The primary causes that I see are:
1. The widespread adoption of slave morality. (i.e. in a lot of circles, it isn’t morally acceptable to be confident, happy and popular with the opposite sex.) The new pharisaism of our day has created a world in which the most important thing is to never set a foot wrong. The best way to do that is to do nothing at all
2. Tech and social media replacing in-person social life. TikTok and video games are a low-risk way to be entertained, and there is no risk of being shunned, rejected, etc... like there is in real life. Social media is to real social life what porn is to a real sexual relationship
3. Mass urbanization. People don’t have friend groups from childhood. They don’t have defined and consistent community around them. They go to huge schools in the city and then go home after school. There is no broader community of which they are a part.