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New Guardrails for Children and Cell Phones

By Pastor Tom Anderson

Jonathan Haidt is an American social psychologist and author. He is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at the New York University Stern School of Business. His main areas of study are the psychology of morality and moral emotions. His new book is The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing An Epidemic of Mental Illness.

Mr. Haidt tells us in mental health data what we already suspected: social media and cell phone screen time correlates strongly with a major mental health crisis in children. Upwards of 80% of teens have cell phones and spend an average of 7 hours a day scrolling. That’s pretty much all their waking hours outside of the classroom. Girls have moved their social lives onto the phone. Boys have retreated into gaming and porn. The results are in: skyrocketing rates of depression–an increase of 145% for girls and 161% for boys in just the last ten years.

Haidt suggests 4 major reforms:

• No smartphones before high school, only basic phones with no internet capability.

• No social media before 16. Let their brains develop first.

• All schools from elementary through high school should be phone-free zones—students can store their devices in lockers.

• Bring back unsupervised play. Only in that way will kids naturally develop social skills and become self-governing.

Such a change is possible! Many of us remember being raised in an era where there were no seat belts or car seats. It was once widely believed that families would never be persuaded to wear them. But attitudes did change and move in a much healthier direction. The same can be true on limiting cell phone use among teens. The era of unfettered access to screens for children has proven to be a major hazard. One can hope and pray that Haidt’s research will spark a movement to protect the minds and spirits of our children.


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