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Reviews for The Anxious Generation

by Jonathan Haidt

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From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Portable telephones were originally celebrated as a way to stay connected to friends and family. But in the early 2010s, with the onset of smartphones and their easy access to the internet, children’s brains were being effectively rewired, shifting from "play-based" to "phone-based." Parents, who worked to keep their children safe from outdoor play and predators, now allowed their kids to stroll unfettered through the internet. Excessive phone use can lead to social deprivation, sleep deprivation, attention fragmentation, and addiction. For young women, Haidt writes, it can lead to depression; for young men, it can lead to existing in their own separate realities. The author admits to some benefits of online use for children, including lower rates of injury and alcohol use and a measure of intellectual stimulation, but the pluses are overshadowed by the loss of social interactions and life experiences. Academic Haidt (The Coddling of the American Mind, 2018) backs up his claims with scientific studies and graphics, and presents plans to limit the effects of smartphones by large tech companies, schools, and parents. This is a practical look at a vital topic.

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A pitched argument against the “firehose of addictive content” aimed at children via technology. Psychologist Haidt, author of The Righteous Mindand co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind, turns to the disaffection of children rendered zombielike by their smartphones and social media. “The members of Gen Z are…the test subjects for a radical new way of growing up,” he writes, their sensibilities formed by the instant gratifications and instant peer-pressure judgments delivered by online outlets. Before 2009, writes the author, social media use was largely harmless, mostly a means of keeping up with friends and family, without the toxicity inherent in being constantly subject to opinions given and received—a good way to get locked into “defend mode…on permanent alert for threats, rather than being hungry for new experiences.” This corresponds to the shift, beginning in the 1980s, from what Haidt calls “play-based childhood” to “phone-based childhood,” one effect of which is to remove children from the socialization they would otherwise have undergone simply by one-on-one play. It wasn’t necessarily phones but overanxious parents who took down the sky-high monkey bars. However, coupled with the rapid rise of addictive technology, this drove children indoors and into anxieties and depressions of their own as their lives are “radically rewired.” Haidt concludes by advocating a regime of free play and strictly monitored social media use, including not allowing children under high school age to have smartphones and forming parental associations that would essentially police for this kind of behavior. That program may seem draconian, especially to a 12- or 13-year-old, but Haidt argues persuasively that it’s an essential defense against the assaults on mental health that social media inflict on unformed young minds. A strong case for tempering children’s technological dependency in favor of fresh air and sunshine. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.