On this claim, Jonathan Haidt is demonstrably wrong.
I’ve been so frustrated with the narrative around the latest teen mental health study results, so I truly appreciate your thoughts and the resources you provide. I was part of a 10-year strategic planning committee with my local school district in 2019-20. The first meeting focused on a student panel. Every single one of them told us they were tired of only being a number (GPA). They said a version of this in answer to virtually every question posed. The committee had some limited discussion about eliminating class ranking, with the majority of parents being highly opposed. In the end, the district opted to continue as is. All of this made me think back to my high school years (I graduated in 1985). I honestly do not remember there ever being talk about GPA or class rank beyond who the valedictorian might be (which we only thought about in the week or two before graduation). My daughter graduated in 2020 and class rank in her peer group (all top 10% students) was a daily conversation starting in sophomore year. Our high school is so large (her class graduated 1,742 students), GPA’s are figured to five decimals, so they would freak out over a 99 vs. a 100. The pressure was intense! Referring back to my experience with the student panel and the district’s decision to maintain the status quo; adding to the intense pressure was the knowledge that they had ZERO power to change anything and that the panel had been nothing more than a performative exercise—tell us what you think, but we don’t intend to listen. I feel strongly that Mr. Greene was on to something in 2015, something that has only intensified in the years since, and that is this narrative, particularly among the upper and upper middle class, that failure simply isn’t an option. That to fail in 5th or 6th grade is to fail for the rest of your life. And, to be clear, failure here isn’t real failure. For this cohort and their parents failure is defined as ANYTHING less than perfect. Phones are not what’s wrong with kids. We parents are what’s wrong with kids!
When Haidt wrote "there is no sign of teen mental health epidemic before 2012", he was literally talking about the "Monitoring the Future" dataset (the graphic at the top of this piece), which indeed shows 35 years of flat results and then begins to spike for liberal girls in 2012 and then for everyone else shortly after.
He certainly wasn't saying that there were no issues at all with youth prior to 2012. In fact, in the very essay you're talking about, Haidt specifically talk about the how the movement toward more kids having an external "locus of control" began in the 1990s when parents stopped letting kids play on their own outside.
But he clearly does think that something important changed around 2012; he is basing that conclusion on real research data; and he makes a pretty compelling case for why we should be looking at phones and social media.
Now if you disagree with his conclusions, I'd be interested in hearing why, so I'm looking forward to your subsequent essays. But simply finding examples of people writing complaints about the youth today from before 2012 won't do the trick. Without doing any research, I'll guarantee that you can find examples of that phenomenon from every year since we've had newspapers.
If you're going to make a serious argument that Haidt is wrong, you either need to find holes in the data he's looking at that show a spike in 2012 or explain why that data isn't important and what data we should be looking at instead. Looking forward to seeing your argument.
Linking a bunch of books that make hyperbolic claims isn’t very convincing. Books are always doing that. The data does seem to suggest that there was a big change around 2010-2014 (I don’t know if we can be so precise as a single year).
However it’s also true that data from the 1980s (which Haidt doesn’t include) shows about equally bad levels of mental health as now. Then in the 90s/00s there was a big improvement (why?) and now we’ve returned. I think any good explanation should address this longer-term trend.
"If it is the phones, they opened the gates on a well-documented, pre-existing phenomenon."
Yes, that phenomenon is called human nature.
As a dad of 2 young boys, I have been following all the back and forth on this, and just want to say thank you to everyone involved, because it is a big topic and in the end, helping (no matter the cause) will be crucial. The discourse is incredibly important.
I was really taken by your point, and wonder if as you note quickly at the end, that with further research it will prove that your theory is indeed the basis, maybe alongside some of the helicopter parenting (safetyism), that then was extremely exacerbated by comparison on social media. Seeing the "grind" culture push to attend Ivy league schools, or for dreams to be crushed if College or University didn't pan out as if there was no other option to a happy life could be the very thing that has driven this. I think Haidt makes a lot of strong points related to comparison being a key driver, and I see that here within your argument as well. The cycle we need to break out of is the constant jockeying for status within such a vast community. Its possible (and human) to want it and attain it in our small group, but expanding outward across the globe and competing with others hundreds if not thousands of miles away would be crushing.
Thank you either way for the fantastic rebuttal and I look forward to reading more.
Anecdotes do not make Haidt "demonstrably wrong". The tweet you highlight from him displayed a graph, so you should be responding with data rather than instances of people writing books claiming an epidemic exists.
I recall reading somewhere that relentless parenting started among the well-educated affluent but has since become the norm across socioeconomic classes. If so, it would generate something resembling the data set you've assembled: Initially, it wouldn't show in the statistics very well because the well-educated affluent aren't a large fraction of society ... but they're a large fraction of the book market and so you'd see books about the troubles in that class. Later, as the pattern spreads, you would see it more in the statistics.
I once read a book about the culture of "moderately wealthy" people, IIRC, $1 to $10 million in non-housing assets. One chapter was about education. Its assessment of their attitude was "The college your child attends is a verdict on your life." Until that changes, driving children crazy in order to get them into the highest-ranked colleges will continue.
Do you think there's any connection to the recent-ish questioning of the value of higher education? Could that be a (possibly even healthy) response to these overbearing pressures?
Did you also consider the changed role of women in society since the 70's? What I think is a significant factor in the stress we see today. Clearly the change of the public role of women was quite dramatic? However, as a 64 year old living through this revolution I've also seen a change in private roles: father and mothers.
Although women generally held the reins in the household in the past, especially with children, the role of the father was often to mitigate the higher levels of caring traits like anxiety and neuroticism in women with his higher levels in stoicism and pragmatism. I think roughhousing, cajoling, and conditional love provided a balance against the `devouring mother`. As the mother did against the uncaring father. In a good family the feminine and masculine are in balance. However, I noticed over the past 60 years how many women become more leading in the home and started to override the father's role. As exhibited in a word like 'mansplaining' and the female monologue of #metoo. Men were stifled and their stoicism meant they did not care that much.
In primary schools and primary care I also saw the male authority disappear. Masculine aspects like competition, 'sticks and stones', 'in love and war everything is allowed', and 'you never snitch' were replaced by adult females interfering profoundly with the group dynamics. Bullying, losing, and hurting yourself are natural mechanisms to increase resilience. What seems to be happening today is imho explained quite well with Taleb's book Anti-Fragile. When you don't exercise the defense mechanisms, you lose them.
However, there was in my observations also a secondary effect. Feminism always refused to accept that there are actually large group differences between the sexes. Since feminism was manned by women that were well educated and more masculine than average they did no fight for femininity, they just wanted access to the same jobs males in their social economic class had. And I leave you to ponder about the difference between a university processor or a sewer cleaner in this context.
They therefore actively removed systems in place to protect feminine choices. Today in the middle & lower class it is almost impossible to have a family on one salary. Tax advantages and special protections have been removed. Since many of the feminist women found a career in media, girls have been relentlessly pushed to compete with males on exactly the traits where they have a group disadvantage while at the same time the traditional feminine role of mother and carer, has been blackballed. Modern feminism somehow made the masculine the norm.
What I see around me is that this made the pressure on girls is relentless. The number of times I've seen companies I work for as a consultant push free events for girls to do STEM is embarrassing, look how many more scholarships there are for girls than boys. When we lived in Sweden, my wife was often looked down upon for not working while she often had more kids at home than her friend who worked in child care. Society is stunningly anti-feminine. My daughter in law picked physics although she really preferred English.
World wide surveys show about roughly 1/5th of women want a full time career, 1/5th want take care of children, and the remaining 3/5th want a combination. Only about 1% of men want to take full time care of children. This is not the impression an alien would get when they observe the TV, movies, press, internet, academia, and politics of our world.
The result is that the environment of young girls expects them to choose a flashing career. Since girls on average are more agreeable & have higher levels of conscientiousness than boys they really want to oblige. It is stunning how hard I see girls work sometimes while most boys tend to goof off until they find their thing (if ever). When you see the enormous pressure we put on girls you can only feel sorry and wonder why the mental health problems are not worse. Women are on average more anxious and higher in neuroticism. I expect that many also feel how bad their fit is for the career woman model that is so harshly pushed on them. Despite the enormous pressure to have a career, women on average work significantly fewer hours (for a full time job, men on average tend to work 42 mins more per day, almost 2 days per month), they still tend to take years off for raising kids, retire earlier, and are very rarely as encompassed by their work as some men. For one male dentist you need to train 3 females. Susan Pinker's 'The Sexual Paradox' is very enlightening.
Evolution made men and women different in some important traits. What is all important is that everybody can pursue happiness in their own ways, regardless of sex; those are human values we learned in the enlightenment; values that I'd be willing to die for.
However, feminism did not 'emancipate' (a term from slavery) married women, it actively worked to remove the choice for women to pursue the feminine. I think we are paying the price. Well, our girls are paying the price. At least I think.
Steven Pinker, the Blank Slate
Charles Murray, Human Diversity
Lynn, Sex Differences in Intelligence
Susan Pinker, The Sexual Paradox
What? They used this algorithm to force people to take certain classes or not take others? It's one thing to tell a kid, "this is what we recommend because this is how we think you will do 'based on comparative data from other students who had taken a course.'" It's quite another to force the student to go along.
Do you deny the tendency of boys to engage in more boisterous, competitive play than girls, of girls to engage in more "nurturant" play than boys? Or is that just something their empty heads picked up from society?
Not me and not you. I think we agree.