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Gen Z and the Smartphone Mental Health Crisis: How Parents Can Protect Their Children

Photo by Adrian Swancar via Unsplash

Gen Z and the Smartphone Mental Health Crisis: How Parents Can Protect Their Children

By Movieguide® Contributor

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, author of the book “The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness,” believes that social media and smartphones are creating a mental health crisis for teens.

He’s launching a campaign to protect youth from the dangers of excessive screen time. He said:

The overwhelming feeling I get from the families of both boys and girls is that they are trapped and powerless in the face of the biggest mental health crisis in history for their children. What should they – what should we – do?

Haidt’s research revealed that mental health declined for young people and teens after the 2007 invention of the smartphone when kids discovered social media and moved their lives online. He argues that between 2010 and 2015, adolescent life was rewired.

“In 2010, almost everyone had a flip phone. They had no Instagram account because it was just invented that year. They had no high-speed data, no high-speed internet, and they had to pay for their internet usage. They had to pay for each text. So a 13- or 14-year-old kid in the year 2010 was not online all day long,” he said.

“But over the next few years, Instagram becomes very popular. The front-facing camera comes out [on iPhones] in 2010. So now photographs are much more of yourself. Most people get high-speed internet, most people get an unlimited data plan. And video games get much more immersive with multiplayer online games that thrive on the high-speed internet.”

So, how can parents help protect their kids and teens from the pitfalls of social media? Haidt laid out guidelines in an essay for THE GUARDIAN, which says:

  • No smartphones before year 10
    Parents should delay children’s entry into round-the-clock internet access by giving only basic phones with limited apps and no internet browser before the age of 14.
  • No social media before 16
    Let children get through the most vulnerable period of brain development before connecting them to an avalanche of social comparison and algorithmically chosen influencers.
  • Phone-free schools
    Schools must insist that students store their phones, smartwatches, and any other devices in phone lockers during the school day, as per the new non-statutory guidance issued by the UK government. That is the only way to free up their attention for one another and for their teachers.
  • Far more unsupervised play and childhood independence
    That’s the way children naturally develop social skills, overcome anxiety, and become self-governing young adults.

According to a video he posted on his Instagram, Haidt believes this change isn’t permanent and that by the end of 2025, the role of phones and screens in kids’ lives will look completely different.

He also recommends joining forces with other parents to delay the smartphone years so your kid or teen doesn’t feel like they’re the only ones in their peer group without a smartphone.

“Nobody wants their kid to be the only one. Nobody wants their kid to be alone,” he said. “If [parents] coordinate with the parents of their kids’ friends, they can all escape the collective action problem. All it takes is three or four other families.”

We applaud Haidt for being the leader of the “Smartphone revolt” and hope his insights will inspire parents to take action to protect their young ones from the dangers of screen time and social media.

Movieguide® previously reported on teens and social media use:

The Pew Research Center surveyed U.S. teenagers and revealed that most teens described their social media use as “almost constant.”

The study uncovered how much time they’re spending and gave insight into where they’re spending it. YouTube, TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram remain American youths’ most widely used online platforms.

“Many teens are on social media daily–if not constantly–but daily use varies by platform. About seven-in-ten U.S. teens say they visit YouTube every day–including 16% who do so almost constantly. TikTok follows with 58% who say they visit it daily, while far fewer report daily use of Facebook,” according to the report.

The survey, conducted Sept. 26-Oct. 23, 2023, pulled from a pool of 1,453 13- to 17-year-olds and covered social media, internet use and device ownership among teens.

“The group found that while use of Snapchat and Instagram has grown since its 2015 report, use of Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) has declined; just 33% of teens said they used Facebook this year, compared to 71% in 2015. Twitter use fell from 33% in 2015 to just 20% this year,” per CNN Business.

Now more than ever we’re bombarded by darkness in media, movies, and TV. Movieguide® has fought back for almost 40 years, working within Hollywood to propel uplifting and positive content. We’re proud to say we’ve collaborated with some of the top industry players to influence and redeem entertainment for Jesus. Still, the most influential person in Hollywood is you. The viewer.

What you listen to, watch, and read has power. Movieguide® wants to give you the resources to empower the good and the beautiful. But we can’t do it alone. We need your support.

You can make a difference with as little as $7. It takes only a moment. If you can, consider supporting our ministry with a monthly gift. Thank you.

Movieguide® is a 501c3 and all donations are tax deductible.


Now more than ever we’re bombarded by darkness in media, movies, and TV. Movieguide® has fought back for almost 40 years, working within Hollywood to propel uplifting and positive content. We’re proud to say we’ve collaborated with some of the top industry players to influence and redeem entertainment for Jesus. Still, the most influential person in Hollywood is you. The viewer.

What you listen to, watch, and read has power. Movieguide® wants to give you the resources to empower the good and the beautiful. But we can’t do it alone. We need your support.

You can make a difference with as little as $7. It takes only a moment. If you can, consider supporting our ministry with a monthly gift. Thank you.

Movieguide® is a 501c3 and all donations are tax deductible.


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