Five ways to make your kids more resilient

Jonathan Haidt has a very clear message for parents: keep your kids away from smartphones and social media at all costs. In his new book, The Anxious Generation: How the Great Wired of Childhood is Causing an Epidemic of Mental IllnessHaidt lays the blame for poor mental health at the door of tech companies, which he says have engineered a pipeline of addictive content, fundamentally disrupted childhoods and changed human development on an almost unimaginable scale.

Haidt, a social psychologist and the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business, says the social media platforms that rose to prominence over the past decade have had more harmful effects on girls, while video games have been harmful. for boys This proliferation of internet use together with the reduction of unsupervised gaming among children are the twin sources responsible for the mental health problems currently facing British under-18s, he adds. Overprotection in the real world and underprotection in the virtual world are the main reasons why children born after 1995 became the anxious generation.

One in five children in the UK has a probable mental disorder, according to NHS figures, while last month MPs and health leaders warned of a devastating explosion in the condition, with references from ’emergency increasing by more than 50% from 2021, equivalent to 600. references every week.

To counter this disturbing upward drift, Haidt and others advocate developing an anti-fragile mindset. We’re not helpless, even though we often feel that way because smartphones, social media, market forces and social influence all combine to lead us into a trap, Haidt says. Here are her tips for raising resilient kids:

Let the kids run free

Haidt says there has been a well-intentioned and disastrous shift toward overprotecting children and restricting their autonomy in the real world. Children need free play to thrive, he adds, noting that the decline began in the 1980s and 1990s, at a time when people began to consider it unsafe for a child to walk alone. This happened at the same time that the personal computer became more common and more welcoming as a place to spend free time.

Children need to be able to play unsupervised to learn, connect and understand how to take turns, but over-protecting or rescuing children every time they face a challenge can hinder their development of problem-solving skills, explains Lucy Russell , clinical psychologist and founder of They Are the Future, a parenting support network. It can mean they are less independent as they grow up and lack the confidence to take on new or complicated challenges, which she says can contribute to anxiety.

Build technology-free bases

There are three collective action responses we can take to protect ourselves from a technology-filled childhood, says Haidt. In other words: a ban on smartphones before the age of 10 (between 14 and 15 years) and access to social networks before the age of 16. Let kids get through the most vulnerable period of brain development before connecting them to a barrage of social comparisons and algorithmically chosen influencers.

Phone-free schools (where all smart devices are stored in lockers until the end of the day), as suggested in new government guidelines, are the only way to free up their attention to each other others and to their teachers, he adds.

When it comes to having that phone-free conversation with your kids, psychologist Louise Goddard-Crawley advises against potentially ineffective approaches like you’ll thank me someday or because I said so. Instead, start conversations about social media access and smartphone use early by setting a positive example.

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