New book amplifies fierce debate around teens' mental health and smartphones

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A new book has embroiled the academic community in a heated debate over whether spending time on smartphones affects young people’s mental health and, if so, how.

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s “The Anxious Generation,” published last week, argues that the smartphone-driven “great rewiring of childhood” is causing an “epidemic of mental illness.” He suggests four ways to combat this: no smartphones before high school, no social media before age 16, no phones in schools; and prioritizing real-world play and independence.

“I call smartphones ‘experience blockers,’ because once you give the phone to a child, it’s going to take up every moment that is not nailed down to something else,” Haidt told, adding, “It’s basically the loss of childhood in the real world.”

Phones and social media have become a ubiquitous part of everyday life. But as much as researchers study their impact, there remains no easy answer to how exactly these technologies affect the mental health of kids and teens.