Jonathan Haidt on the coddling of the American mind


ANDREW LEIGH, HOST: Jonathan Haidt is a professor at New York University originally focused on cultural psychology who moved into political and moral psychology in recent decades. His three big books, The Happiness Hypothesis, The Righteous Mind and The Coddling of the American Mind with Greg Lukianoff, explore big questions in modern psychology. Today will be focused on the Coddling of the American mind book that Jonathan has been discussing recently on his visit to Australia. Jonathan. Welcome to the Good Life podcast.

JONATHAN HAIDT, SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGIST AND AUTHOR OF THE CODDLING OF THE AMERICAN MINDThank you Andrew. It's a pleasure to be talking with you. I had a great time in Australia a couple weeks ago.

LEIGH: Was it your first visit?

HAIDT: It was, I'm 55 years old. I've only heard wonderful things about Australia from every American has ever been and I finally got to go myself fantastic.

LEIGH: So let's start with the three untruths that you say there are at the heart of the coddling. Tell us about what those three untruths.

HAIDT: So my first book was called the happiness hypothesis. It was about 10 ancient ideas and whether or not they're true. And it seems as though if if students on some American college campuses had read that book and then decided to do exactly the opposite of ancient wisdom, we would have basically what we have on some of our college campuses.

So the first grade untruth that Greg Lukianoff night see, operating on many campuses is what doesn't kill you, makes you weaker. Uh the second is always trust your feelings. And the third is life is a battle between good people and evil people and each of those contradicts ancient wisdom and basic psychology about how to get along with people and lead a happy, productive life. So if we can get undergraduate students, if we can get young people to believe all three, I can't guarantee that they will fail in life, but they're not likely to be either very effective socially or very happy psychologically.

LEIGH: So that seems a glum prognosis for us. What do you think?

HAIDT: Yes, I am very glum. Despite the fact that on so many measures the current generation is doing well, right. I mean, for example, if you look at, well, alcohol use, teen pregnancies, unprotected sex, smoking car accidents, uh, there's, there's many metrics on which the current generation seem to seem to be flourishing, but you paint a much darker picture.

LEIGH: So, tell us about your concerns about the current, so called I Generation or Generation Z. Uh, and and how that how that led into writing the book.

HAIDT: Yes. So, the, the the origin of the book was that my friend Greg, who runs a free speech organization defending college students, a right to speak against administrators. Overreaching Greg began to notice all these strange things happening in 2014 in which college students, the United States were asking for safe spaces, trigger warnings, microaggression training Out of nowhere. The students who came in around 2014 seem to be behaving as though words are dangerous. Words are violence. Books are dangerous. Books should be banned or prevented from being assigned. Speakers should be protested and not allowed to speak because not because they're offensive and wrong, but because they are dangerous. If they were to speak, it would be traumatizing.

And most of us were very puzzled by this. We couldn't really understand what's happening. And again, it came out of nowhere in 2014, the millennial generation that students born between 1982 and 1995 or so. Um, we're uh, similar to previous generations. They like to tell jokes. They could stand to hear things that uh, they found offensive or they could ignore speakers, but the students coming in 2014, seemed much more fragile. Um and now you say, you say that they're doing much better. It's true that on all these measures of deviance, gen z, gen z origin is much better. And so you might celebrate and say, wow, you know, they're not getting drunk and getting in car accidents, they're not having premature pregnancies.

But it turns out it's because they're not doing much of anything. That is, if you look at the time, use studies, if you look at national nationally representative surveys done in the United States, they show big declines in all sorts of things that we think are transitions to adulthood. So The percentage of 18 year olds who got a driver's license and you can get one at 16 and now a lot of students don't even get a driver's license, the percent who never tried alcohol, the percent we've ever gone on a date. What are they doing? They're spending so much time now, 6-8 hours a day on their devices. They're connecting by social media, so they don't connect as much in person.

Um, but you might just say, well, you know, this generation, their online, it's just different. Maybe it's just different and maybe it's even better. I'm totally willing to believe that being hyper connected makes you hyper social, makes you hyper smart. I'm totally willing to believe that.

But when you look at the mental health stats, when you look at what happened to the mental health of gen z, gen z beginning around 2012 plus or minus a year or two, the rates of depression, anxiety, self harm and suicide start rising somewhat for boys and unevenly not on all measures, but they are going up for boys, but they're going up on all measures by a very large degree for girls. And this is happening in the US, the UK Canada. Um when I got to Australia before I went to Australia, I found the stats for Australia. You have it there too, although not as sTark as we do. And in New Zealand, although in New Zealand, there are about three or four years behind. I don't know if their kids didn't get on social media soon or what, but it's happening in all the english speaking countries.

So I think this is a disaster. I think this is the biggest, as far as I know, it's the biggest change in mental health that we've ever seen in a generation.

LEIGH: What you document for the depressive episodes is pretty striking increase, uh, particularly among adolescent girls, from uh what? About 12% in 2004 through to 20, almost 20% in the latest survey. And also increases in self harm and in suicide, suggesting that we're not just picking up changes in report willingness to report, but there's something pretty substantial going on on the data.

HAIDT: Mhm. Yeah, that's right. And it was a very reasonable hypothesis a few years ago when when these rates started going up, there were some people who said, oh no, this is nothing to worry about gen z is just so comfortable talking about mental health. This is a good thing. But I think it's pretty clear that that's wrong because the only things going up our depression and anxiety and the behavioral manifestations of them.

So it's not as though they're suddenly talking about bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. No, it's not just that they're comfortable talking, it's that they really have higher rates. And because it's in the behavior to its in hospital admissions data, many many more girls are actually admitted to hospitals because they have cut themselves. And the rate for older teen girls in the US and UK is up something on the order of 50 to 70 or 80%. The rate for preteen girls like 10, 11, 12 year old girls, which is very low to begin with. But that rate is up 189% in the United States.

LEIGH: One of the striking things about this, but I think we really need to emphasis is you're just talking about a shift in the last five years. So normally when we're speaking to social psychologists or social scientists of any sort, there documenting trends that began 20 years ago because that's the stage where we feel as though we've got enough data to attack the problem. But from the point at which your atlantic article came out to the point at which your book came out just in that three year period, really, a whole lot more data seemed to emerge backing up your hypothesis.

HAIDT: Well, that's right, because when Greg and I wrote up our article for the Atlantic magazine in 2014 and it came out in 2015, um people were talking about the mental health crisis on campus and they were saying that the counseling centers were overwhelmed. We're hearing that. And so is my job as the social scientists to find the data um on a rise of depression. I couldn't do it uh because it takes a couple of years between the time a kid is depressed and the time it shows up in a study that you can access. So I couldn't find the data. And so we had to basically just say, well, people are talking about this and we have one study showing a survey of mental health center that, that was all we could find in early 2015. It was only in 2017 that the numbers started coming out and, and the spike was dramatic and we thought, well, maybe it's a fluke a one year, but no, it's, it's continued and then once we found that it's the exact same in Britain Canada and then it's similar in Australia, New Zealand. Now we're pretty confident this is a, if not global, it's at least in all the english speaking countries,

LEIGH: you talk about a couple of big factors driving this social media and changes in overprotective parenting talk us through how you think those have affected the upbringing of gen z.

HAIDT: Yes, let's start, let's start at the beginning in terms of what is healthy childhood develop. So, um so if you go back to kids born in the 70s or 80s, at least in United States. This was during a gigantic crime wave. It was really dangerous in our cities. We live with the threat of nuclear war. That's what I grew up with. Um but even still kids went out and played uh we let kids go out and play. And the norm, I've surveyed people all over the country between age 67 and eight is when american kids were given independence, that means we go out, we play, we'd ride our bicycles, we get lost, we get in fights, but we had to figure out how to fend for ourselves now, human nature or is anti fragile kids are not fragile.

We actually need challenges. We need to get in conflicts and resolve them. We need to get lost and find our way back. That's how we grow. It's just like the immune system, the immune system must be exposed to bacteria, dirt germs in order for it to develop. So even when things were dangerous, somewhat dangerous, kids went out to play and they developed normal social skills, normal strengths. Um and so that's the way things always were. And even through the millennial generation, which got computers when they were little, uh they got the internet pretty late um in the millennial generation, but they got the internet, some of them, the internet is not the problem. Even iphones aren't the problem.

The problem I believe is social media specifically. So just to pick up the system started to finish the developmental story in the United States in the 1990s, just as our crime, it was plummeting and just as the threat of nuclear war vanished. So the 1990s is an amazing decade. I get I was in my 20s, 20s and 30 and I felt like oh my God this is shangri la, this is I never believed I never expected life would be so good. You know the U. S. Even ran a budget surplus which had not done in many decades. So it was a golden age. Yeah we should hire some of the Australians to run our country. Oh my God it just came out today, we're going to have a trillion dollar deficit at a time of low unemployment and a booming economy. It's insane what we're doing to ourselves in this country.

All right back to our other terrible story. Um So in the 1990s for some reason we freaked out about child abduction uh, and we stopped letting our kids out. There were some stories of child abduction. We have 350 million people in our country. And about 100 220 a year, kids are truly kidnapped. It almost never happens. It's almost always the noncustodial parent if a kid is missing, but it happens a few times that a kid is kidnapped. But the news media covers it so much that we, for a lot of reasons, we just freaked out in the 90s and said no more. You're not going out. If you are, if you go out, you might be abducted. Uh, and then By the early 2000s, No American had seen a child out on its own in a park or on the street in so long that it began to seem very strange that if one was caught playing in a park, the parents could be arrested or at least into child protective services for neglect.

So we changed our ideas about childhood and we thought the world's dangerous kids have to be protected. So the same kids born in the mid nineties who didn't get normal childhood exposure, um they get social media when they're still in middle school. This, I think is why there's the sharp dividing line. The millennials didn't get social media until they were in college and university and there's no sign that it damaged them. But if you're born in 1996 gen z you were able to get it. Uh, you know, your 10 when facebook opens up to the world in in 2006, And then social media gets much more toxic. Between 2009, it gets much more common and much more toxic. So that's what I think it starts really changing kids.

And in terms of parents concerns, you have a lovely statistic about the length of time that you would need to leave your child companies in the car before he or she would be abducted by a stranger. How long is Yeah, somebody I forget who calculate if you look at the fact there's only about 100 abductions a year. They figured, how long would you have to leave if you just park your car in a parking lot And you leave your child unaccompanied? How long would you have to leave them before they've got a likelihood of being abducted? And the answer is 700,000 years. Um, so, you know, of course it depends on the neighborhood in some neighborhoods will be quicker. Uh,

But the point is we worry about things we shouldn't worry about and we don't worry about things that we should worry about. So in fact, the world is physically very safe. We should be sending our kids out to get physical experience in the physical world is quite safe. Where as it turns out that the online world is not so safe and we said to our kids, you know what, I'm busy, Go ahead. Here's an ipad and you know, six hours later the kid puts the ipad down. Um Now the data doesn't show that watching videos is bad. So I'm not, I don't want to say that electronic device uses necessarily bad. The data is more complicated on that. But on social media, the studies do clearly show social media is almost always emerges as much worse than than just device time or watching videos.

LEIGH: Yeah, I love the idea of anti fragility applied to parenting. I think about the concerns that people sometimes have when they see a runner in a major event having a heart attack and forget that far more people die of heart attacks because they didn't go for a run than die of heart attacks because they did go for a run.

HAIDT: Uh Yeah, you also speak about the changing research around nut allergies.

LEIGH: Say a little bit about about that because I think there's a there's a lovely metaphor there.

HAIDT: Yes. So um in the United States at least we all took peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to school when we were kids. Uh but that began to change in the 1990S because some kids do have a peanut allergy. Uh it was on the order of the exact number, but it was uh was on the order of one out of every several 100 Kids used to have a peanut allergy in the 1990s. And then a study that used the exact same methods done by the same people Around maybe 2010 or so.

I found that the rate had tripled uh and that it was going up in many other countries, but only in countries that tell pregnant women to avoid peanuts. And so the uh as epidemiologists and allergists looked at this, they thought, wow, maybe it's the deprivation of peanuts, it's actually causing the allergy. They did a very direct experiment recruited about 600 women who have recently given birth and and whose kids were at risk of a peanut allergy because they had other immune issues. Um And half of them they told the standard device which is, don't go near peanuts, don't you eat peanuts while you're lactating, don't give your kid anything with peanuts. And half they gave a bags of an Israeli snack food called bomba, which is a puffed corn thing with peanut dust on it, like a bit of a peanut butter flavor. And they said, here, give some of this to your kids two or three times a week. And they monitored the kids. They didn't just say go home and tell us if the kid survives. Um they monitor them And then at age five they tested them all thoroughly.

What they found is that those who followed standard advice, 17% had a peanut allergy. So for the rest of their lives, they're going to have to really worry when they eat food, when they go to a restaurant carrying EpiPen with them. Um, but for the group that was exposed to peanut dust, 3%, only 3% had a peanut allergy. So once you understand that the immune system is anti fragile. The immune system is a complex system that requires shocks. That's what the vaccine is, requires triggers in order to cause it to develop antibodies. Then you realize if you deprive your kid of the the antigens, the kid doesn't learn how to make antibodies and so this is what we open the book with. I think it's a great example. Everybody understands that aspect of immune system. You need vaccines And then think about raising your kids in an environment.

My kids go to New York City public schools, no teasing is allowed, no exclusion is allowed. Um, this is terrible. I mean it seems humane. It seems like, Oh, you know, it's make them be nice to each other. But if you imagine a kid making it to the age of 18 with hardly any teasing or exclusion. Now, of course on social media it's different. They can't avoid it there, but they don't develop the normal skills in physical and real social life. So when they are teased to exclude, it's much more painful than it would have been for previous generations. Uh, in a similar vein to the peanut study, you advocate better playgrounds, avoiding the what you call safety is. Um, and, and encouraging kids to do somewhat risky activities.

LEIGH: What do you think a kind of ideal playground looks like and how, what some of the, the cutting edge work being done on this?

HAIDT: Yeah, there's this whole really fascinating field of play studies. This was the most fun chapter to write, I think was Chapter nine of the book. I did a lot of research into play. Uh, and there's there's a number of great researchers who study animals and look all mammals play. And so if you think about it, like why would a baby, baby elk, or baby squirrel, or a baby tiger? Any baby, anything? Why would it run around and play? You're exposing yourself to predation? And the answer is that the mammal brain is this big thing that requires a lot of experience and play wires up the brain for the adult skills. The whole point of having a secure base. The whole point of attachment theory is your parents provide a secure base that you can run back to if something goes wrong. But the point of that secure bases that you can venture off a little further each time or each year. Uh practice the skills you need, take risks, take bigger risks, take bigger risks. Um so that's the mammal developmental plan.

And when you watch kids, when they learn to skateboard, they don't just go down a shallow hill. Now they go for a steep hill and then they go down staircases. The kids are trying to dose themselves with risk, Our brains need this, our brains need to wire up. So kids seek out the right level of risk. When I was growing up, I see that you're, I guess you're about my wife's age, I'm 55, my wife is 48. Um, when we were kids are playgrounds were such that we had seesaws and on a seesaw you can get hurt because if the other kid jumps off, you go down and you smack your butt on the ground, so you have to be careful, you have to figure out how to trust each other. No playground I see in America has a seesaw anymore because kids could get hurt, which means that they don't ever have an opportunity to learn how to not get hurt. A good playground requires small risk. You don't want anything where the kids will die or break their neck. But you do want a playground where they can get a little bit hurt.

In Britain. They're way ahead of us in Britain. They have started to at risk, they have started to put construction materials, bricks, would things like that? Kids love it and yeah, you know, they might bang their fingers, but then they learn to not bang their fingers.

LEIGH: You've also spoken about the importance of allowing your child to go out unsupervised. Although you have a lovely tale about the fact that with your daughter in new york she needs to go with a special license. A special letter from you telling telling everyone she meets that she has your permission to be out in the street.

HAIDT: No, that's right. So when I started, so I'm friends with a woman named Lenore Skenazy who wrote a book called Free Range Kids. She's a wonderful, wonderful woman, She's a journalist. And when her son was nine back around 2009, I think it was, she let her son ride the new york city subway home alone. Henrik was quite safe by then. But people still the idea that if you let your kid ride the subway, that's child abuse, you're asking for your kid to be abducted. So she let him because he really wanted to, he knew the subway system and he did it and he got home and he was exultant, he was thrilled and he wanted to do it again. Well this is normal development, this is how you cultivate skills. But the fact that so many people freaked out and called her America's worst mom. At least when she was interviewed on tv because there was a big uproar, that's what some news stations labeled her America's worst mom.

Um, and so she started, she wrote a book called Free Range Kids and then she found an organization called Let Grow. So if listeners go to let grow dot org, I'm on the board of it. It has all kinds of research and advice on how to, how to raise stronger, healthier kids. Anyway, when I got to know her and I realized how important it is for me to let my kids, beginning with my son who is now 13. um, I would send him to the supermarket literally across the street from my apartment building. But I was worried that he could be stopped and then I could get in trouble and he could get in trouble. So I wrote up a little kind of a jokey license that said, uh, you know, to whom it may concern. Um, if you think it's inappropriate and my parents, my parents permission to to do errands in the neighborhood, we think it's healthy for me to have some independence if you think that it is improper, unhealthy. Please Number one, ask yourself whether you were allowed at when you were my age to read the adventures of Huckleberry Finn three, call my parents and they will tell you about new york state law, which allows parents considerable leeway. It's it. So it's kind of a joke. But the point is that we have a nation of busybodies who think that a 10 year old kid should not be walking on the street without a parent.

LEIGH: You also have a range of other really interesting tips around allowing a child to attend overnight camp riding, riding a bike around the neighborhood, seeking out other kids who will want to explore. But also a series of suggestions for parents encouraging Children to debate different ideas. I wonder if you might say a little bit more about this and about what good argumentation within a household looks like.

HAIDT: Yes. So there are so many skills that kids need to learn. Um, and they don't learn them by lecture, they learned them by by practice. And uh one of the things that we noticed that Greb noticed beginning 2014 2015, is that many students began interpreting intellectual life, not through a lens of what's right and wrong are true or false, but what's safe or dangerous. And if a student says something in class and someone challenges them or says no, I disagree or I think you're wrong, they would increasingly take that as an attack. You're attacking me and you can't do university life like that, you can't have a university if disagreement is considered attack.

Uh, and so we think it's important that students learn well before they come to university, how to disagree well, uh, skills of argument and debate, but even more importantly, just skills getting along with others without just suppressing what you believe.

And so, so we have some, we have some resources on the site if if your listeners go to The Coddling, um, also me and some of my colleagues created a program called Open Mind. If you go to Open Mind Platform, it walks you through why it's so hard to have arguments, why we, we suffer from confirmation bias, how you can start a discussion on the right foot. So there's all kinds of advice out there, There's all kinds of research and common sense about, about how to do it.

Um, while I'm talking about the site, I hope I can guide your listeners to the page on Australia. So if listeners go to The Coddling and then on the tab the book, there's a page called International Coddling where I've assembled google documents with all the literature I can find on the U. K. Australia. New Zealand. Canada, That's all I have so far. But if you click on the Australian page, I got to tell you, I was expecting you guys to be a lot tougher than americans. I was expecting you guys to still be letting your kids out and you know, you play rugby and, and I was not expecting protection. You're what we're all crocodile Dundee down here. Well, I guess I did have that stereotype and, and you know, maybe it'll humiliate you to say that the new Zealanders still have it a lot more than you do now. So I'm saying that to try to stimulate a little competition and rivalry to get it back.

But I was surprised to find when I asked in several talks I gave at universities and elsewhere, um, All of the older Australians said that they were let out around age seven or 8, But the, the teenagers are not let out until mostly 10-12 as in the United States. I mean, there's some, especially in the rural areas, but some are still out at eight, but most, most are being overprotected. And so you can see that you can see in the google doc here, at least, journalism on the rise of over protection. You can see graphs showing rises of mental illness, especially depression by gender. Uh, it looks like you have a rising suicide rate, although it's not nearly as sharp as it is in the US. So anyway, yeah, you're suffering from all the things we're suffering from, although in most cases not quite as bad. Just before we finished the issue and debates.

LEIGH: One of my favorite lines from your book about how to debate well, is to argue as if you're right, but to listen as if you're wrong, I thought that was a beautiful encapsulation of what it is to be an effective debater and a good protagonist. You've also talked

HAIDT: Can I just can I just add something to that? Um, so something I've begun to see as uh as a lot of things we're doing are making young people weaker. And I would also say dumber or rather if you deprive them of debate and dissent, if you if you don't have them in a culture of debate and argument, they don't sharpen their skills, they don't own their abilities.

So it's really important for young people to seek out experiences that make them tougher and smarter. And one of the best ways I've found um to get smarter is to ask people to show you where you're wrong. So if you have an idea, put it out there and ask people, where is this wrong? Um you know, twitter has all kinds of problems. It's destroying democracy in my opinion, but it's a pretty good way to put an idea out there and then you read the comments and people quickly point out where you're wrong.

So if you have an attitude of I don't want to be attacked, I don't want to be humiliated. You know, you're not going to put anything out there and you're not going to get smarter. But if you realize we are all so limited, it's really hard to find the truth. We're really biased to protecting our current beliefs, not learning the truth. So if you start from that position and you realize you can't get smart on your own, You need people who don't share your confirmation biases to critique. You need people to disprove or challenge your beliefs so that you can either abandon those that are bad or find better evidence To support those that are good.

Now here, I'm basically just channeling John Stuart Mill, he said all of this in 1859 and on Liberty, which is still one of the best books ever in the, in the liberal tradition. And you've done this beautiful illustrated edition of his chapter to this all -1 co editor, Richard Reeves and stunningly illustrated by David Ciccarelli. That's one of the resources that is out there for anyone to download. And I strongly recommend it to listeners. If listeners go to Heterodox Academy, they'll find a free edition of it as well as they can buy a printed edition. But the pdf is free for the world.

LEIGH: You talked to about the benefits of cognitive behavioral therapy, which goes back to the stoics. Uh, and uh, some of the sort of useful tips for kids using cognitive behavioral therapy. One of them I really liked was was to suggest to kids that when you have negative thoughts put them in a daffy duck voice to seem less serious. What is the kind of guts of cognitive behavioral therapy and why is it really useful for hygiene at this particular moment?

HAIDT: So yeah, the guts of cognitive behavioral therapy is basically the insights of buddha and Marcus Aurelius. Um, and basically stoics and here actually I have the, so uh I've started reading Marcus Aurelius every morning. His meditations are just brilliant. Um So I have, so actually on The Coddling I have paid two pages of quotes from Marcus Aurelius where he basically tells you the opposite of the great untruth. I mean he really, you know the wisdom is extraordinary.

So um okay so here's here's number one emotional reasoning. So Marcus Aurelius says uh choose not to be harmed and you won't feel harmed, don't feel harmed. And you haven't been. It's the basic point that buddha made also that our life is the creation of our minds. That objective factors don't influence us directly. I mean physical things do, but most of them are social and they only influence us through our filters.

Here's another one. You don't have to turn this into something, it doesn't have to upset you. Things can't shape our decisions by themselves. So this is ancient wisdom. And in the 1960s, Aaron Beck, a psychiatrist at the University of Pennsylvania, discovered that when he challenged the distorted thoughts of his depressed patients, um, and he taught them to challenge their own distorted thoughts, they got better Freudian doctrine at the time said, don't bother. The cause of the depression has something to do with their sexuality at the age of three and yada, yada. But Beck found that people think themselves into a hole. And if you teach them to challenge their distorted beliefs, look for evidence for them, um, you can actually break the cycle and they feel released from their sadness or the anxiety.

And so that's the basis of cognitive therapy, help people to recognize and we can all you know, everybody listening to this can probably think of a time when they catastrophizing something that'll happen, but they made a big deal out of it or they did mind reading something happened. I said oh my God she's going to hate me, she's gonna think I'm an idiot when in fact you find out later, like no she didn't notice or no she thought it was charming. So um so cognitive therapy, it's kind of a hippo therapy is a way of tuning up your thinking and why we're so excited about.

 It's not just because it saved Greg's life. He had a suicidal depression in 2007, learned cpt. Uh It's that it's not just for people who are depressed. It basically is critical reasoning skills and in universities. Um, what we want is we want students to come out much better reason ear's than when they came in. Much better at making claims based on evidence and then backing up their claims with evidence and then changing their minds if the evidence changes and this is something that's very hard for people, it's not natural to do this. So CBT basically makes you a better thinker.

LEIGH: You also speak about the role of social media and point out that a number of tech titans in Silicon Valley don't let their Children use devices. Uh, what are some tips for parents in managing social media and device use, which as best I can tell has become the number one topic of conversation among my parents of young adolescents.

HAIDT: No, that's right. It seems at least the United States, it seems there are only two conversations. One is social media and kids. The other is donald trump, we don't talk about anything else. We didn't talk about the weather anymore, it's just those two. Um, and so you know, and we're all wrestling with this, my kids are nine and 13. Uh, and for years we wrestled with it like like, oh you've been on for, How long have you been on that? How many episodes did you have time to put that away and no, don't do that.

Um, So first realized that um, that device time is not necessarily bad, but it will expand to push out everything else. And so you definitely don't want your kids on their devices six or eight hours a day, they're not gonna do anything else. So three simple pieces of advice. One All screens out of the bedroom by a fixed time every day. Everybody just knows at 9:00 you put your laptop, your iPad, whatever it is, you put it on the kitchen counter, in the kitchen drawer, in a box or something. There is no reason why you should leave an iphone or ipad in the kid's bedroom because some kids will be checking the, checking their social media will be checking texts uh instead of sleeping. So don't do that.

Number two, no social media. Uh Well, I think until 16, but that's unrealistic, as long as everyone's on at age 11. Uh, but definitely no social media until 13. Most parents let their kids lie and create uh instagram account when they're 10 or 11. And while the jury is not entirely decided, there is some contradictory evidence, but on the website on the coddling dot com, we've collected all the evidence. It sure looks like social media is contributing to the rising depression anxiety, especially for girls. The correlation studies are very consistent and the experimental studies are unanimous. All five show a causal effect. The time lag studies are mixed. There are some time like studies pointing both ways. So I can't say that everything is locked up, but it's generally looking like social media is a major contributor or a contributor to the depression epidemic.

And then the third, the third piece of advice um is work out a time budget with your kids. So I'd like to be able to tell you, you know, two hours a day and maybe you know less on weekdays, more on weekends. But I can tell you that it depends on what your kids are doing, it depends on what the alternatives are, depends on a lot of things, depends on the kid. So, but the one thing I can say for sure is that if you don't have any kind of budget, there are hundreds or thousands of psychologists in Silicon Valley who are working night and day to keep your kid on the device every waking moment you don't want that.

So, so when you talk to kids, what I find is that gen z is not in denial, it's not like, no, we want to be on eight hours a day. You know, they know it's a problem. They know social media is a problem. And so if you work out, you say, well, what do you think the policy should be and what's your plan for sticking to it? And it turns out the Apple controls? If you, if you're on Apple, Apple I think is is looking pretty good here. Apple uh, parental controls that came out last year are really good. They really work. So I urge everyone to start using those working out a budget with your kid and then set it on the phone and then that's it, that solves the problem.

LEIGH: We've spoken a lot about raising kids and for me as the father of 6, 10 and 12 year old boys, that's, it's obviously something I'm very enthusiastic about learning more about. But the book had its genesis in, in what was going on in universities. So I wonder if as we draw the conversation to a close, you might say something about what's going on in universities and what you think makes a wise university and how we might make our higher education institutions wiser.

HAIDT: Yeah, sure. First, let me just say that listeners should go to your website to look at the photos of your family and your youngest son sitting there with that expression, that sulky expression on his face is just priceless. I love that photo of your family.

Uh but in terms of a wiser university. Uh so I think the greek concept of telus telus is very helpful Aristotle interpreting things in terms of the Talos, the taylors of a physician is to heal the taylors of university is to discover and disseminate knowledge to find truth. And I think that universities in the United States have really lost their way in that their giant complicated institutions working towards many purposes and they often lose sight of the truth seeking function. So I think that um when we talk about speech, were arguing endlessly about speech and if we do it in the framework of diversity and inclusion, those are important considerations.

But we end up then using having the standard sort of therapeutic political uh norms that we have in many other parts of our society and instead I think we need to do is is focus on what's our purpose, Our purpose is discovery of truth. And so we don't need free speech per se. That is we don't need enormous as anyone can say anything, that's not the point, but we must have norms that say that people are encouraged to speak up. People are encouraged to disagree when they when they have evidence or arguments against someone else and that it should be done civilly.

So I think a wise university is one that is focused laser like on its on its tail owes and policies all revolve around that. Um Unwise university is one that is always reactive Oh my God, the newspaper covered this, this this event at a fraternity. Oh my God, we better put out a statement, we better limit this, you know, close this down ban this. So, uh, people running many organizations, the United States are nervous now its leadership is getting a lot harder. Um, social media and political polarization are making things much more explosive and I think universities are kind of losing their way.

Australia universities I think are in a very good position. You don't have nearly as much uh, political, uh, protest and stuff from your, your students. They mostly don't live on campus. They don't live in a closed community of 18-21 year olds. And so, um, uh, and so when I was visiting, I gave talks at the University of Melbourne, University of Sydney met with administrators. In both cases, I think you're in pretty good shape american trends are coming your way, but there was widespread agreement that you don't want, you don't want the things that happened in America to come to Australia. And so if you have clear policies, uh, if you keep in mind the purpose of university, I think you'll make it through now. There is a report by uh, what's a french? I forget his first name

LEIGH: Robert French?

HAIDT: That's it, thank you. So it's very, very good report, but it has a few giant loopholes, reasons why it's okay to shut down speech. Um, if, because the university has an obligation or duty to protect well being. Well, that's what they say in America, like, oh, we've got a bandage speaker because it'll be traumatizing to some of the students.

So I think the french report, um, if it was implemented as written would have two giant loopholes that would allow anyone to shut down any speaker anytime. Uh, but I'm hopeful that those loopholes will be closed or the other is quality of scholarship. So you just say oh that's shoddy scholarship and then you can shut them down and you talk in the in the book about the Chicago statement on principles of free expression, which has been a useful Touchstone in the U. S. Context.

LEIGH: Jonathan as we draw the conversation to a close, let me ask you a few questions that I ask all of my interview interviewees, what advice would you give to your teenage self?

HAIDT: What advice would you give to my teenage self? Um Let's see. It's possible that I would give no advice because I had a really wonderful mother. Um My mother really knew to let us make our own mistakes um to get us the training and skills we needed to be successful in life to not step in and help us. Um So, you know, I you know, I was born with many advantages, but one of the main ones was that I had such a skillful mother. Mhm.And you know, so I made mistakes and I think I was able to make the right ones and learn from them. Um So I don't know, that's a good question. I should have a great answer for you, but I don't.

LEIGH: what's something you used to believe, but no longer do?

HAIDT: I certainly used to believe that religion was stupid and evil. I've been an atheist since about the age of 14, I I was at a bar mitzvah at 13, and I wasn't an atheist. Then by 14 or 15 I was an atheist, and by 17 or 18 I hated religion, thought it was stupid. Um And I was the sort of boy who would have become a new atheist In his 30s, when Richard Dawkins and others were writing all those books.

But as a result of doing my research on morality and human evolution, I've come to see that religion, of course there are toxic forms of expression and there are positive forms, but that overall, at least in the United States where we have a competitive market, religions are competing with each other to attract people. Um, religions generally increased social capital, they help raise Children with self control, they instill moral virtues. So I don't want to give a blanket praise. But my point is, I used to be a sort of an angry atheist who hated religion and now I'm a non angry atheist who thinks that we need religion or something like religion.

And when I see the substitutes for religion, um, those are really bad. What I mean is in the United States by far the fastest growing religious categories called spiritual, but not religious. There is a vast spiritual emptiness in the United States. I mean, people have said that at least since the seventies, sixties or seventies, but it's really bad for r for gen z. It's related to their depression, anxiety. And because there is this vast spiritual emptiness, I think a lot of them are attracted to political movements which they approach in a religious way. So it's great to work against racism and for gun control and for the environment. I'd certainly support all of those efforts. What I see happening is as many students approaching it like a religion. And if you have a religion, you have blasphemy laws, no one can descend, no one can raise objections. And so you get bad policies promoted. Uh, and you get the sense that many of them seem to think that intimidation is appropriate because they're fighting for good cause. So in a funny way, you know, the formal religions which have evolved over a long time are much more benign.

And the new religions, the quasi religions, I think these days can be kind of savage. Well, in these new spiritual movements seem to have at their heart, uh, spiritual truths, which are pretty close to the three untruths that we started the started the conversation with

LEIGH: what doesn't kill you, makes you weaker, always trust your feelings. Life's a battle between good people and evil people.

HAIDT: Yeah, that's right, That's right. A lot of them, a lot of them do, and we should be clear here. We're talking about, we're talking about movements that tend to flourish more on the, on the left in progressive circles. But my God, I mean, the right, you know, the far right, I mean, we're looking at a liberalism and social media driving violence. So much of my writing, I'm criticizing the left in that I'm on a university campus and that's where the problem is. But you know, in society more broadly, I think the right is, the far right is really messed up.

Social media is making it worse, uh, in my own country is certainly at the national level. The Republicans are just absolutely unbelievable. Even to Republicans of 30 years ago. What they're doing to the country now would be shocking To Ronald Reagan or two Republicans of 30 or 40 years ago. Mm hmm.

LEIGH: When are you most happy?

HAIDT: Um, when I am traveling in a foreign country, sitting in a cafe, reading a newspaper from another city or country, um, with a day of exploration ahead of me, I'm extremely high on the trade of openness to experience. I'm an odd junkie. I love the feeling of all climbing mountains, sitting on rooftops, watching sunsets, waterfalls. So I guess I'm most happy when I get to satisfy that.

Although if I vote with my feet or rather if you look at my, what do economists call it? Your manifested preferences by your behavior, something preference reveal that I revealed preferences would suggest that I'm most happy when I'm working because I do tend to work a lot, but you know, but like, like a lot of professors, it's because it's, I love it. I mean, I'm just so interested in the things I'm studying, so it doesn't feel like work.

LEIGH: What's the most important thing you do in your life to stay mentally and physically healthy?

HAIDT: Um, the most important thing I say I do to stay mentally and physically healthy. I don't, I don't do much because my life is unbalanced in a in a good way. I have a wonderful wife who's very supportive of my work. I have great kids. Uh we're not, not problems are loving, I have a wonderful job that I love teaching at new york University, have perfect job security. So in that sense, um you know, I have a lot going for me in terms of my mental health, I don't have to do a lot.

The theme of the happiness hypothesis was happiness comes from between. If you get the right relationship between yourself and others, yourself and your work and yourself and something larger than yourself, then you will live at the at the upper end of your range of potential happiness. And I didn't have that early in my career, I didn't have it when I was an assistant professor at the University of Virginia. And then I met my wife got tenure, had kids, All that, you know, all happened all at once. Um, so I don't have to do much now. I can pretty much work all the time except for when I'm with my family.

But what I have started doing, as I said, I started reading Marcus Aurelius in the morning because this summer that donald trump was threatening nuclear war with north Korea. We didn't know what the hell was happening in our country. This was the first six months of the trump administration and the trajectory was such that it was quite possible to believe that the country was going to implode or get into a nuclear war within a few months. And uh I was quite anxious and I found that Reading Marcus Aurelius really helped because my God, um Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome in a time of military conquest and challenges, uh you know, he um they had seen it all back then. He had seen it all and he gives advice for how how to live.

We have a, see if I can find a quote from his from him here to watch the courses of the stars as if you revolved with them to keep constantly in mind how the elements alter into one another. Thoughts like this wash off the mud of life below. Um He's a constant reminder uh to step out of the pettiness of everyday life, reconnect with the universe, the vastness of time and space. And he talks over and over again about how we'll all be dead, about. All the great men of the past are now dead. We have only this brief moment between an infinite past and an infinite future. So it really keeps you grounded and centered. Uh and it keeps it gives you perspective. So I would say reading Marcus Aurelius meditations, uh Gregory Hays translation is the best one I've found. Um that really helps my mental health.

LEIGH: Finally, Jonathan. Which person or experience has most shaped your view of living in ethical life of living?

HAIDT: Which person. Um I mean the trade answer is just say my mother, my mother and my father. Um I certainly uh they were both great role models. Um My father was extremely honest and my mother would praise his honesty in front of me and my sisters. I think that was a very powerful combination. Um so my parents certainly did. Um and then I think just being inducted into the academy, having advisers who loved ideas and really modeled intellectual integrity. Uh you know, you're never taught, don't make up data, don't say anything untrue that you're not taught that formally, but from the way people behave, you can tell what they hold sacred. And so I had just great advisers in graduate school at penn, uh and my postdoc at the University of Chicago with richard Schwager. So um while they weren't teaching me ethics per se, they were teaching me how to be a good professor. A good researcher,

LEIGH: Jonathan Haidt, moral psychologist. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom on the Good Life podcast today.

HAIDT: Well, thank you. Andrew, it's been a pleasure talking with you.

LEIGH: Thanks for listening to this week's episode of The Good Life. If you enjoyed this conversation, I reckon you'll like past interviews with Martha Nussbaum, Joshua, Gans, Dylan Moran and Dalton Conley. We love getting feedback. So please leave us a rating or a comment on Apple podcasts. It really helps others find the podcast. Next week we'll be back with another inspiring guest to discuss Living a happier, healthier and more ethical life.


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.