Freya India explains how algorithms act as conveyor belts, transporting girls to dark and extreme places
The only missing piece is what to do when you take the phone away and suddenly your child is all alone because all their friends communicate only through snapchat and instagram. This is a collective action problem.
Taking away screens is only half the job. Girls need to be equipped and expected to take an interest in the world, to not equate their value with their physical appeal. Thank you, Freya and Jon, for understanding this.
I couldn’t agree more with Freya when she says that Gen Alpha parents should not let their children open social media accounts when they are still in early puberty, and that they should prioritize in-person interactions and real-world experiences.
The problem is that it is extremely difficult to find a place where they can actually do this - especially in the US. The natural world of unsupervised outdoor play that would enable children to grow up normally (as I discuss at length in my book Life Before the Internet) has all but disappeared due to the combined effects of social media and over-protective parenting.
Jonathan Haidt hit the nail on the head in an earlier post entitled “Why some researchers think I’m wrong”, when he said that we have lost the “IRL (In Real Life) model”. He likens social media to “a bulldozer that came in and leveled all the environments teens needed to foster healthy social development, leaving them to mature alone in their bedrooms.”
So even if we can get them out of their bedrooms, where will they go? Once they get off their screens, they will have to create a new face-to-face social circle, because they will most probably lose their online friends. I don’t have an easy answer, but it’s good to remember that we no longer have the IRL model for them to fall back on.
Freya, this is a striking and disturbing essay, exposing the urgency of the situation that young girls face. I have written along similar lines over the last few months on School of the Unconformed, and will continue to focus my efforts on helping people to recognize harms, remove them, and return to an embodied reality that does not leave us as empty shells hollowed out by digital misery. Here a fitting quote from my post From Feeding Moloch to Digital Minimalism https://schooloftheunconformed.substack.com/p/from-feeding-moloch-to-digital-minimalism:
"We are all unwilling, or oblivious, participants in the tech industry’s single-minded goal to capture our full attention. In the ‘race to the bottom of the brain stem’ children are the most vulnerable contestants. Their minds are part of a relentless digital colonization, and unless we intervene, we risk the overall well-being of future generations."
‘The cost of a thing is the amount what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.’
Henry David Thoreau
I’m the mother of two Gen Z boys. Every generation has had to contend with targeted ads and screen addictions. The difference is the parents. We did not allow our children to have smart phones until college. We only allowed them half an hour of any type of screen time a day on weekends. No screen time during the week. Sure, there was a lot of pushback from them and nagging from me, but that’s just part of being a parent. This is not rocket science, it’s basic parenting.
I have seen Gen Z mothers walking with their two year old who’s trying to point out a butterfly as his mother is obliviously engaged with her phone. Parents at restaurants with their children have them zoned out on screens rather than talking together. Gen Z parents can’t be bothered to parent their children; they’re self-absorbed, self-obsessed perpetual adolescents.
If parents were parenting, kids would not have smart phones or social media access until adulthood. They wouldn’t miss out on what their friends are doing because their friends wouldn’t be on social media either.
As a psychiatrist, your diagnosis of what is plaguing young people (and all of us to some extent) rings true. Our panicked response to COVID only magnified the trend. We all need to get off our screens and back into living in the real world, interacting with real people.
Wow Freya, another good one as someone who struggles with depression I think it helps to tell the people around you, not the whole world.
great piece but doesn't mention online porn which hovers (not far) in the background of all of this. it's effect on both boys and girls is far reaching and is the true horror of our age.
Freya is one of the best young writers around. Excited to see her make an appearance in After Babel
Freya, thank you so much for writing about this! I have a 15 year old daughter who has displayed many of the things you wrote about. She is ended up hospitalized for depression last spring and we couldn’t quite figure out what all led to it. She doesn’t have a social media account so I thought we could avoid depression and anxiety. But she did have access to YouTube and Pinterest and she started off by watching makeup tutorials but it led to seeing these mental health influencers that led her to start self diagnosing and taking on other diagnoses.
Best comment: “…But I also believe that a 12-year-old’s mind is no match for a giant corporation using the most advanced AI to manipulate her behavior. Gen Z were the guinea pigs in this uncontrolled global social experiment…”. Reminds me of Frank Zappa song “I am the slime”…
Fantastic piece, Freya, and deadly accurate. I'm an elementary school educator who has watched this phenomenon take off like a rocket. In September 2021, 11 out of 22 students in my Grade 6 homeroom class showed up using different pronouns or identities. We were not allowed to inform the parents of the changes.
In my experience, parents are acutely aware of the situation with their kids but need the schools to step up and support them by implementing policies that reduce the tendency to rely on social media.
I've recently moved to a new school where the administration instituted the following:
1. No cell phones during the school day
2. An 80-minute block of outdoor education per week
3. Block all social media from the school Wifi
4. Offer several after-school programs such as sports, woodworking, cooking, robotics and board games
5. A friend bench at recess and lunch where students can signal to their peers that they don't have anyone to play/eat with. The teachers challenge the other students to ensure the bench is never occupied for more than 30 seconds (and it works!)
It's not a perfect solution, but it's a start.
It is nice to know, theoretically, that there is no algorithms hijacking my feed on Substack. I feel like that, at least on this digital screen, new forms of organic friendships are being forged on this platform. I hope that Gen Alpha can pursue this type of course of action.
As always, Freya hits the mark exactly. It's so refreshing to see someone write about how my generation ticks accurately. That same conveyor belt exists for men, and very often it leads to depression, inceldom, misogyny. Pickup artists, fitness and financial influencers tell them how they're not enough, that all women care about is status and there's always someone better.
As the dad of two girls aged 12 and 9, this may be the most frightening thing I’ve ever read. On a related note, I greatly appreciate you sharing this and bringing me to Freya’s work.
Amazing article! Thanks!