June 25, 2023
June 25, 2023

Social media platforms have become an integral part of the modern digital landscape, shaping how young individuals connect, communicate, and perceive the world around them. However, concerns have been raised regarding the potential negative consequences on children’s mental well-being. Even recently, the US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released an advisory stating there’s a risk of profound harm to children and adolescents’ mental health and well-being. Those who agree claim that excessive social media usage can make children experience low self-esteem and negative body imageThey also highlight cyberbullying and online harassment, which can contribute to increased stress, anxiety, and depression. Those who disagree say that when used responsibly and with proper guidance, social media can enhance social and creative skills, foster a sense of belonging, provide access to valuable educational resources, and help support communities. They also note that studies measuring social media’s impact on kidsmental health don’t always take into account other prominent factors.

With this context, we debate the question: Is Social Media Bad for Kids’ Mental Health?

This debate will be recorded at The Aspen Ideas Festival at The Hotel Jerome’s ballroom on June 25, 2023, at 8:15 PM. Purchase tickets here.

  • 00:00:07

    .

    John Donvan

    Hi, everybody, and welcome to Open to Debate. I’m John Donvan. When the US surgeon general issues an alert over the mental health of American kids, talking about an increase in levels of depression, anxiety, and other issues that he says started before the pandemic, the natural question is what is going on here? What happened in the lifetime of this generation of American youth that was not there before? And for many, the answer may seem just as obvious: social media, the life that kids live out on their phones and tablets. Some say this is much more than a correlation. This is causation, which would be good to know, because then there may be something to do about it.

    (00:44):

    But does that argument hold up? W- what’s the logic, and what is the evidence? Is the concern with the role of screens, and what comes across them, and the life of kids right on target, or is it a miss? That’s what we are going to debate, as we ask this question: Is social media bad for kids’ mental health? We have two debaters. One will be answering yes to the question and one will be answering no. We want to first welcome up the debater who’ll be answering yes. He is the most popular professor at Stanford University for 30 years in a row. He’s a civil rights attorney.

  • 00:01:14

    Audience

    (laughs).

  • 00:01:14

    John Donvan

    He is the founder of Common Sense Media, which is the largest child advocacy group in the United States, and also, uh, has founded the largest tech, uh, privacy group in the world. Please welcome Jim Steyer.

  • 00:01:26

    Jim Steyer

    Thanks, John. Thank you. Thank you.

  • 00:01:31

    Audience

    (laughs).

  • 00:01:31

    John Donvan

    Oh boy.

  • 00:01:31

    Audience

    [inaudible

  • 00:01:32

    ].

  • 00:01:34

    John Donvan

    And arguing no in answer to that question, arguing social media is not bad for kids’ mental health, a Duke University researcher and University of California Irvine professor of psychological research and informatics, as well as director of research and faculty development at UCI’s School of Social Ecology, Candice Odgers. Yes.

  • 00:01:55

    Jim Steyer

    Hi, Candice.

  • 00:01:55

    Candice Odgers

    (laughs).

  • 00:01:56

    Jim Steyer

    Have a good one.

  • 00:01:57

    Audience

    Aww.

  • 00:01:58

    Jim Steyer

    Have a good one.

  • 00:01:58

    John Donvan

    Oh, what a good start. Uh, in fact, I understand the two of you have, at least virtually, collaborated before. Is that right?

  • 00:02:04

    Candice Odgers

    We have, yeah.

  • 00:02:05

    Jim Steyer

    That’s true. That’s true. Candice has done research for Common Sense.

  • 00:02:08

    John Donvan

    How did it go?

  • 00:02:08

    Candice Odgers

    We’re going to find out if Jim read it today (laughs).

  • 00:02:10

    John Donvan

    (laughs).

  • 00:02:10

    Audience

    (laughs).

  • 00:02:12

    Jim Steyer

    Nah.

  • 00:02:13

    John Donvan

    All right, let’s get to our first round, and our first round is comprised of each of the debaters having five minutes to make an opening statement directly to you, laying out their reason for arguing yes or no. Jim, you are up first. Your answer to that question is yes, social media is bad for kids’ mental health. The floor is yours.

  • 00:02:30

    Jim Steyer

    Okay, great. Well, uh, thank you very much, John. Hello, Candice. Uh, so, I would just say to the question, it’s a pretty simplistic way of phrasing this, but the basic answer to the question is completely obvious. I would say duh.

  • 00:02:46

    Audience

    (laughs).

  • 00:02:47

    Jim Steyer

    Um, social media is clearly bad for kids’ mental health, and your mental health. And by the way, the rule tonight is put your phones away. Nobody’s allowed to have their phones out while I’m talking or when Candice is talking. You’ll have to have a device-free debate. Um, so, there are other sides to this, which we’ll get into, but basically, I would frame it to you this way. Social media’s having a tobacco moment in our society, and it’s about time. It’s at long last, and my good friend, Vivek Murthy, the surgeon general, issued that warning, which has openly deemed social media as unsafe and a major contributor to the youth mental health crisis in the United States. And do not kid yourselves, we are going through a youth mental health crisis in the United States, here, but also globally, period, full stop. And by the way, it’s affecting many of you as well.

  • 00:03:39

    Um, there’s a wealth of research that shows that social media is first and foremost addictive. It’s been intentionally designed for maximum user engagement, an arms race for your attention, for your kids’ attention, and it capitalizes upon the most vulnerable and underdeveloped brains. It’s essentially a no-brainer. Um, 45% of teens say, girls, say they’re addicted to TikTok, just for one example. Second, it’s invasive. The amount of private and personal data that they store on users, yes, even teens and kids users that they’re not supposed to store, would scare every parent and every educator here, and every teen here too. And third, it’s basically unregulated. It’s pathetic how Washington has failed to do anything about this over the past 15 years. Expensive, highly paid tech lobbyists in the hundreds of millions of dollars a year have made sure that there’s a golden fence around big tech, and in social media in particular, allowing these platforms to conduct an unparalleled experiment on my kids’ brains, your kids’ brains, and our society, and the results, loneliness, insomnia, depression, anxiety, body image issues, suicide, drug use, and more. Okay.

  • 00:04:58

    For too long, well over a decade, we’ve allowed a handful of companies, and social media platforms in particular, to compromise the basic health and safety of our children, period. Tonight, we’re going to talk about their social, emotional, and cognitive development, but my hope is that after you hear this debate, quote-unquote, “debate,” you just won’t… You won’t just agree with me and Common Sense, you will be motivated, personally, to do something about this, and to work with millions of young people and adults around the world to change the status quo and to put kids first.

  • 00:05:33

    So, I mentioned the tobacco theme. Let me lay out, just quickly, the way that we can address this, because I hope we’ll spend a lot of time talking about solutions tonight, because to me, the answer to the question is obvious. Seven things we should keep in mind, because to learn this from the tobacco experience, which we finally successfully did. Number one, speak truth to power. Power is basically the tech industry, and the biggest, wealthiest companies in the history of the world. Second, educate all segments of the public in a thoughtful and accessible, but bold way. Explain how this relates to AI too, which is going to explode in your lives quickly.

  • 00:06:10

    Speaker 5

    Yes.

  • 00:06:10

    Jim Steyer

    Third, use science and public health to do… as Dr. Murthy has done, to declare that this is a public health crisis, that affects your children, and your families, and our entire society, and frame it as a public health crisis, and nonpartisan. Fourth, develop it, a sophisticated legislative, regulatory, and legal framework. This is exactly what happened, finally, with tobacco, and really changed it. Remember, you’re up against the richest, most powerful companies in the world, so you’ve got to be really tough to win. Fifth, educate young people in schools. We are about to de- We have been developing and are about to roll out a curriculum this fall, for students, p- teachers, and parents that we’ve created with the Harvard Ed school, uh, which is very difficult as a Stanford professor, and-

  • 00:06:57

    Audience

    (laughs).

  • 00:06:58

    Jim Steyer

    … also with Dr. Murthy and the surgeon general’s office. Sixth, conduct sophisticated public awareness campaign, town halls, Aspen Ideas, school talks. You guys all have ideas how to do this in your community. Media campaign using athletes and celebrities, social media really specifically, with people like Selena Gomez, a number of p- professional athletes, Naomi Osaka. There’s a guy here, Rainn Wilson, who’s expert on this as well. You need to destigmatize this issue, period.

  • 00:07:30

    John Donvan

    Jim-

  • 00:07:30

    Jim Steyer

    Celebs can help.

  • 00:07:31

    John Donvan

    … [inaudible

  • 00:07:31

    ] time. Thank you very much.

  • 00:07:32

    Jim Steyer

    Perfect.

  • 00:07:33

    John Donvan

    Thank you.

  • 00:07:33

    Jim Steyer

    That was my last point.

  • 00:07:34

    John Donvan

    Excellent. Good time. Uh, and so, Candice, it is your turn. Your answer to the question is no, it is not harmful to kids’ mental health, social media, so the floor is yours.

  • 00:07:45

    Candice Odgers

    All right, well clearly I’ve been given the easy side of this debate-

  • 00:07:48

    Audience

    (laughs).

  • 00:07:49

    Candice Odgers

    … so here we go. Um, I wanted to start with a confession, and I think it’s important for everyone in the room to know. I hate social media. I don’t use it that often. I’m not a heavy user. Um, not a fan. But, I became an expert in social media and digital technology because I followed kids to the spaces where they spend their time. I wrote a report about three months ago, for the National Center for the Developing Adolescent, arguing for regulation around privacy, saying that social media tech-any companies needed to come into the public square and design their tech in ways that supported our kids, right? So, there I am.

  • 00:08:26

    Um, but I’m standing up here tonight, um, as a psychologist, and for the last two decades of my life, I’ve studied kids’ mental health. Since 2008, I’ve actually followed them around on their phones. I know it sounds a little bit creepy, but tracking what they do online, what they do in school, how much they sleep, how their school day went, experiences of discrimination, experiences of mental health, and I’m here to tell you tonight, Jim, I told you in the report, but I’m here to tell you tonight that the story you’re being sold about social media and our kids’ mental health is not supported by the science.

  • 00:09:03

    Now, don’t take my word for it. There have been thousands of studies on this topic. There are over 100 meta-analyses and narrative reviews. We did one in 2020. The most recent one was done at Stanford. It analyzed 226 studies. They looked at the association between social media and wellbeing, and you know what they found? The association was indistinguishable from zero. There was no effect. And this is not an uncommon finding. Sometimes, we find that social media is associated with symptoms of depression, really tiny associations. Now, the important part about this, and you’re all sick of hearing, “Correlation is not causation,” but in this case, it’s actually really important, because I think we’re drawing the arrow in the wrong direction.

  • 00:09:54

    And why I think that is if you follow kids over time, there’s a great study of 1,700 kids in Canada that’s done this, followed their mental health, use, mental health, their social media use, and what you find… Well first, for boys, there’s nothing, no association. For girls, there’s an association that’s there, but what happens is girls are experiencing mental health problems. That predicts the type of social media they use, their social media use down the road, but not vice-versa. Social media use does not predict future mental health problems, right?

  • 00:10:27

    Okay, so now you’re saying, “But wait. The surgeon general of the United States just issued an advisory.” He did. I was on the phone with his office until the (laughs) the night before, saying that this is going to be the wrong message to parents, saying that social media is damaging to kids’ mental health. That’s actually not what the report said. If you read the report carefully, what it says is social media may have risks and benefits. There’s not conclusive evidence, but they’re taking a safety first approach, given the concerns, right? Fair. They can take a surf- safety first approach. The next morning when that report was released, every major news outlet yelled, “The surgeon general is warning that social media is damaging youth mental health. It is causing things like depression, anxiety, suicide.”

  • 00:11:15

    So, if it’s not social media, all of you have seen those graphs, and they’re awful. Again, I’ve spent my life studying youth mental health. I am worried about the youth mental health crisis. I want us to focus on solutions. I want us to hear from the kids who are going online because there are not the services in their offline world. They’re going online to seek support, to seek mental health treatment, to find community. I want to have a conversation tonight, but I want to have a conversation that brings those voices into the conversation, so thank you.

  • 00:11:45

    John Donvan

    Thank you very much, Candice. We’re going to take a break right now. We are debating the question, is social media bad for kids’ mental health? We’ve heard our opening statements from Jim Steyer and Candice Odgers, and when we come back, we will continue the debate. I’m John Donvan. This is Open to Debate, and we’ll be right back. Welcome back to Open to Debate. I’m John Donvan. We’re debating the question, is social media bad for kids’ mental health? We’ve heard our opening statements from Jim Steyer and Candice Odgers, and now we’re going to get right into the discussion.

  • 00:12:45

    So, we’re going to, we’re going to move into more of a conversation now, and I want to summarize what I think I heard the two of you saying. Uh, Jim’s made the argument that he feels that the case for the harm caused by social media is just completely obvious. He cites, actually, a wealth of research pointing out that it is addictive and causes harm, and ha- has a very deep concern that it’s totally unregulated, and that in fact, the companies that benefit from having kids addicted are involved in preventing regulation from taking place. And I’m hearing from Candice, uh, the argument that actually, the evidence isn’t there, that while there are serious concerns about the mental health of youth, that individuals may have challenges with mental health and they’re going online then, that it doesn’t start fro- where, w- w- from that point of view, so we, we start with, uh, a kind of fundamental disagreement about what the research is saying, which is often the difficult position to put all of you in, because you don’t have access to the research, but we want to try to talk it through as much as possible. I just want to start with a fundamental question, to see, do you each agree that we are in a mental health crisis for, for youth? Is that undeniable?

    13:47

    Jim Steyer

    Totally.

  • 00:13:47

    Candice Odgers

    Yep.

  • 00:13:48

    John Donvan

    All right, so Jim, let me, let me take to you the question, especially since, uh, Candice spoke last. Her argument that as an expert who’s looked at this, I think obviously in good faith-

  • 00:13:57

    Jim Steyer

    Yeah.

  • 00:13:58

    John Donvan

    … uh, that she’s just saying the numbers aren’t there, the data’s not there. And I just want to ask you to respond to that.

  • 00:14:03

    Jim Steyer

    Um, look, I have great respect for Candice, but the truth is no, that, that, that’s simply not correct. A lot of this is just language, guys. L- look, and, and everyone out here knows this, right? What Vivek is saying, the surgeon general, what I’m saying is that we know that for in many, many cases about, in the youth mental health crisis, that social media, various forms of it, are a major contributing factor. I’m a professor at Stanford, but I’m not an academic. Candice is an academic, who we hire, by the way, and who we have great respect for, but she’s absolutely… She’s framing it in really narrow terms that academics and researchers use. By the way, I don’t even agree with some of her basic analysis of some of the research, and we will continue to hire Candice, but at the bottom line is this. Social media is a huge contributing factor.

  • 00:14:50

    John Donvan

    I just want to get some clarity when you say she’s defining it s- so narrowly. W-

  • 00:14:54

    Jim Steyer

    Yes.

  • 00:14:54

    John Donvan

    What do you mean by that?

  • 00:14:55

    Jim Steyer
    So, part of it has to do with understanding how researchers, or scholars at a school like Stanford, or Harvard, or UC Irvine, or whatever, have extremely specific characteristics in order to say certain things, because that’s how you actually publish studies, et cetera. So it’s very difficult to, to draw demonstrable, perfect conclusions. And so therefore, you have to be careful-

  • 00:15:16

    Candice Odgers

    Can I-

  • 00:15:16

    Jim Steyer

    … the way you frame it.

  • 00:15:16

    Candice Odgers

    Can I say two things, Jim? So, in the academy, it’s actually the kiss of death to have a null finding, and a null finding is when you find no association. So, we are all incentivized to find a relationship. So every hundred studies you do, five times out of those 100, you’ll have a chance finding, chance positive, right? So, what I’m saying is that when you survey the entire research and there’s that many null findings, there’s something happening. The second thing I’ll say is Nick Allen, who’s at the University of Oregon, clinical practice, with kids suffering from depression, suicide, reviewed the research specifically around adolescent depression and social media use. They found tiny associations again, and they concluded that if they were to make a list of known risk factors for adolescent depression, social media would not be on it.

  • 00:16:02

    Jim Steyer

    I don’t agree with this at all, and I am a… I consider myself to be a scholar. I know the research not at the level that Candice does, but I just think that’s basically an overly narrow framing of all of this. I have no issue at all as a professor, and also as the head of the biggest kids’ advocacy group, saying that the evidence is there. Now, the key, though, is that the evidence is not that it’s the only factor, and it’s different in various kids. And that’s very, very important. And so I could list a number of studies if you want me to, that would disagree with Candice’s assessment, because there are plenty of studies out there that show that, show the… Oftentimes, it’s more correlation than causation, so I could go through a list of studies as well, from various experts wherever.

  • 00:16:47

    John Donvan

    Okay, let’s just-

  • 00:16:47

    Candice Odgers

    So Jim, I just… I want to say that this is… It’s, it’s interesting, but I… After studying this for over a decade, what I’ll say is the most shocking finding for me is the disconnect between what people believe if you give them a survey, and they say, you know, “Is social media addictive? Yes.” Kids believe this, right? They’ll say that it’s impairing, it’s addictive, and what the evidence says, including when you follow those same kids, link it to their administrative school records, do clinical assessments on them. So, it is true that people believe this. They believe this deeply, right? They believe that social media is a cause of things, and believe me, I wish it was, because it would be an easier solution than the real causes of depression and anxiety in our kids.

  • 00:17:25

    John Donvan

    And that would be because turning off the phones would be the cure?

  • 00:17:27

    Candice Odgers

    Turning off the phones would help us.

  • 00:17:28

    Jim Steyer

    That would be an a- aspect, but I would tell you that just t- that’s just too simplistic an explanation, guys. I’m being… And I’m being serious. I say that with great respect for Candice, but I will tell you, researchers are doing the public and the country a massive disservice with this nitpicking stuff, and being so wishy-washy.

  • 00:17:44

    John Donvan

    Is it nitpicking?

  • 00:17:44

    Jim Steyer

    And they have been for years, by the way.

  • 00:17:46

    John Donvan

    Okay, you’re, you’re, you, you-

  • 00:17:47

    Jim Steyer

    And it’s a significant problem, that, that researchers have been so narrow in the way they frame it.

  • 00:17:52

    John Donvan

    W-

  • 00:17:53

    Jim Steyer

    Even the most intelligent, thoughtful ones, like Candice.

  • 00:17:55

    John Donvan

    So, you’ve been portrayed as nitpicking, n- not cherry-picking, but nitpicking, that you’re looking at s- small-bore stuff. Uh, and-

  • 00:18:04

    Candice Odgers

    Yeah. [inaudible

  • 00:18:04

    ]

  • 00:18:04

    John Donvan

    … maybe you can share what you are looking at.

  • 00:18:06

    Candice Odgers

    So when you analyze 225 different studies and do the actual data analysis, and come up with the estimates, I mean, that’s a pretty broad survey of, of the landscape. And, and don’t get me wrong. I’m always checking my assumptions against the data. So there are a number of people right now who are doing the kinds of studies which I think we need, which are delay of onset studies, right? So what happens if we delay young people’s initiation to social media and smart phones? Doing that in a randomized way, or as randomized as you can, and tracking if there are negative effects. But you ha- also have to check if there are things you’re taking away when you take away their phones, right? Opportunities for education, for belonging, for finding information about reproductive and sexual health, right? So, I’m engaged in those experimental studies. I’m always checking these assumptions. You know, I’m a mom. I am-

  • 00:18:51

    Jim Steyer

    I know.

  • 00:18:52

    Candice Odgers

    … a clinical psychologist. I care, you know? And this is a case where we all care. We all care about kids. We differ in terms of what we’re seeing here.

  • 00:18:59

    Audience

    [inaudible

  • 00:19:00

    ]

  • 00:18:59

    John Donvan

    I’ve, I’ve, I’ve been hesitant to say this, because it would sound like I’m taking sides. I’m definitely not, but I briefed for this, and our team put together several meta studies of the studies, and the overwhelming majority of them agree with Candice’s take, that… And I, I understand you’re saying that there’s maybe a problem with how they’re focusing the studies, but that they’re inconclusive on the issue of whether-

  • 00:19:21

    Jim Steyer

    Because they’re calling for pure causation. It’s a different way of interpreting it, John. You’re correct about the broad picture. It would-

  • 00:19:29

    Candice Odgers

    John, I’m talking about-

  • 00:19:29

    Jim Steyer

    It would not.

  • 00:19:30

    Candice Odgers

    … correlational studies find zero association, that-

  • 00:19:33

    Jim Steyer

    You, I’m sure can find-

  • 00:19:33

    Candice Odgers

    … 1,000-

  • 00:19:34

    Jim Steyer

    … some, but you said about what the public thinks. You know why? Because they know it’s right. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck, and that’s what the situation is here.

  • 00:19:45

    John Donvan

    Is that science, the duck [inaudible

  • 00:19:47

    ]?

  • 00:19:46

    Candice Odgers

    So Jim, no but-

  • 00:19:46

    Audience

    (laughs).

  • 00:19:46

    John Donvan

    (laughs).

  • 00:19:49

    Candice Odgers

    I’m going to study that. Um, but I will say that there’s something we also know, that each generation looks back at the one before and says, “I don’t like how you’re using your time.” They demonize the activity of-

  • 00:19:59

    John Donvan

    Yeah. I just-

  • 00:19:59

    Candice Odgers

    … kids, and so how much of this is what we-

  • 00:20:01

    John Donvan

    Moral panic, you’re saying?

  • 00:20:05

    Candice Odgers

    … as adults want? I’m saying that maybe… You know, and, and I was talking to a colleague, uh, you know, that I’m always coming in as the voice of reason. There’s a bad headline, there’s kind of a weird study, people panic, and then they quote me at the bottom. I’m the voice of reason. And then I said to Alison Gopnik at Berkeley. I said, “You know, maybe we just have to let the moral panic die to have a co- real conversation about kids today.” Um, and she looked at me and said, “No, generative AI is coming, so…”

  • 00:20:25

    John Donvan

    I had, I had a conversation with a friend-

  • 00:20:26

    Audience

    (laughs).

  • 00:20:27

    John Donvan

    … this morning, who reminded us that the Congress held hearings on comic books in the 1950s-

  • 00:20:31

    Candice Odgers

    Yes.

  • 00:20:32

    John Donvan

    … as, as being harmful to youth.

  • 00:20:33

    Candice Odgers

    Libraries.

  • 00:20:34

    John Donvan

    And then, in my era, it… Libraries. Television was also that thing, and I think, I think what I’m hearing from, uh, from Candice is that this is the latest iteration of that, where the public says, “It’s obvious.”

  • 00:20:46

    Jim Steyer

    That is simply not correct. And, and the answer is, to draw a comparison between television and social media is like a joke to me. Having said it, many people say what you just said, John. They tend to be not familiar with what’s really going on with the issue, and having said it, I say that with respect, and I think we should talk about some of what we should do about this-

  • 00:21:07

    John Donvan

    I want to, I want to-

  • 00:21:08

    Jim Steyer

    … whether or not we want to go-

  • 00:21:08

    John Donvan

    … get to that.

  • 00:21:08

    Jim Steyer

    … over the research or not.

  • 00:21:09

    John Donvan

    I want to get to that, but I… I want to get to what we should do about it, because I think the… What we’re really talking about, if there’s… uh, if there is a, um, a dominant single cause, then it suggests all kinds of policy, uh, responses. And I think that’s why this impo- conversation is important, among other reasons. But, I want to take to you, Candice, a couple of the points that Jim made in his opening, social media being addictive. Social media is addictive, is it not? I mean, is that not, like, really, really, really built into the process by design?

  • 00:21:38

    Candice Odgers

    Yeah, so people, um, say that it’s addictive, and the analogy I’ll often give here, and I know that the designers in the room will say that, “We design it to be addictive, that we’re powerful enough to addict you.” Um, but here’s the, you know, kind of here’s the interesting part about, like, the addiction narrative, is that, that kids believe it, right? So, kids believe it. Parents believe it. When you ask people, you know, “Is social media addictive,” they, they believe it’s true. But if you look at impairment… When you talk about addiction, it interferes with your sleep, with your ability to form friends. You know, if we think of it from a clinical perspective of what addiction is, it’s impairing in all these aspects, and what I’m saying is that when we look at those other aspects of life, there’s the belief that people have that it’s addictive, but we’re not seeing evidence that social media is causing those impairments.

  • 00:22:24

    And the analogy I would give is vaccines, right? We can ask people… It’s important to know what people perceive of something like social media, that it’s addictive, that it’s harmful, right? That’s one important piece of information. But we wouldn’t go around and ask people about how efficacious they think vaccines are and assume that’s the effect of vaccines, right? That’s what we’re doing with social media every day.

  • 00:22:47

    John Donvan

    So the presumption that I built into my question reflected me being part of that problem, of saying, “It’s addictive, of course.” You, and you’re saying, “No, the evidence really isn’t there.”

  • 00:22:55

    Jim Steyer

    I just disagree. I’m just… Because some of this is just a basic disagreement, and I’m quite confident in my point of view. It is not the pure cause. It is a major contributing factor, and do not kid yourself, and the data is clear on that.

  • 00:23:09

    John Donvan

    Another point that, Jim, hasn’t come up, and again came up in the research, is one of the concerns is that a kid sitting on the phone for hours is not outside exercising. It’s not good for their health. If they’re doing it late at night, it’s not good for sleep. And that those are not good for mental health. What about those phenomena?

  • 00:23:29

    Candice Odgers

    So, absolutely. So spending too much time not doing the things you’re supposed to do as a kid is going to be bad for your health, right? Now, the, the argument is that is social media or digital tech the cause of that? So people look at this as in obesity all the time, and smart phones have been blamed for a lot of things. They’ve been blamed for kids having too much sex, not enough sex, drinking too much, not enough, kids gaining weight, but that ha- was been happening for a long time, right? So that was happening 15 years ago, the childhood obesity epidemic, before social media, smart phones came on the scene. So we saw this, this increase, and now we’re seeing the increase and we’re, we’re blaming it on, on phones. And so what I often say to parents is, you know, stop setting the screen time limit and fighting with your kids about screen time, because that’s what they fight with in families about, and start asking the question, “Is my kid sleeping enough? Are they exercising? Are they doing well in school?”

  • 00:24:23

    John Donvan

    If there are multiple factors, why not continue to look at, critically, social media? W- what’s the harm in, in bringing that into view when you’re looking at all of the other factors? And if it’s not social media, what else should we be looking at?

  • 00:24:35

    Candice Odgers

    We need to keep checking our assumptions against the data. That is absolutely true, and that has to be, be the case. We need to raise the bar on the type of evidence we generate. We’re talking about disorders and diseases, when we talked about depression and suicide, that take our kids’ lives. We would never, we would never accept this quality of evidence for childhood cancer. It would be a joke. But we’re just going around and we’re closing the book on this. We’re saying, “We have a cause.” People are looking at it, not necessarily as the, the main cause, but it is sucking all of the air out of the room, and the discussions we need to be having about serious mental health problems.

  • 00:25:11

    John Donvan

    Jim, I want to go to the point you wanted to… that you made in your opening. You want, you, you have a call to action, but I want to talk about something that I’m aware that you’re doing, which is Senate Bill, uh, 237 in California, uh, which is still kind of cooking along. Common Sense Media is behind it, and this would penalize, basically force, uh, the big social media companies to, to pay up if, for the, for the harm that they’re causing.

  • 00:25:33

    Jim Steyer

    It would hold them liable, correct.

  • 00:25:34

    John Donvan

    Yeah, hold them liable.

  • 00:25:35

    Jim Steyer

    And that’s not the ex- actual Senate Bill number, but the most important piece of legislation in the US this year on tech is a California Senate Bill, that actually will have a really big salutary effect on reining in the handful of platforms that are really largely responsible for contributing to this crisis. Remember, listen to my language, contributing mightily to this crisis. The other thing I would tell you is that in Europe, in England, and everywhere but Washington, DC, there’s been, been really important legislation passed, by the way, evidence-based, could never have been passed had that not been the case, because the tech industry has cited every statistic that Candice has done 1,000 times over, with hundreds of millions of dollars of lobbying efforts, so everybody but Washington has recognized this and, and California is about to pass… Well, is about to consider, pass I can’t guarantee, a very big piece of legislation around the impact of social media as a harm.

  • 00:26:29

    Candice Odgers

    There’s a lot of agreement in the solution space, and I’ve been on the record saying we need to regulate big tech companies. There’s… Uh, it’s egregious how data is handled, how privacy is handled, among everyone, including our kids, and so I’ve been pro-regulation. I just think both things can be true. I think you can hate social media companies. I think you can want regulation. And it’s also true that social media isn’t causing these problems in our kids.

  • 00:26:53

    John Donvan

    So you would be okay with that kind of holding them to account for, for causing mental health?

  • 00:26:58

    Candice Odgers

    Not for causing mental health. Uh, c- regulation-

  • 00:27:00

    John Donvan

    Issues.

  • 00:27:01

    Candice Odgers

    … in ways to, you know, use the, the carrot and the stick to, to regulate an unregulated industry. I mean, that’s, and I agree with the surgeon general in that space too. There’s a lot of agreement in the solution space.

  • 00:27:12

    John Donvan

    Mm-hmm.

  • 00:27:12

    Candice Odgers

    But if… What’s happening is that everyone wants to use children as a tip of the spear to slay social media companies, and that’s an effective strategy. That’s a very effective strategy. It’ll probably-

  • 00:27:23

    John Donvan

    Do you think… Do you think it’s cynically-

  • 00:27:23

    Candice Odgers

    … force regulation.

  • 00:27:24

    John Donvan

    … cynically motivated, that it’s a [inaudible

  • 00:27:26

    ]-

  • 00:27:26

    Candice Odgers

    No, I think children are perfect pawns. Everyone wants to protect them. I think everyone believes that they want to protect them, they want to save them, they want to… They see this as a, as a culprit. But shutting off the phones isn’t going to solve this problem.

  • 00:27:39

    Jim Steyer

    I think that’s just… That… I actually disag- That is not a fair characterization of the work that I and my colleagues have done for the past decade on these issues. We do not use children as a pawn. I have a great respect for Candice, by the way. That’s not a fair comment.

  • 00:27:54

    Candice Odgers

    But Jim, I wasn’t saying you-

  • 00:27:54

    Jim Steyer

    That’s not-

  • 00:27:54

    Candice Odgers

    … using it as a pawn. I’m saying that this-

  • 00:27:54

    Jim Steyer

    Well, what are you saying?

  • 00:27:54

    Candice Odgers

    Let’s have-

  • 00:27:55

    Jim Steyer

    We-

  • 00:27:55

    Candice Odgers

    We’re rushing forward.

  • 00:27:56

    Jim Steyer

    Uh, we’re rushing forward-

  • 00:27:57

    Candice Odgers

    Without the evidence kids deserve.

  • 00:27:59

    Jim Steyer

    … because we have a youth mental health crisis, and we’ve had a problem with this, that’s dramatically affected the social, emotional, and cognitive development of my children, your children, and everybody else’s children for well over a decade, and I think the evidence is there, that it’s time to do it, and we can talk about how to do the regulation, and how to hold people liable, but at the end of the day, the surgeon general of the United States and the president of the United States would not be out here doing this, and you would not have the consensus you will among the general public, if it wasn’t true, and if you didn’t have an imperative for action in the very near term.

  • 00:28:33

    John Donvan

    I, I want to ask you each to consider a child, alone in his room, having a l- hours-long conversation with some other peer somewhere else in the world, they’ve never met, but they’re talking for hours. Is that child alone in his room, on his phone, a child who’s isolated, or is that a child who’s made a connection?

  • 00:28:50

    Jim Steyer

    You don’t know, and that, that’s a… It’s a fair question. And that’s why, that’s why you have to look at this in the broad aggregate, and stop getting lost in some of the weeds. I can go down a list of the all the positive things that I think social media can do for young people, including kids with major learning differences, or autism, or who isolated LGBTQ youth in some rural co- conservative place, who have no way to reach out to anybody else like them, but they can find somebody online. I can talk about all the positives and still be very clear about what the evidence says about the impact on, on young people’s mental health, as a major contributing factor. That is-

  • 00:29:27

    John Donvan

    Okay.

  • 00:29:27

    Jim Steyer

    … what all you need.

  • 00:29:28

    Candice Odgers

    So, can I come back to your question, John, about-

  • 00:29:29

    John Donvan

    Sure.

  • 00:29:30

    Candice Odgers

    … what is it? Because this is a question that I get a lot. Um, and I’m just going to take you through a 15-year-old kid born today. So, a 15-year-old kid born today was born in the aftermath of the great recession, when the opioid epidemic was raging, decimating rural communities like the one you talked about. They lived through a global pandemic, massive caregiver loss, the recession that hit those. Families at the bottom did not recover. 50% of adolescents in the US today either live in low income or in poverty. We’ve had an awakening among our young people, MeToo, Black Lives Matter. We have more adolescents today that identify as youth of color than we ever have in this country, so this is the landscape into which we’re pointing at social media. Right now, I, I’ve gone on… I’ve also gone on the record and saying, you know what? Social media can make a bad situation worse, that kids… There’s going to be vulnerable subpopulations that it might be no effect in the whole population, and we need to worry about kids who are at risk for eating disorders, and kids from low-income families. But what I’m saying is that I haven’t seen it yet, and that’s just my honest assessment of, of the data. And again, I’m motivated to find it.

  • 00:30:39

    Jim Steyer

    I respect totally what you said, and I also agree with what you just said about all the other factors, or the several other really key factors that, that have been part of the youth mental health crisis. I totally agree with you about that, Candice, and I never would question your motives at all. I am an advocate and a teacher. You’re a teacher, but you’re an academic and a researcher, and it’s just different way of framing this. But at the end of the day, it is time to do something big, and now, and it means regulating it and acknowledging how much of a factor social media is in this youth mental health crisis.

  • 00:31:12

    John Donvan

    We’re going to have to wrap this up here and take a short break before we get into the Q&A portion of the program. We’re debating is social media bad for kids’ mental health? I’m John Donvan. This is Open to Debate, and well be right back. Welcome back to Open to Debate. I’m John Donvan, here with Jim Steyer and Candice Odgers, and we’re debating the question, is social media bad for kids’ mental health? We’re going to move into the question and answer portion of the program right now.

  • 00:31:44

    All right, I’m going to go to questions now. Um, so, uh, right down in the front here.

  • 00:31:49

    Speaker 6

    So I, I feel like what we’ve, we’ve been hearing so far is a lot about kids consuming social media. Um, and Candice, I have to say, you were very persuasive (laughs).

  • 00:31:58

    Jim Steyer

    Uh-oh.

  • 00:31:59

    Speaker 6

    Um, what about, um, kids who are bullying on social media, and what does some of the research show about that? And you know, granted from news stories we read, it’s-

  • 00:32:09

    John Donvan

    And, and, and may I throw into that, the sense in which social media just scales everything up and speeds everything up? So you might have had two bullies in school, and now you can have 4,000 in an afternoon.

  • 00:32:20

    Candice Odgers

    So, cyber-victimization is a huge issue. There’s been people that have been working on this for a l- a long time. I think there’s some bad news and there’s some, some good news, right? So the bad news is that it does have these other kind of affordances, that kids can’t get away from it, right? That it lives permanently on record in the ways that traditional bullying wan- wouldn’t, right? So, there are a number of negatives about these online spaces. What you find is a huge amount of overlap between kids who are bullied offline and online, so some of the warning signs that you can see of kids who are being victimized in their schools and in their communities, you also will see them at risk for online harassment.

  • 00:32:53

    Now, the good news is that the interventions we have to prevent bullying offline also seem to work for online bullying, about creating community, about teaching kids the bystander effect, to intervene in these settings. So these are the types of skills that young people, we need to build within them. So like any other setting that kids come into in a group, there’s going to be conflict, there’s going to be bullying, and we have it there too.

  • 00:33:16

    John Donvan

    Jim, I want to, uh, give you a crack at that question. Bullying was actually not one of the points that you brought up.

  • 00:33:20

    Jim Steyer

    No, but bullying’s part of mental health issues for kids for sure, but is that a c- is that a factor? Sure it is, and I think it’s a good point. There are many different examples. By the way, the idea that social media and phones do not have any impact on young people’s sleep is, come on, a complete joke. We all know that, and it’s just not a- not true. So, le- next question.

  • 00:33:39

    Audience

    (laughs).

  • 00:33:41

    John Donvan

    Ca- May I? Uh, because okay. Uh, students. So let the mic come to you, okay? Uh, front row, uh, please, thanks.

  • 00:33:48

    Brendan Salisbury

    All right, so my name’s Brendan Salisbury. I’m from Phoenix, Arizona. Um, I am very well educated on, um, neurotransmitters, dopaminergic models, um, and looking at how social media producers use this to be able to draw us in. I can honestly tell you, uh, there’s a reason for the term doom-scrolling. So how would you respond to this form of addiction? Because I know you’ve said it’s not necessarily addicting in and of itself.

  • 00:34:11

    Candice Odgers

    All right, I’m glad you mentioned dopamine. It’s my favorite transmitter. Okay, so young people are sensation seeking, right? You’re information seeking. Your brain is primed to ri- risk-taking. You are looking in all kinds of spaces for risks and rewards. We don’t give you many opportunities offline to do that anymore, so you’re looking online to do those things. Now, there’s all kinds of, you know, studies that are out there, that are showing there’s a correlation between a certain structure on an, uh, FMRI task and social media. Those are pretty correlative. Um, you know, some people might be more likely to scroll or feel like they can’t stop scrolling, but the whole narrative that young people aren’t in control and have no agency over their action is, is simply not the case.

  • 00:34:56

    John Donvan

    Jim, I want-

  • 00:34:56

    Jim Steyer

    It’s addictive, obviously. And by the way, your behavior, and most people’s behavior with it is compulsive. Next question.

  • 00:35:03

    Audience

    (laughs).

  • 00:35:03

    John Donvan

    You know, I’m the one who says next question, so-

  • 00:35:08

    Audience

    (laughs).

  • 00:35:09

    John Donvan

    Next question.

  • 00:35:10

    Audience

    (laughs).

  • 00:35:10

    John Donvan

    Right in the back, please. Thanks.

  • 00:35:13

    Speaker 8

    Candice, can you speak to the subset of research on girls and eating disorders? You mentioned that, and I, I think that’s something I’ve read about, but I’d be curious your take on the research.

  • 00:35:22

    John Donvan

    And by the way-

  • 00:35:23

    Speaker 8

    Is-

  • 00:35:23

    John Donvan

    … I want my next question-

  • 00:35:23

    Speaker 8

    Is that more conclusive?

  • 00:35:23

    John Donvan

    … directed to Jim, so-

  • 00:35:25

    Jim Steyer

    It’s okay. I’m going to talk at the end.

  • 00:35:27

    John Donvan

    All right.

  • 00:35:27

    Jim Steyer

    Longer.

  • 00:35:27

    John Donvan

    Okay, fine.

  • 00:35:28

    Audience

    (laughs).

  • 00:35:30

    John Donvan

    Go.

  • 00:35:30

    Candice Odgers

    I think that’s a great question. That’s one of the populations that I, I and others had identified early, that this might be a group that makes a bad situation worse, right? So they’re coming into adolescence already having images related to body dysmorphia, et cetera, and they’re seeking out information. Now, um, young people who have struggled like thi- with eating orders have done this in the past too with other forums, so the, the question is whether or not seeing it constantly can make a bad situation worse. I think there’s probably some evidence that, you know, those kids have to be supervised more strongly, and that’s actually the biggest take-home from all the research we’ve done, is that offline risks, kids who are struggling in other contexts, right? At school, at home, et cetera. They need more, closer su- supervision and support as they navigate the online world, right? So just like they’re going to encounter risks offline, they’re going to encounter them online.

  • 00:36:18

    Jim Steyer

    No question. Look, I have two daughters, both of whom have experienced, uh, social media for well over a decade. Uh, I know this as a parent and I know the research. It’s absolutely a factor in body image issues, for girls and boys by the way. It’s also a major factor in certain types of more extreme eating disorders and anorexia. It is not the sole factor. There are other factors. It is a huge problem. Do not kid yourself. We have funded some, probably more than anyone, the research on this topic, so I really do believe I know what I’m talking about on that.

  • 00:36:50

    Speaker 9

    So, um, I’m a parent, and I’ve come to trust Common Sense Media for advice on-

  • 00:36:54

    Jim Steyer

    Yeah.

  • 00:36:54

    Speaker 9

    … what entertainment to show my children, so-

  • 00:36:56

    Jim Steyer

    Thank you.

  • 00:36:57

    Speaker 9

    … thank you for that. And I recognize that it’s not like I’m looking for studies to tell me that an R-rated movie is going to harm my young child. I kind of get it, right? It’s instinctual. So I’m wondering for you, given that, you know, your, your take, Candice is there’s not enough research to say conclusively that it’s a harmful thing, and that’s your argument. I’m also wondering, well, is there any re- We haven’t proven that it’s not. So, what study would need to come out to make you believe that we don’t need to worry this much about social media?

  • 00:37:28

    Jim Steyer

    Are you asking me?

  • 00:37:29

    Speaker 9

    Yes.

  • 00:37:29

    Jim Steyer

    Uh, I don’t need any more studies to come out. I feel 100% confident in it, as both a professor, and a parent, and the head of the biggest kids’ advocacy group. Having said this, Candice and other really, really smart colleagues will continue to do cutting-edge research that matters, that helps us have a more nuanced view. Really, what Candice, I think, i- and she’s doing a very good job representing her point of view, um, even though she’s incorrect about it some of the times.

  • 00:37:54

    Audience

    (laughs).

  • 00:37:56

    Jim Steyer

    Is… But, but I will say this, and with all respect-

  • 00:37:57

    Candice Odgers

    As you know.

  • 00:37:57

    Jim Steyer

    With all respect, though, because these are, these are complex issues. There are multiple factors in some of the disorders we’re talking about, and at the end of the day, we have to move forward on all of this stuff, period.

  • 00:38:10

    Speaker 10

    Hi. I have a question for Jim too. Um, you mentioned that there are positives to social media in terms of-

  • 00:38:15

    Jim Steyer

    Definitely.

  • 00:38:16

    Speaker 10

    … helping with inclusion and belonging for kids who are in the middle of… you know, not in places where they feel like they belong. And I’m wondering how are, how can you make regulation that preserves the good but gets rid of the bad?

  • 00:38:27

    Jim Steyer

    By being thoughtful and intelligent, basically.

  • 00:38:29

    Speaker 10

    But do you have a specific example? I’m just curious how my-

  • 00:38:31

    Jim Steyer

    But, but, uh, okay, here’s what I would tell you, then. Let’s, let’s show the… Look at the legislation that’s going to be announced on Tuesday in California, and then have a conversation with me about it. It was written by really thoughtful child development experts, leading lawyers, and people who have to craft legislation that is both fair to the companies, fair to the public, et cetera.

  • 00:38:50

    John Donvan

    But I, I-

  • 00:38:51

    Jim Steyer

    And-

  • 00:38:51

    John Donvan

    … think, I think, I think the questioner is not looking for the principle involved, but the specifics involved. Like, what would that do? How do you hit that balance?

  • 00:38:57

    Jim Steyer

    This is too, in my opinion, specific a question, because I should show you the legislation. Look, we also wrote the privacy laws in the United States, the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018. Okay, the industry got up and had many experts say that this was not an issue, right? Privacy. Privacy, a fundamental right under the 14th amendment to the US Constitution, even though the current Supreme Court is trying to wipe it out in many cases.

  • 00:39:20

    John Donvan

    Okay. Uh-

  • 00:39:20

    Jim Steyer

    However-

  • 00:39:20

    John Donvan

    I, I, I’m-

  • 00:39:20

    Candice Odgers

    Can I take-

  • 00:39:20

    John Donvan

    … I’m-

  • 00:39:20

    Candice Odgers

    … a crack at that-

  • 00:39:23

    Jim Steyer

    The laws are clear. The, the laws could-

  • 00:39:24

    John Donvan

    Uh-

  • 00:39:24

    Jim Steyer

    … be care, cra- crafted carefully. That’s [inaudible

  • 00:39:27

    ]

  • 00:39:26

    John Donvan

    I, I want to move on to another question because of time.

  • 00:39:29

    Jim Steyer

    Yep.

  • 00:39:29

    John Donvan

    Um, and the row right in front. Thanks.

  • 00:39:32

    Speaker 11

    Thank you. I want to ask, actually, push both of you to get a little more clarity on each of your issues. So Candice, I noticed you were toggling a little bit between social media and phones, and, and I’m wondering how you would more limit your discussions to social media specifically. Jim, you, I’m going to ask you, social media is broad.

  • 00:39:51

    Jim Steyer

    Correct.

  • 00:39:52

    Speaker 11

    So, what aspects of social media do you think are actually positive, and aspects like maybe there are some issues or some elements of social media [inaudible

  • 00:39:59

    ].

  • 00:39:59

    John Donvan

    Okay, so I never allow two-part questions, but that was such a good two-part question-

  • 00:40:02

    Audience

    [inaudible

  • 00:40:03

    ].

  • 00:40:02

    (laughs).

  • 00:40:03

    John Donvan

    I’m going to go with it, so you go first.

  • 00:40:05

    Candice Odgers

    So, the reason I merge the two is the concern among kids is that once they get their own phones, that’s when the independent access to social media starts to begin. So those become really coupled, and viewed as one issue. But I love your second question, and I can’t wait for Jim to answer it, which is defining social media. Because this is part of the problem. It’s this massive [inaudible

  • 00:40:26

    ]-

  • 00:40:26

    John Donvan

    Well, I think you’re question was also which social media is harmful and which might not, what might be more benign as well-

  • 00:40:30

    Speaker 11

    It was, but-

  • 00:40:30

    John Donvan

    … I think. Yeah.

  • 00:40:31

    Jim Steyer

    So basically, there are many positive aspects for individual kids. Remember, generalizing is really hard here, and so it… You have to think… I am have four kids. They’re all different. Their experiences with many things, including social media, are all different, so generalizing is tough here. So, I would say the connectivity, uh, in for kids, um, the ability to find a ton of information, and connection, and facts about the world and people that they can’t. I think in the case of young people with learning differences, cognitive differences, social media can be very [inaudible

  • 00:41:05

    ]. It, we, it’s a long discussion about what we mean by social media. I’m largely referring to the big platforms, like TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat. I would call them the big four, okay?

  • 00:41:19

    John Donvan

    I’m afraid this is going to be our last question, so please make it great.

  • 00:41:21

    Candice Odgers

    (laughs).

  • 00:41:22

    Audience

    (laughs).

  • 00:41:23

    Speaker 12

    Standard 40-hour work week for America, right? On average, Candice, how many hours are children spending on phones a week?

  • 00:41:30

    Candice Odgers

    Yeah, and so this is a point I start every report with, which is m- most American children are spending more time in online spaces than they are in schools, right? And people gasp at that, but my point is we spend a lot of time thinking about how to make schools safe and productive, not just not make them hurt kids, right? And we have devoted so little time to that. Now, the interesting question for me, I know this is horrifying to people, right? Um, the interesting question for me is if you split that by socioeconomic status, what you find is a huge opportunity gap, that kids from high-SES phones, who have their life schedules, who have all these activities, have a lower sc- screen time count. They have a more personalized and supported experience, and young people in low-income households are not getting that. And so the argument we’ve been making is that it’s not screaming about s- social media and mental health. We should be talking about closing that divide, that opportunity gap that is replicating itself in online spaces, h- l- allowing kids to leverage technology to help them with their daily lives.

  • 00:42:33

    Jim Steyer

    I mean, one of the underlying issues that we have here is t- two things, and I’ll end with this, are one, the extraordinary wealth inequality. And by the way, we’re in Aspen, Colorado, so you should think about it while you’re sitting here in the beauty of Aspen, which I love, but it reflects some of that. And I’d say second, this is the first generation of young people, and afterwards for the Bezos scholars, I’d love to talk to you about this. It’s the first generation of young people that think they’re going to be worse off than their parents. That’s a very heavy indictment of the American dream, but also a huge stressor on young people in our society.

  • 00:43:04

    John Donvan

    So we’re going to go to closing rounds, and closing rounds, like the opening rounds, is, uh, the debaters are going to take the floor and make their point one more time to you, and give you some kind of takeaway thoughts to, to, to walk away with. So, in our closing round, in answer to the question, is social media bad for kids’ mental health, your answer is no. Candice, this is your last chance to explain why.

  • 00:43:22

    Candice Odgers

    Okay, my answer is still no. Um, so the surgeon general, uh, you know, issued an advisory on youth mental health, but he also issued another advisory a couple of months ago, and that was an advisory saying that there is an epidemic of loneliness and of disconnection in American society, and that was, that was a good call, because we know loneliness impacts our health. We know it takes years off of our life. Here’s something you might not know. There are two peaks in the life course when loneliness is at its highest, right? The first one is in older adulthood, often after the loss of a spouse or living alone. Where is the second one? Adolescence, and this was true long before phones were in their hands, right? This is a feature of adolescence. They are looking for ways, and need ways, to connect, to find purpose, and to find meaning, and a lot of young people today are finding that connection, they’re finding that purpose in online spaces.

  • 00:44:22

    Now, the thing that we didn’t talk about today is if you survey adolescents and ask them where they’re going to get help for mental health problems, where they’re searching for answers, they’re going online. And I don’t blame them. The ratio of counselors in our middle and public schools is one to every 500 students. How do we expect kids to get help in offline spaces, right? They’re coming online, and we’re standing there, not having the services, not having the response that they’re asking for, and frankly that they deserve, right? So, we have two choices in front of us, right? We can pause, check our assumptions, when we hear the latest headline that comes out about social media destroying our kids, and start to move forward with smart, sensible solutions that give adolescents the things that they need, right? Or, we can blindly accept that social media is the thing, right? We can accept this evidence. We can go forward. It’s going to be effective in regulation, right? This is a compelling argument. People believe it, and people love it. My worry is it’s not going to help our kids.

  • 00:45:31

    John Donvan

    Thank you very much. And so now making his closing statement answering yes to the question, is social media harming kids’ mental health, here o- one more time is Jim Steyer.

  • 00:45:42

    Jim Steyer

    Uh, thank you, and by the way, I’m… I would stand by what I said. Yes, and with great respect for Candice, it seems absolutely clear to me. I’m going to read you a prayer for children that a friend of mine wrote 25 years ago, because this is really about children, so that’s how I’d like to end. “We pray for children who sneak popsicles before supper, who erase holes in math workbooks, who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food, who like ghost stories, who can never find their shoes. And we pray for those who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire, who can’t bound the street in a new pair of sneakers, who were born in places we wouldn’t be caught dead in, who never go to the circus, who live in an X-rated world.

  • 00:46:31

    “We pray for children who sleep with the dog and bury the goldfish, who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions, who get visits from the tooth fairy, who hug us in a hurry, and forget their lunch money. And we pray for those who never have dessert, who have no safe blanket to drag behind them, who watch their parents watch them die, who can’t find any bread to steal, who don’t have any rooms to clean up, whose pictures aren’t on anybody’s dresser, whose monsters are real. We pray for children who spend all of their allowance before Tuesday, who shove dirty clothes under the bed and never rinse out the tub, who don’t like to be kissed in front of the carpool, who squirm in church or temple, and scream into their phones, whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smiles can make us cry. And we pray for those whose nightmares come in the daytime, who will eat anything, who have never seen a dentist, who aren’t spoiled by anybody, who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep, who live and move, but have no being. We pray for children who want to be carried and for those who must, for those we never give up on, and for those who don’t ever get a second chance, for those we smother with love and for those who will grab the hand of anybody kind enough to offer it.”

  • 00:48:08

    I would tell you that when you look at this issue, there’s evidence, there’s really important discussions and thoughtful nuance that we have to take into mind here. But at the end of the day, we have failed as a society, to invest in and protect young people in this country, period. One of the areas is the failure to regulate social media. I hope that you will go away not just with a better understanding of the issues involved, but a fundamental commitment to change the world for kids. Thank you very much.

  • 00:48:49

    John Donvan

    That’s a wrap on the argumentation part of the program. Thank you. I want to thank our debaters for how you did this. Our aim with our program is to prove that people can disagree with one another but do so civilly and shed light at the same time. Um, and, and the way that you both worked through this conversation so epitomizes what we want to do. I just want to say thank you to both of you for the way that you did this.

  • 00:49:12

    Thank you for tuning into this episode of Open to Debate. You know, as a nonprofit, our work to combat extreme polarization through civil and respectful debate is generously funded by listeners like you, by the Rosenkranz Foundation, and by supporters of Open to Debate. Open to Debate is also made possible by a generous grant from the Laura and Gary Lauder Venture Philanthropy Fund. Robert Rosenkranz is our chairman. Clea Conner is CEO. Lia Matthow is our chief content officer. Marlette Sandoval is our producer, and Gabriella Mayer is our editorial and research manager. Gabrielle Iannucelli is our social media and digital platforms coordinator. Andrew Lipson is head of production. Max Fulton is our production coordinator. Damon Whittemore is our engineer, and Raven Baker is events and operations manager. And, I’m your host, John Donvan. We will see you next time.

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