Steve Rosenbaum
4 min readMay 28, 2024

The Impact of Social Media on Children: A Crucial Conversation

At a recent event organized by The Sustainable Media Center, Steven Rosenbaum, its executive director, opened the discussion by highlighting the profound influence social media has on the younger generation. The event was centered around Jonathan Haidt’s latest book, The Anxious Generation, and featured insights from Haidt himself, Emma Lembke, and Scott Galloway. The conversation delved into the harmful effects of social media on children, emphasizing the urgent need for collective action.

The Crisis Unveiled
Emma Lembke, a rising senior at Washington University in St. Louis and the executive director of the Log Off Movement, set the stage by sharing her personal experience growing up online. She vividly described the negative impact of social media on her mental health, underscoring the importance of youth voices in this critical conversation. Lembke’s initiative aims to help teens build healthier relationships with technology, a mission that resonated deeply with the audience.

Jonathan Haidt provided a comprehensive overview of his book, which explores the dramatic decline in mental health among American children since 2010. He linked this trend to the rise of social media, highlighting that children are exposed to harmful content and spend excessive time online, leading to increased anxiety and depression. Haidt’s compelling argument was backed by data from various countries, illustrating the global nature of this crisis.

Scott Galloway, a prominent scholar and father of two boys, added his perspective on the issue. He emphasized the importance of regulation and accountability for tech companies, drawing parallels to the tobacco industry’s history of litigation. Galloway argued that without significant legal consequences, tech companies would continue to prioritize profits over children’s well-being.

Audience Q&A Highlights
The Q&A session brought forth some crucial questions and insights from the audience, emphasizing the need for practical solutions.

Kanika Mehra from NBC raised a critical question about the rampant misinformation on social media and its impact on young minds. Haidt proposed implementing “know your customer” laws to ensure all social media users are verified as real people, thereby reducing the spread of fake accounts and bots.

Andrew Rasiej, founder of Civic Hall, pointed out the importance of reaching marginalized communities with messages about the harms of social media. Haidt acknowledged this concern, advocating for phone-free schools as an equity measure. By limiting phone use during school hours, these policies can provide healthier environments and significantly benefit students from all backgrounds.

Esther Dyson, entrepreneur and founder, inquired about the role of Hollywood and media industries in shifting the narrative around social media use. Lembke emphasized the need for intergenerational partnerships to create compelling narratives that resonate with both young people and adults, countering the allure of constant online engagement.

Natalie Fine, Executive Coach and Peer Advisory Group Leader, posed a thought-provoking question about the proliferation of misinformation and its impact on young people’s ability to discern the truth. She noted that unlike previous generations who had standardized sources of information, today’s youth are bombarded with conflicting versions of reality. Fine asked, “How are they meant to be able to sort through what’s right, what’s wrong when the adults aren’t intervening and saying, this is what the true version is?” Haidt responded by emphasizing the importance of a regulatory framework that includes “know your customer” laws to ensure accountability and reduce the spread of misinformation by anonymous accounts.

Legislative Action and Future Steps
The discussion also touched on the legislative aspect of tackling the social media crisis. Haidt and Galloway both stressed the need for regulatory measures to hold tech companies accountable. Haidt highlighted the importance of international examples, such as the UK’s age-appropriate design code, which could serve as a model for the U.S.

Scott Galloway called for the removal of Section 230 protections for algorithmically elevated content and significant financial penalties for tech companies that fail to protect young users. He argued that criminal liability could serve as a necessary deterrent.

Engaging Young People and Changing the Narrative
A young college sophomore from Massachusetts expressed frustration with peers who don’t recognize the dangers of social media. Haidt recommended framing the issue positively, presenting it as giving young people back their freedom and opportunities for real-life experiences. He suggested that parents collaborate to create phone-free periods and promote offline activities, making these changes feel like a positive shift rather than a restriction.

The event concluded with a call to action, emphasizing the need for systemic changes, parental involvement, and societal support to protect future generations from the adverse effects of unchecked technology use. The consensus was clear: by working together, we can create a healthier digital environment for our children, ensuring they have the opportunity to experience a meaningful and balanced childhood.

The Sustainable Media Center continues to champion this cause, striving to empower young media consumers and creators to demand change and foster a healthier relationship with technology. The insights from this event provide a roadmap for future actions, highlighting the importance of collective effort in addressing the social media crisis.