Exactly How Social Media Is Making Kids and Adults Less Happy – and How to Change That

Anyone who has ever spent any time on any social media platform knows that they can be an unhappy place. Adults and children alike can easily get sucked in to hours upon hours of scrolling that can leave you feeling inadequate and insecure.

On Wednesday’s show, Megyn was joined by Gad Saad, PhD, author of The Saad Truth About Happiness, to break down how social media makes kids and adults less happy and what can be done to correct it.

The Problem with Social Media

Social media is addictive, and it’s hard to overstate just how addictive it can be – especially for children. Saad, who is an evolutionary behavioral scientist and professor of marketing based in Canada, said he often “jokes” that its “easier to get a crystal meth addict to stop being a crystal meth addict” than it is to pry electronic devices (i.e. cell phones, iPads, etc.) from kids.

Megyn does not allow her children on social media, but she said that she hears from her friends all the time about how social media impacts their kids’ moods. “I just hear so many moms be like, ‘Oh my God, my daughter went on there totally in a great mood and then she was completely depressed when she put it away,'” Megyn shared. “And you wonder what the problem is?”

To understand the impact of social media on children, Saad said you first have to consider how “profoundly” it affects adults. “What happens on social media is that there is a curated set of images of my best self that I’m putting forward,” he explained. That might be pictures of your birthday, or with your significant other, or on a trip. “You’re not seeing any of my problems; you’re only seeing that I live this wonderful, great, positive life,” he said.

Since that filtered life appears over and over and over again in your feed and  humans are a “social comparison species,” it’s easy to assume that everyone is living their best life. “Our brains end up over estimating how happy other people are in relation to us,” Saad said. “So we walk away feeling really sh-tty about ourselves because everybody else seems to have a nicer car than me, a better marriage than me, is going to more exotic places than me.”

If social media can impact adults in the way that it does, “children almost have no chance,” Saad noted. To make matters worse, kids actually aren’t equipped to rationalize the way adults are. “It’s uniquely problematic for children because they don’t have some of the defensive protective mechanisms that allow them to view those images in context,” he addded.

Is Happiness the Solution?

Saad’s latest book is a departure from some of his other work because after so many years spent “navigating and fighting in the culture wars,” Saad said he decided to go to the “opposite end of spectrum with something that is uplifting and happy.” Through his research, he found about 50 percent of happiness inscribed in genes and 50 percent is learned. 

So while some people might be born with a sunnier disposition than others, everyone has the opportunity to learn how to be happier. “You suggest that this could be the antidote to your child falling prey to the depression that comes from online social media,” Megyn said. “In other words, the happier your child goes into the internet, the happier he or she will come out of the internet – even if what they’ve seen on the internet is the bodies that look perfect, and the absolutely amazing filtered faces, etc.”

Saad said that is true, but he was even more interested in the fact that Megyn has managed to keep her children off social media. “I’m amazed that you’ve been able to withstand your children’s pressures to get online,” Saad said. “What has been your rule? You simply say, ‘We’re never going to do it?’”

Megyn said she never says never. “I haven’t said ‘never’ because, as they get older, they’re going to have to have it,” she said. “But not while they’re in my house.” Her older son and daughter recently got cell phones primarily for communication purposes. “They use it for texting, and that’s pretty much all they use it for,” Megyn concluded. “It’s nice because there’s less of a lure when it doesn’t have Instagram and all those things calling.”

You can check out Megyn’s full conversation with Saad by tuning in to episode 595 on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen. And don’t forget that you can catch The Megyn Kelly Show live on SiriusXM’s Triumph (channel 111) weekdays from 12pm to 2pm ET.