The Kids Are Not Alright — #92

Parents in Ireland are coming together to restrict access to social media.

Good morning,

This week, the Instagram algorithm tried hard to turn me into a Swiftie (= a Taylor Swift fan for all the boomers in the audience). And while I’ve acknowledged Taylor Swift’s business skills in this newsletter before, I never thought I would write a text like this one. But here it goes …

I feel like social status often correlates negatively with being a genuinely nice person. In our modern world, where cutthroat competition governs most aspects of life, a gentle, empathetic heart is seen as a weakness.

High-powered careers, politics, and even social circles frequently place a premium on traits like assertiveness and dominance — features that easily cross into ruthlessness if not moderated by empathy and respect for others. ‘Niceness’ becomes sidelined, often mistaken for naivety or lacking ambition. As a result, people adopt more strategic and self-serving behaviours than being genuinely kind to maintain or ascend the ranks.

Furthermore, the intoxicating appeal of power and influence can sometimes warp even the most virtuous individuals. And paradoxically, success seems to require people to harden themselves, adopting a stoic mask and pushing away the vulnerability that kindness can often entail. It’s not that successful people can’t be nice, but the societal constructs we’ve built often encourage otherwise.

And this is why I’m finding myself increasingly intrigued by Taylor. She feels like a genuinely nice person who has managed to climb the heights of success while maintaining an inherent kindness. It suggests that navigating this complex world with a compassionate heart is possible without letting the pursuit of status corrode your fundamental decency.

In a world full of Elons, I feel we all have a lot to win by being a little more like Taylor—no matter our taste in music.


Irish parents join forces to ban smartphones for children until secondary school


Parents in Greystones, Ireland, have created a voluntary pact prohibiting children from having smartphones until they enter secondary school. The initiative was driven by concerns over smartphones fueling anxiety and exposing children to adult content. Previously, schools in the area had banned or restricted devices on their grounds. However, the impact of social media on children with smartphones still influences their friends. By implementing the town-wide policy, parents aim to reduce peer pressure and minimise resentment among children.

The move has garnered interest from parents' associations in Ireland and abroad and even prompted Ireland's health minister to recommend it as a national policy. The initiative originated from children displaying anxiety levels, partially attributed to adapting to the changes due to COVID-19. Questionnaires were circulated among parents, leading to a community stakeholder meeting and launching an initiative called "It takes a village."

Although the smartphone code is voluntary, a sufficient number of parents have signed up to create critical mass and establish a sense of normalcy. Parents who have joined the pact have noticed immediate positive effects, making it easier for them to say no to their children. The hope is that, over time, this approach will become the new norm. Some parents even desire to extend the smartphone restriction to the early years of secondary school due to the negative impact on their older children.

While some children may feel disappointed by the restriction, many understand and accept its rationale. They recognise the potential addiction and adverse effects of smartphones and appreciate the fairness of a pact that applies to everyone in their peer group. The children's willingness to comply with the agreement also indicates that they understand the situation, despite some initial frustration.

Europe's transition to clean energy accelerated in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine


In the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Europe accelerated its efforts to reduce gas demand and phase out coal, leading to a significant scale-up in clean energy production. This is established in a new report from Ember Climate. As a result, in 2022, wind and solar energy accounted for a record 22% of EU electricity, surpassing fossil gas for the first time and remaining ahead of coal.

However, the transition from fossil fuels faced challenges due to the European electricity system crises. A severe drought and unexpected nuclear outages resulted in a severe gap in electricity generation, leading to a 7% increase in coal generation in 2022 compared to the previous year. This caused a 3.9% rise in EU power sector emissions. Despite this setback, the increase in coal power was relatively small and did not exceed 2018 levels.

The report suggests that 2023 will witness a significant decline in fossil fuels, particularly coal and gas. Factors such as the rebound of hydro generation, the return of French nuclear units, accelerated deployment of wind and solar, and a continued fall in electricity demand are expected to contribute to this decline. However, Europe remains committed to phasing out coal, and the recent fall in coal generation, driven by falling electricity demand, indicates progress.

Solar energy experienced substantial growth in 2022, with a record increase in solar generation and installations. As a result, many EU countries achieved their highest-ever share of solar electricity, with the Netherlands surpassing coal generation for the first time. The surge in solar energy helped avoid high gas costs, and the industry is projected to continue expanding in the coming years.

In contrast, gas generation is expected to see a record decline in 2023. Projections from industry groups indicate that wind and solar generation will rise by approximately 20%, hydro stocks will normalise, and electricity demand will likely continue to decrease. The phasing out of nuclear in Germany will be the only limiting factor. As a result, fossil generation, particularly gas, could plummet by 20% in 2023. The power sector's reduced reliance on gas is expected to stabilise European gas markets as the region adjusts to a future without Russian gas.

Russian disinformation worries Slovakia's president ahead of fall elections


Slovakia’s President, Zuzana Čaputová, has raised concerns about the spread of disinformation ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections. She fears that Slovakia’s foreign policy may resemble that of Hungary under Viktor Orbán after their fall elections. With the populist party Smer-SD, led by controversial former Prime Minister Robert Fico, currently leading in the polls, there’s also concern that Slovakia’s unwavering support for Ukraine could weaken. Fico’s party has called for ending military aid to Ukraine, and only 40% of Slovaks believe Russia is primarily responsible for the war in Ukraine, according to polling by the think tank GLOBSEC.

Čaputová suggests Slovakia grapples with an active Russian disinformation campaign, making it more vulnerable due to its younger democracy. Some political leaders are accused of spreading this disinformation directly in the parliament and through the media. This campaign seems to have tangible effects, with half the Slovak population perceiving the United States as a security threat and only 58% willing to stay in NATO. Furthermore, if a referendum were held, half the population would oppose continued support for Ukraine.

There are several contributing factors to why Russian narratives resonate in Slovakia, according to Čaputová. These include a positive attitude towards common Slavic roots, a specific view of history, the impact of disinformation, and potential miscommunications by democratic political leaders. In addition, many Slovaks are frustrated after a series of crises like the coronavirus pandemic, rising energy prices, inflation, and the war in Ukraine.

The upcoming elections in September are a pivotal political moment for Slovakia. Smer is polling at around 17%, placing it ahead of all other contenders in Slovakia’s fractured political landscape. Despite allegations of using disinformation, the party insists it does not want to change Slovakia’s foreign policy orientation and remains committed to EU and NATO membership. However, experts fear that if Smer forms the government, they will try to alter the current level of support for Ukraine.

Double-check the headlines

Just making sure you didn’t miss any major world events this week.

One long

The Guardian

Since the first podcast was released two decades ago this month, the medium has upended pop culture in countless unexpected ways, from revolutionising standup comedy to providing storytelling fuel for drama and documentary.

Five short

1. Listen

In the latest episode of Offline with Jon Favreau, “The kids are not alright. Is Social Media to blame?” Jon chats with Dr Vivek Murthy, Surgeon General of the United States, about a new warning about social media being harmful to children.

Yes, I repeat this insight a lot, but we must collectively understand how the internet makes us sick and what to do about it.

2. Watch

After avoiding learning German for a year, I started to watch Netflix shows in French to see if I could improve a language I enjoy knowing. Highly recommended.

3. Remember

Not knowing what’s next in life is a good thing. It means you’re on your own path, not just blindly following everyone else. Yes, I know it is also terrifying. So, I recommend inviting a few well-selected individuals to support the process.

4. Change

We all must realise that 29 degrees and drought in Berlin at the beginning of June isn’t “nice weather”. It’s a horrifying example of a changing climate.

5. Try

Daydreaming. Letting your mind venture out independently is much more entertaining than AI-generated storytelling. Live an exciting life inside your head. Practising imagination and creativity in real time is good for you.