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Is this the New Normal? Should We Return to Early Pandemic Measures? Harvard Makes SAT, ACT Scores Optional Through 2026; NYT Column: "Biden Should Not Run Again -- And He Should Say He Won't"; Succession In The White House; COVID, School Violence Worsen Mental Health Crisis For Kids. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired December 18, 2021 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Well, this feels familiar. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia.
COVID it seems has taken another turn for the worse. At first, scientists believe the highly contagious Omicron was less severe than Delta. But a new study from disease modelers at Imperial College London not yet peer reviewed found that Omicron is not any less severe. And that the risk of being reinfected of with Omicron is 5.4 times higher than with Delta. And that ultimately, an Omicron specific vaccine will be needed.
The epidemiologist who led the team study said this statement, quote, "This study provides further evidence of the very substantial extent to which Omicron can evade prior immunity given by both infection or vaccination. This level of immune evasion means that Omicron poses a major, imminent threat to public health."
Omicron already having huge impact. The COVID numbers are skyrocketing. And so are the number of changes in our lives. Cases in Texas, Connecticut and Hawaii, all up more than 50 percent from last week. The northeast, Midwest and south are seeing the fastest jumps with 16 states trending in the wrong direction.
New York State alone accounting for 10 percent of new cases in this country over the past week, and now shattering its daily case record. Though, you can see hospitalizations remain comparatively low when compared with other case peaks. And the waiting lines for COVID testing in New York City, now hours long.
Ohio's governor deploying more than 1,000 National Guard troops to help at hospitals. Office reopening being put on hold. Holiday parties being scrapped.
The Radio City Rockettes "Christmas Spectacular" now cancelled for the rest of the season.
The NCAA basketball schedule looking more like a snow globe, all shaken up, games are being cancelled, postponed or rearranged with different teams facing off.
In the NHL, three teams now shutdown, won't be back on the ice until after the league's holiday break.
The NFL postponing three of this weekend's games. Dozens of players now on the COVID reserve list.
It's hard to imagine a path back to normal when businesses and schools keep shifting policies with every new outbreak even among the vaccinated.
This week, California extended the state's coronavirus pandemic regulations into next year. Exposed workers who are vaccinated and asymptomatic must stay home for 14 days even if they test negative or they can return to work masked and socially distant for two weeks.
With Christmas fast approaching, Americans want to know is it OK to get on a plane? Should I keep my kids out of school? Is it OK to gather with family? May I dine out, go to church or holiday performance?
I don't know about you but while I am vaccinated and boosted, I'm also increasingly resigned to the fact that I'll probably get COVID. I'm also confident that my vaccination status will enable for me to deal with it much better than if I were unvaccinated.
And as for those that won't get vaccinated, I'm convinced that no amount of brow beating will cause them to change their minds now. I don't wish them ill but there's a limit to my sympathy and my compassion, should they not take steps to protect themselves and the rest of us.
And finally, I'm resolved not to let COVID stop me from leading a productive and happy life at least as much as possible.
Last night here on CNN, I spoke with Dr. Jay Bhattacharya. One of the signers of something called the Great Barrington Declaration, that was from a year ago. It posited that we can't stop the spread so it's better to protect the vulnerable and learn to live with the virus.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. JAY BHATTACHARYA, PROFESSOR, STANFORD UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: We turn COVID into this thing where if we get it somehow, we've failed. No, if we get COVID and survive well, if it's mild - if you -- and if you're vaccinated, well I mean that's exactly what the vaccine does. That's why we're recommending it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: I want to know what you think. Go to my website at smerconish.com this hour. And answer this week's survey question. "In view of the spread of Omicron, should we return to early pandemic measures?"
I've looked, it's a very close vote. I'll give you the results at the end of the hour.
[09:05:01] Joining me now, Dr. Cody Meissner, chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Tufts Children's Hospital, professor of Pediatrics Tufts School of Medicine and like Dr. Bhattacharya, also one of the signers of the so-called Great Barrington Declaration.
Dr. Meissner, nice to see you again. Your thesis is, protect the vulnerable, forget the lockdowns, learn to live with the virus. If I'm misstating it, you'll correct me. But won't that lead to more cases, more hospitalizations, and ultimately more death?
DR. CODY MEISSNER, CHIEF, DIVISION OF PEDIATRIC INFECTIOUS DISEASES, TUFTS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: Well, good morning, Michael.
And thank you very much for the opportunity to join you this morning. I appreciate it.
I think that's a little bit of an over-simplification of - of my thoughts. Let me just phrase it like this. I think at the beginning of this pandemic, people thought that measures that would reduce the transmission of this virus, essentially, the lockdown, would also help to maintain our economic vitality. And I think as time has gone by, we've seen that's not the case. We're still, despite pandemics, despite all of our efforts at nonpharmacologic intervention, we've seen this virus mutate and continue to circulate.
So, I think the reason there's so much uncertainty right now in this country is because we're really making a tradeoff between livelihood and economic vitality. And -- what some people incorrectly perceive as -- as, I think, a freedom. And I agree completely with what you said. That the vaccine is showing us or will lead us the way out of this pandemic. There is absolutely no excuse for an adult not to have been fully vaccinated. It's -- there are - there are -- various methods have been developed to try and induce people to get it voluntarily. And unfortunately, there's still about 60 percent million people in the United States who are unvaccinated.
SMERCONISH: Dr. Meissner, that's the easy part. The easy part is everybody ought to get vaccinated. We agree and I'm glad to you have reassert that. But it sounds like you're doing a balancing act here, almost like that statue of Lady Justice and you're saying protect lives or economic costs. And correct me if I'm wrong, but now it seems like you're saying let's prioritize the economic factors because we don't want to wipe out businesses and we want to go about leading our lives or am I misunderstanding?
MEISSNER: Yeah, I would phrase it a little more generically. And I think people put different weight, Michael, on personal freedom, on health, on economic vitality. And it's understandable, because we know this is a disease primarily of the elderly. It's much less common in younger individuals. So, I think everyone -- there is no right answer on what is the best way to balance the risks of transmission. Versus the lockdown. People suffer different --
SMERCONISH: A year ago - a year ago, when you put forth the Great Barrington Declaration, it drew a rebuke, as you know, from the John Snow group, not from the TV show. And an infectious disease expert at Harvard said, I think it's wrong, what you were saying. I think it's wrong, unsafe. I think it invites people to act in ways that have the potential to do an enormous amount of harm. That was Rochelle Walensky. Now, now, today, head of the CDC. Why is she wrong?
MEISSNER: Well, the CDC, everybody has been proven wrong by this virus, Michael. This is a nefarious, very clever virus. And I think it's important for people not to make too many dogmatic statements. Because we just don't know what's coming next from this virus.
SMERCONISH: So --
MEISSNER: Go ahead, I'm sorry.
SMERCONISH: Finish your thought. I have another question I'm eager to ask.
MEISSNER: So, there isn't -- I don't think it's helpful for people to say someone's wrong. Because we don't know what the right answer is. And I understand, people would like to have a yes or no answer. But given our current state of understanding of this virus, it's very hard to do that. I fully concur --
SMERCONISH: Dr. Meissner, if Omicron were mild, I think you'd have a stronger argument, a stronger hand, because then the idea would be, let's lead our lives. This virus is going to continue to spread. But at least, as long as you're vaccinated -- again, get vaccinated, it's not going to kill you. But if the UK data that I referenced at the outset of the program, not peer reviewed. But if that's true that it's not as mild as we hoped, then I think it harms your argument. You get the final word. Go ahead.
MEISSNER: Thank you.
I think there are different interpretations of Omicron. I think you're talking about one article. And look at the data from South Africa. They are clearly seeing lower hospitalization rates. Shorter duration of stay, less use of the intensive care unit, fewer deaths. So, that's a very different experience.
And I think it's premature. The UK experience may be right. But, again, I would suggest caution here. Let's wait until we've had a little bit more experience, before starting to initiate massive lockdowns. People should get the boost. They should get vaccinated, just as you said, you got it right, absolutely correct. And get a booster, particularly if you're in a high-risk group. Protect yourself as best you can because I think most people feel that the immune response to the vaccine does protect against Omicron. It may not last --
SMERCONISH: OK. MEISSNER: But it does protect.
SMERCONISH: It's a great - it's a great conversation. Just how much we should take protective measures, but on one thing, we're all agreed, get vaccinated. Get the boost.
Dr. Meissner, thank you so much.
MEISSNER: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @smerconish or go to my Facebook page. I'll read some responses throughout the course of the program.
What do we have?
"@smerconish Don't forget the immunocompromised people. It's not their fault if they can't get vaccinated."
SDM, I try to point out every time we have this conversation. We need to take measures to make sure that they are protected. There's no doubt. I mean one of the issues is if you take the Laissez-Faire approach and -- and allow the virus more actively to spread, you know you can't segregate the immunocompromised or the most vulnerable because they need to be cared for and they have family and they have friends. It's complicated stuff. I get it.
I want to make sure you're going to the website this hour. It's smerconish.com and answering this week's survey question, in view of the spread of Omicron, should we return to early pandemic measures?
Up ahead, Harvard announced it's extending through 2026, it's COVID- era policy of not requiring applicants to submit standardized tests. Will other schools follow? And does this do the SAT and the ACT?
Plus, even though President Biden hasn't finished his first year in office, there are already beltway rumblings about how unlikely he is to run for reelection in 2024.
This week, "New York Times" columnist Bret Stephens made a radical proposal that Biden should announce now that he's not running and open up the feel. I'll talk to Bret Stephens about his thinking.
SMERCONISH: Are we seeing the end of standardized tests in college admissions? This week, Harvard announced it won't require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores through 2026, extending an optional policy the university created in response to the pandemic. Even before COVID, many other colleges have limited or eliminated the requirement for standardized exams.
Joining me now is journalist and author Jeff Selingo. His book "Who Gets In and Why: A Year Inside College Admissions." He documents the inner workings and admissions that he witnessed at Emory University, Davidson College, and the University of Washington.
This is big stuff, right? I mean Harvard often sets the standard, if they have a COVID response, other schools follow it. If they have an admissions response, I think others will similarly fall in line. Do you agree?
JEFF SELINGO, AUTHOR, "WHO GETS IN AND WHY: A YEAR INSIDE COLLEGE ADMISSIONS": I think that's definitely going to happen because we saw even Stanford announced a couple weeks ago that it was going to be test-optional for another year. And so, I think that put a lot of pressure on colleges and universities out there to go test-optional because when students apply to Harvard, for example, they're applying to other ivy league schools.
So, it's definitely going to set the stage in the next couple of weeks. It will be interesting to see what's happening. And I bet right now there are admission, deans, everywhere, meeting to try to figure out what they're going to do.
SMERCONISH: So, jeff, think about your experience, that you were there watching over the shoulders of admissions officers at three different schools. How much would it have changed what you witnessed if there were no standardized tests that they were relying on?
SELINGO: Well, we're going to find out this year, Michael, because I'm going back into the schools for the paperback version of the book. But in the meantime, how I think it would have been different is the applicant pool would have been different.
In fact, many of the admissions deans that I profiled in the book told me that last year. That students don't apply to some schools if they think their SAT or ACT score is not going to get them in. All these schools advertise the average score. And if their score is below that average or it's not in that middle 50 percent of scores, they just -- to them, it's a flashing red sign, don't apply here. So, their application never even arrives. So, I think the big difference would have been you would have been looking at -- they would be looking at applications. They would not have seen previously when they require test scores.
I'm trying not to be gleeful about this. I was always a poor performer on standardized tests. Always below the Mendoza line.
SELINGO: So was I.
SMERCONISH: So, what I am wondering to be fair to these universities is, what then is the common dominator? I mean if they don't have this, how do they compare a student you know from one school district versus another student from a different school district? They can't possibly be knowledgeable about every school district and high school in the country. So, what do they do?
SELINGO: So, even before they went test-optional, these schools looked mostly at a high school student's record. In other words, the courses they took and the grades they got in those courses. Because four years of high school was more important than four hours on a test. And so, what they're really looking for is the context of that high school. And what they get with every application is what's called a high school profile.
So, yes, they don't know everything about every high school. But the fact of the matter is, is that particularly, at these selective schools, they get a lot of applications from certain high schools. So, over the years they do get to know the schools pretty well. And they get this high school profile that tells them the number of courses are available to these students, how many AP courses are available, the average grades of those students. So, they know a lot about the high school from this profile that comes in. But you're right, they don't know everything about every high school, and that is a problem.
SMERCONISH: What I most like about the idea of getting rid of the SAT and the ACT is the prospect that the kids today will have more time on their hands. If they grow up in a neighborhood like mine, they're all taking prep course. And my God, when I think about our kids today, Jeff, they'd be proficient in musical instrument. If they had dedicated all that prep time to just learning how to you know play -- who knows what. You get the final word. Go ahead.
SELINGO: Yeah, what I hope, Michael, is that high school only happens once in life. And I hope that students get to enjoy it and get to do what they want.
SELINGO: And I think so often in the last couple of years, and in the last couple of decades, we put so much pressure especially around test scores that they didn't get to do what they wanted in high school as a result.
SMERCONISH: No doubt. Too much time on test prep. Too much time creating a fake life via social media. Instead of leading one and getting into trouble every once in a while.
Thank you, Jeff. I really appreciate it.
SELINGO: It's great to be here. Thanks for having me, Michael.
SMERCONISH: Via social media, Catherine, what has come in? Let's check it out.
"Could be the beginning of the end of standardized testing. And if so, will result in a surge of applications and their fees to top universities making their admissions for the same number of opening even more competitive."
Wendi, here's my prescription for that. Get rid of the common app. Get rid of the common app. It is like back in the day, now I'm going to sound like you know the aged person I guess I'm becoming. But back in the day, how many schools did we apply to? Three, four? Five was a lot. And today, as long as you've got the scratch to send in the application, 50 bucks or whatever it might be, the common app makes it too easy. Everybody sits back and says, I probably won't get into Harvard but like what the hell for 50 bucks, I'll roll the dice.
And consequently, it gives the Harvard's the ability to say -- well, our rejection rate, our rejection rate is 95 percent. I'm sure they love that. You know the perception of that selective nature when, frankly, everybody was throwing the long ball to get in there anyway.
I want to remind you, go to our website at smerconish.com. This hour, the survey question is this. In view of the spread of Omicron, should we return to early pandemic measures?
Up ahead, with recent school shootings still fresh in everyone's minds, the threat about more school violence on TikTok Friday caused shutdowns in many states. Add that to COVID surging.
And America's kids are in a documented mental health crisis.
Plus, this "New York Times" column set off a political firestorm, Biden should not run again. And he should say he won't. Its author Bret Stephens is here to explain his reasoning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: The president doesn't need to concern himself at that right now. He's got a long way to go and he's got a lot left to do in his term. And that's the way he is and based on what I've seen in the first year, it's pretty darn good.
SMERCONISH: Will President Biden run again in 2024? Or more importantly, should he? This week Vice President Kamala Harris told "The Wall Street Journal" that she and the president haven't discussed the issue, quote, I don't think about it. Nor have we talked about it. She told the paper noting it's their first year in office amidst the pandemic. That might make them the only two people in D.C. who haven't discussed it, especially when earlier this week, "The New York Times" Bret Stephens poured a little gasoline on that smoldering topic with this column, "Biden Should Not Run Again and He Should Say He Won't."
In the piece, Stephens writes, quote, "The argument against this is that it would turn him into a lame-duck president, and that's undoubtedly true. But, news flash: Right now he's worse than a lame duck, because potential Democratic successors are prevented from making calls, finding their lanes and appealing for attention."
But I asked Paul Begala about Bret Stephens column, he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But what he's talking about doing is bonkers strategically. He's talking about having the president of the united states make a strategic, permanent, irrevocable move to solve a pretty small temporary tactical issue.
Here's what happened. He would trade away some of his power right away, immediately when he needs all of it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Longtime democratic strategist James Carville similarly skeptical.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARVILLE: He's not even a year into his term. And Bret Stephens is a nice guy. He's got to think of something twice a week to put in the newspaper. And it was just maybe the best he could do this week.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: All right. Here is that nice guy. Bret Stephens, the opinion columnist for "The New York Times," is joining me now. I guess the first thing I should say to you is, "Thank you." I've been feasting off your column all week long.
BRET STEPHENS, OPINION COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Sure. Free money for you guys.
SMERCONISH: So, Begala concedes. I mean, he thinks your idea is bonkers but he concedes. This is the cloak room conversation. So let's have it. Make your case.
STEPHENS: Well, look, right now, the president I think is weighing on his party and not just because he's off to a pretty bad start as president, actually a disastrous start as president, but because there is a broad suspicion that he isn't going to run again.
So there's already a whisper campaign out there about who in the Democratic Party might succeed him. But that whisper campaign is not really allowed to take off in any way. That no one is allowed to -- no one in the Democratic Party can openly say that they're considering a run for the presidency.
And we now live in a world, Michael, where runs for presidency begin four years -- four years early. So the Democrats are quite late to this.
I think the president at some point -- I would be amazed if he runs for a second term. And the question is, is it smarter for him to announce this now? Or is it smarter for him to announce it say after a disastrous midterm result in which the Democrats seem particularly weak?
My argument is if he does it now, it seems statesman-like. He's still the president. He still has immense power. It liberates him to deal with the task at hand. And he looks like he's making his own decision rather being forced to it by a bad midterm result or some set of events.
SMERCONISH: You wrote in part, "It's now considered horrible manners to raise concerns about Biden's age and health. As if doing so can only play into Trump's hands. As if the president's well-being is nobody's business but his own."
You pointed out as well that these were conversations that we had on Ronald Reagan's watch. Everybody remembers the exchange with Mondale when he said, I'm not going to exploit my opponent's youth and inexperience. And even Mondale laughed.
I want to ask you this in the context of Build Back Better does Biden strengthen his hand or harm his hand if he follows your prescription? Because wouldn't he lose political capital in trying to get that done in 2022?
STEPHENS: Well, I would be astonished if he's able to get it done whether he is the presumptive nominee or whether he -- whether he is not. So, I don't think it matters one way or another with respect to that piece of legislation.
But look, Michael, this is a country that is facing a series of really urgent crisis from the possibility of a Russian invasion of Ukraine, a resurgent pandemic, spiking inflation, spiking homicide rates. Imagine how much it would serve Joe Biden's legacy if he said, I'm going to do nothing but have a single-minded focus on the issues that are affecting the American people now. I'm not going to allow politics to get in the way of it. I'm going to clear the field to allow a fresh Democratic face to come forward.
And I should mention one other thing that's weighing on this that again is part of the kind of -- the whispered conversation that needs to be candid which is real doubts about whether Vice President Harris will be -- is a suitable heir apparent as the next nominee.
The longer Biden waits the more likely it is that she becomes the default nominee. And that's going to be very troublesome for the Democratic Party given just how unpopular she is.
SMERCONISH: Well, his numbers -- Catherine, put up "The Wall Street Journal" on the screen. His numbers are clearly underwater. He's got 57 percent disapproval in the "The Wall Street Journal".
Do you also, Catherine, have handy her approval numbers? I should have asked you for this in advance.
Bret just referenced Vice President Kamala Harris. If you can put up her numbers as well. And while you do, I'll say this to Bret, the person who is rooting against your prescription is the vice president of the United States. Because right now, no one can organize, no one can fundraise, no one can do anything, and the longer that situation continues, you know, she's in the primary position of being able then to just step right in and assume that mantle if he doesn't run. STEPHENS: And that's something, Michael, that should panic Democrats. I mean, I can't see the screen so I don't know what numbers you have. But the average -- the real clear average that I saw had her as the least popular vice president in the 21st century, that includes Mike Pence. There's a lot of talent in the Democratic field.
But that talent is not going to be able to come to the fore if everyone just assumes that either Biden may in fact run again or that the vice president has kind of a preemptive hold as the default nominee. That's bad for the party.
You know, a lot of people watching this are going to say, "Well, Bret Stephens is conservative. He just wants a return of the Republican Party." Actually, the last thing I want -- the last thing the country should want is Donald Trump ramping to re-election either against a weakened President Biden or an even weaker vice president -- or a presidential nominee Harris. Democrats are going to need time to find a good, popular suitable candidate.
SMERCONISH: If you're right and he doesn't run for re-election -- which by the way is my instinct. I wish him well and I want him to live to be 150 years old and healthy as a horse. But if you are right and she becomes the heir apparent, there's also going to be this added dynamic of, who among Democrats is willing to step out and stand in the way of the potential for the first female president of the United States, who is also a person of color?
I mean, you know, is Amy Klobuchar going to get in the way of that? Is Elizabeth Warren going to get in the way of that? I don't know because that's going to be a very highly charged situation.
Quickly. The final word is yours.
STEPHENS: Yes, or Pete Buttigieg or Gina Raimondo or Mitch Landrieu all of who are inside the administration.
SMERCONISH: All of them.
STEPHENS: One dare to challenge her. So I think the most statesman like thing that President Biden can do, and I too which him a long and healthy, is to say he's going to be one term president who's going to get a lot done in the next three years.
SMERCONISH: Hey, stay right where you are. Put up on the screen the social media. I'll read it aloud so that Bret can respond as well. OK.
You shouldn't -- OK. Neva says, Bret, you shouldn't even be discussing this. You're just putting fuel on the fire.
What's your answer to that, Bret?
STEPHENS: I think that I am talking candidly about a conversation that's being whispered. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, someone once said. And I'm trying to apply some sunshine to a conversation that has to happen in the daylight.
SMERCONISH: And when I brought it up to Begala earlier this week, I mean, he acknowledged this is what people are buzzing about. I agree with what you just said.
One more, if we have time for it. Put it up on the screen.
The left are doing such a bad job that we will end up with Trump again which would be an improvement, warts and all, says someone else.
I have to say for parody, Bret, last night, Fareed Zakaria was my guest. He wrote an essay in "The Washington Post" and said, look, Biden is getting done wrong here. He's competent. He's likable. We live in very strange times and he's not getting his just due in the polling data that has come out recently. You would say what to Fareed?
STEPHENS: First of all, I think -- Fareed is a friend and he's a brilliant guy, but I don't think he's speaking for majority of Americans. And at the end of the day, the presidency is won by popular vote. It's not won by the views of, you know, brilliant guys like Fareed.
The Democrats have a real problem. I don't want to see Donald Trump whom I opposed consistently for four years return to the White House. But if you're serious and sober about that prospect, then you've got to open the field and let other Democrats have a chance at winning the nomination next.
SMERCONISH: You have to love Carville's comments about you. Ah, the guy has got to put out, you know, two columns a week. I guess this is -- this is the best he could come up with.
STEPHENS: Carville is a brilliant guy and he was gracious in his disagreement. But I think I'm making a point that everyone is really talking about and it's time to have this conversation candidly. Thanks for having me on to have it.
SMERCONISH: Thank you for being here. I want to remind everybody go to Smerconish.com this hour and answer this week's survey question. In view of the spread of Omicron, should we return to early pandemic measures?
Still to come, Friday, a TikTok trend warning of nationwide school violence led to widespread school closures rattling American's student body and what is already been a mentally challenging year due to COVID fears and protocols. With the Omicron variant running rampant on campus colleges have been shutting down and cancelling sporting events. So what will the long-term effect be on this generation?
SMERCONISH: Will America's kids ever recover from the trauma of living through these past few years? The latest jolt came when a vague viral TikTok trend warned there would be nationwide school violence yesterday. This prompted widespread school closures despite authorities not finding the threats credible.
Since the first outbreaks, COVID has been buffeting students from elementary school through college with changing policies and remote learning, masks, distancing. A little surprise then that a recent surgeon general's report found that during the pandemic depression and anxiety among young people has doubled. Between 2019 and 2021, the Department of Health and Human Services found that emergency room visits for suicide attempts went up 51 percent for young girls, 4 percent for boys -- 25 percent of kids reported depressive symptoms, 20 percent anxiety.
Joining me now to discuss is Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, author of that great book "iGen: Why Today's Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood and What That Means for the Rest of Us."
Dr. Twenge, such a tough time to grow up and it seems like it became even more difficult this week. Talk to me about that.
JEAN TWENGE, PROFESSOR OF PSYCHOLOGY, SAN DIEGO STATE UNIVERSITY: It is. You know, today's kids and teens -- there are so many challenges to growing up right now and that started before the pandemic. It started when smartphones and social media became basically mandatory in around 2012, 2013. That's actually when these increases in mental health issues like depression and self harm and suicide began to increase. They were actually at a pretty bad state even before the pandemic hit with all of its disruptions.
SMERCONISH: You and I have had many conversations here on CNN and on radio, on SiriusXM about the impact of iPhones, about Facebook. We've talked about Instagram.
What about TikTok? We've never discussed TikTok. And given yesterday's events -- how this went viral and then schools had to shut down. And there was his apprehension and anxiety. Talk to me about that platform and how it fits into your big picture?
TWENGE: Yes. So TikTok is a pretty, you know, recent phenomenon, but it is where iGen is living these days in terms of social media. It's extremely popular. It really took off during the pandemic.
It's short videos and -- so a lot of them are fun. A lot of them are dances. And they're doing funny things. So it looks harmless.
The problem is there have been these so-called challenges of pretty disturbing things. So in September there was a TikTok challenge of destroying school property. And a bunch of kids went and did this and filmed it and then put it on TikTok. And then this most recent one with threats of violence which thank goodness didn't come to fruition but the one with the school property did.
And, you know, kids who should know better, who are good kids get caught up into this because of that influence of social media, because they're at this age where they want to go along with what their friends are doing and it can have these really serious consequences. I mean, this happened across the country where school property was destroyed costing school districts thousands of dollars.
SMERCONISH: Take our final minute and tell me, tell parents, how do we both protect our kids, how do we keep them safe, how can we be good parents amidst these factors?
TWENGE: It is tough. I have three kids myself. And you have to try to figure out, well, what limits can we set that are reasonable on these devices and on social media? So that might be, first, no phones in the bedroom overnight. And then with social media, set some time limits. If you want to use TikTok, OK, you have half hour a day, an hour a day. And let's talk about what you're doing on TikTok.
And if there's something that seems a little off to you, let's have a discussion about that. And if they're too young, keep them off. They're not supposed to be on social yet at all until 13. That's actually the law.
And then when they're older, I don't know. I think the limit for social media should be more like 16 or even 18. And these recent events are another example why that should be.
SMERCONISH: Dr. Twenge, thank you as always for your expertise. We appreciate it.
TWENGE: Thanks so much.
SMERCONISH: Still to come, your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments. And we'll give you the final result of the survey question from Smerconish.com. You can go vote right now. In view of the spread of Omicron, should we return to early pandemic measures? Go vote.
SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded to this week's survey question at Smerconish.com. In view of the spread of Omicron, should we return to early pandemic measures?
Here's the result. No say 55 percent with -- let's call it 16,000 who voted. Wow. Pretty decisive. No, we should not go back to where we were in March of 2020.
Social media, here's some that came in during the course of the program. What do we have?
Smerconish, no, we shouldn't return to the strategy that did nothing to prevent people from getting COVID. Time to live with the virus but the key is to live our lives.
I can't go that far, Joe, as to say that the strategy did nothing to prevent. Bottom line is this -- because I presented you some disparate voices both here today and last night. Get vaccinated, get boosted. We can have this conversation about which measures are necessary, but get vaccinated and get boosted at a minimum.
What else? Here's one more.
What is Bret Stephens talking about? Biden got us out of Afghanistan and passed an infrastructure bill in his first year.
He did. And I said to Fareed last night, I mean, he deserves credit for that. But the withdraw from Afghanistan got ugly, right, lost 13 on the way out the door. Inflation is raging. The border is a sieve. I could go on and on. COVID is not under control.
Are all of those his fault? You know, if you're in that position, you own it I guess is what I would say.
Finally, a quick programming note. Since Christmas and New Year fall on Saturdays this year, this program will be on holiday break for the next two weeks. I'll be back here, Saturday, 9:00 a.m., on January 8th. In the meantime, you can find me here at 9:00 p.m. next week.
Most importantly merry Christmas and happy New Year.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Buenos dias. Good morning. It's Saturday, December 18th. I'm Boris Sanchez.
PAULA REID, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Paula Reid in for Christi Paul.