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The Anxious Generation

I listen to podcasts all the time. Whenever my mind isn’t occupied, there’s usually one playing in the background – while I’m driving, cooking, doing yard work. So recently, I kept seeing one author popping up over and over on many of my podcast feeds. The Anxious Generation by Jonathan Haidt kept showing up in my feed. The more I listened to him, the more fascinated I became by his research and, more importantly, his suggestions.

Anxiety for our next generation

Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist at New York University. His latest book is called The Anxious Generation where he documents the epidemic of mental illness in young people and ties it directly to the rise of smartphone technology and social media. In my work with couples and parents, one of the consistent dilemmas they bring up is the struggle with their teens and tweens over internet usage, cell phones, and social media. So, I’ve been very interested in his recent work in ways to help my clients who have students in the anxious generation.

white and brown wooden tiles spelling "anxious" for The Anxious Generation
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

The Plan

Haidt says that for more than a decade the mental health of adolescents was stable or improving, but in the early 2010s it began declining rapidly. Rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide more than doubled. His conclusion about the anxious generation is that due to families “over parenting in the real world and under parenting online” we have essentially rewired childhood. Growing up for most kids today is no longer “play based” but has become “phone based.” Haidt is offering 4 new norms that he suggests parents begin to implement in order to turn the tide of this trend. And I’ll warn you, they sound pretty radical for most people…

No smartphones before high school. He suggests before 9th grade to only allow students unsupervised access to basic phones with limited apps and no internet browser.
No social media before age 16. Allowing the anxious generation to navigate the most vulnerable period of brain development before they connect a world of social comparison and algorithmically chosen influencers. I recently spoke to two young ladies, one in college and one a junior in high school, who both admitted that being on Instagram in middle school made their experience much more anxious and difficult.
Phone-free schools. Some classrooms around the country are already experimenting with this for the anxious generation and reporting increased attention spans and improved academic performance.

More independence for the anxious generation, free play, and responsibility in the real world. This is the best environment for children to develop social skills, to overcome anxiety, and to become self-governing young adults.
My encouragement to parents is to discuss and investigate how these “new norms” might fit and work in their families for their anxious generation students. It might require some difficult decisions or some coordination with other parents or within school districts. Haidt’s research and conclusions are challenging but worth checking out. If you want more resources that can help or to get the book and read it yourself.

person holding iphone showing social networks folder. for The Anxious Generation
Photo by Tracy Le Blanc on
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