The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness

The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness

by Jonathan Haidt
The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness

The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness

by Jonathan Haidt



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Notes From Your Bookseller

Addressing the ongoing teen mental illness crisis, this is an actionable approach to making a difference. It's practical and insightful, engaging and necessary.

From New York Times bestselling co-author of The Coddling of the American Mind, an essential investigation into the collapse in youth mental health—and a scientifically proven path to health and strength

There is no bigger public health story now than the collapse in youth mental health. The numbers are terrifying and dominate our headlines. There has been much debate over how we got here, and what to do next, and bestselling author and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt is at the white-hot center of that discourse. Haidt has spent his career speaking wisdom and truth into the most difficult landscapes—communities polarized by politics and religion, campuses battling culture wars, and now the perfect storm contributing to a public health emergency for Gen Z.

For the cohort that hit puberty around 2009, their sense of self developed as the threads of three dramatic technological and social changes unspooled: smartphones and life with the constant companionship of a screen, front-facing cameras and the bevy of apps that thrived on selfie-culture, and social networks that reduced engagement and affirmation to likes and hearts alone. But phones aren’t the only villain here; the ground for this crisis was seeded by a decades long shift from play-based childhoods to ones defined by over-supervision, structure, and fear.

The Anxious Generation is a penetrating and alarming accounting of how we adults began to overprotect children in the real world while giving essentially no protection in the brutal online world. Haidt documents the four fundamental harms of the phone-based childhood: sleep deprivation, social deprivation, cognitive fragmentation, and addiction. He then shows the unique harms affecting boys, and the unique harms affecting girls. In the last section of The Anxious Generation, he offers concrete and scientifically based advice with separate chapters addressed to parents, schools, universities, governments, and to teens themselves. He draws on ancient wisdom and modern psychology to help everyone understand what healthy development would look like in the digital age.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593655047
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/26/2024
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: eBook
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 4,213
File size: 17 MB
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About the Author

Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992. Haidt’s research examines the intuitive foundations of morality, and how morality varies across cultural and political divisions. Haidt is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis and of The New York Times bestsellers The Righteous Mind and The Coddling of the American Mind. In 2019 he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Read an Excerpt

Part 1

A Tidal Wave

Chapter 1


When I talk with parents of adolescents, the conversation often turns to smartphones, social media, and video games. The stories parents tell me tend to fall into a few common patterns. One is the “constant conflict” story: Parents try to lay down rules and enforce limits, but there are just so many devices, so many arguments about why a rule needs to be relaxed, and so many ways around the rules, that family life has come to be dominated by disagreements about technology. Maintaining family rituals and basic human connections can feel like resisting an ever-risingtide, one that engulfs parents as well as children.

For most of the parents I talk to, their stories don’t center on any diagnosed mental illness. Instead, there is an underlying worry that something unnatural is going on, and that their children are missing something—really, almost everything—as their online hours accumulate. But sometimes the stories parents tell me are darker. Parents feel that they have lost their child. A mother I spoke with in Boston told me about the efforts she and her husband had made to keep their fourteen-year-old daughter, Emily, away from Instagram. They could see the damaging effects it was having on her. To curb her access, they tried various programs to monitor and limit the apps on her phone. However, family life devolved into a constant struggle in which Emily eventually found ways around the restrictions. In one distressing episode, she got into her mother’s phone, disabled the monitoring software, and threatened to kill herself if her parents reinstalled it. Her mother told me:

It feels like the only way to remove social media and the smartphone from her life is to move to a deserted island. She attended summer camp for six weeks each summer where no phones were permitted—no electronics at all. Whenever we picked her up from camp she was her normal self. But as soon as she started using her phone again it was back to the same agitation and glumness. Last year I took her phone away for two months and gave her a flip phone and she returned to her normal self.

When I hear such stories about boys, they usually involve video games (and sometimes pornography) rather than social media, particularly when a boy makes the transition from being a casual gamer to a heavy gamer. I met a carpenter who told me about his 14 year-old son, James, who has mild autism. James had been making good progress in school before COVID arrived, and also in the martial art of judo. But once schools were shut down, when James was eleven, his parents bought him a PlayStation, because they had to find something for him to do at home.

At first it improved James’s life—he really enjoyed the games and social connections. But as he started playing Fortnite for lengthening periods of time, his behavior began to change. “That’s when all the depression, anger, and laziness came out. That’s when he started snapping at us,” the father told me. To address James’s sudden change in behavior, he and his wife took all of his electronics away. When they did this, James showed withdrawal symptoms, including irritability and aggressiveness, and he refused to come out of his room. Although the intensity of his symptoms lessened after a few days, his parents still felt trapped: “We tried to limit his use, but he doesn’t have any friends, other than those he communicates with online, so how much can we cut him off?”

No matter the pattern or severity of their story, what is common among parents is the feeling that they are trapped and powerless. Most parents don’t want their children to have a phone-based childhood, but somehow the world has reconfigured itself so that any parent who resists is condemning their children to social isolation.

In the rest of this chapter, I’m going to show you evidence that something big is happening, something changed in the lives of young people in the early 2010s that made their mental health plunge. But before we immerse ourselves in the data, I wanted to share with you the voices of parents who feel that their children were in some sense swept away, and who are now struggling to get them back.

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