The Anxious Generation
published on 5/14/2024 by Keith A. Howe

One evening, our fourteen-year-old daughter was looking through the social media app BeReal, and she came across a sweet picture of two of her friends...

               at one of their homes...
                         having a sleepover...
                                   without her.

She felt hurt.

In hindsight, this should not be a big deal. Each of those girls had been to sleepovers at our house without the other. But, as I mentioned, my daughter was fourteen. She did not analyze the situation logically, and she felt it deeply.

This is a minor incident from our family's experience, but I had time to reflect on it while reading Jonathan Haidt's new book, The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness. This minor incident and others like it can happen many times a day, every day, during the most important developmental years of our children's lives. Haidt makes the argument that these harms add up, and the effect on our children is worse than we had previously realized. One thing that I love about the book is that Haidt does not just paint a gloomy picture; he also provides concrete solutions to address the problem.


The book is broken into four parts. Haidt starts by making the case that there is indeed a crisis of anxiety and depression in young people today. Importantly, he shows that smart phones and social media are not just correlated with this rise; instead, they are the cause. The next two sections lay out the culprits behind this crisis. Section Two is a deep dive into modern children's lack of open-ended unsupervised play, a phenomenon that began in the 90s. This lays the foundation for Section Three. A generation of kids not allowed to go outside and play devoured smart phones and social media when they became available. He calls this "The Great Rewiring: The Rise of the Phone-Based Childhood." While we protect our children from the perceived harms from an outside world that has continued to get safer, they are free to participate in an online world that is actually harming them. The book ends with tangible advice to governments, tech companies, schools, and families about how to grow healthy and happy children.

Beyond the Page

Haidt's book lines up nicely with our approach to curriculum development. Our curriculum is intentionally light in online content, especially in the younger levels. You will take your children to websites on occasion to view pictures, read content, or watch videos, but the vast majority of the work consists of offline real-world activities. As children get older, we do include more online content, but the vast majority of the work is done offline, with plenty of time to think, create, and discuss.

Our curriculum name was inspired by our belief that children should learn information and then move beyond the page to use that learning to create and develop real-world products and applications. Learning does not end with the book. Students must do something with their knowledge in the real world. This seems to align neatly with the subtext of Haidt's book.


My daughter is now 16, and she thinks our twenty-minute daily limit on social media use is draconian and out of touch. She might be right, but after reading The Anxious Generation, I think I am going to stick with it. His book confirms everything you already suspect about what social media is doing to our daughters and what online gaming and adult websites are doing to our sons. The smart phone promises connection yet breeds isolation and anxiety. Haidt confirms that these harms are measurable and real for young children, and it is not too late to do something about it.

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