Free The Anxious Generation

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We rewired childhood and created an epidemic of mental illness.

After more than a decade of stability or improvement, the mental health of adolescents plunged in the early 2010s. Rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide rose sharply, more than doubling on many measures.

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The mass migration of childhood into the virtual world has disrupted social and neurological development.

This disruption includes social anxiety, sleep deprivation, attention fragmentation, and addiction. Alarmed by the rates of anxiety and depression in adolescents, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt wrote The Anxious Generation. The book explores these growing phenomena and attributes them to the transition from a play-based childhood to a phone-based childhood.

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It’s not too late to change course.

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Together, we can reclaim childhood in the real world.

Play-based Childhood World

How can we free the anxious generation?

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Roll back the phone-based childhood

This means delaying children’s access to smartphones until high school and social media platforms until 16. Schools need to go phone-free.

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Restore the play-based childhood

Children and adolescents need more opportunities for independence, free play, and responsibility.

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Reclaim life in the real world

Replace screen time with real-world experiences involving friends and independent activity, so that limits on devices don’t feel like deprivation but the opening up of a world of opportunities.


No smartphones before high school


No social media before 16


Phone-free schools


More independence, free play, and responsibility in the real world.

Establish Four New Norms

In The Anxious Generation, Jonathan Haidt lays out four reforms or “new norms” that would provide a foundation for a healthier kind of childhood in the digital age. Each norm helps parents and teens escape the social trap they find themselves in. No teen wants to be the only one who does not have a smartphone and social media, and no parent wants to socially isolate their child. These four norms help families escape the trap and reverse the two big (well-intentioned) mistakes we’ve made: overprotecting children in the real world and under-protecting them online. Download the summary PDF or find more ways you can take action to establish four new norms.

Find Aligned Organizations

Organizations and experts helping end the phone-based childhood and restore the play-based childhood. Filter to find aligned organizations working on issues that matter to you.

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