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The Anxious Generation summary

Jonathan Haidt

How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness

4.2 (41 ratings)
20 mins
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    The Anxious Generation
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    Smartphones are behind a worrying rise in childhood and adolescent mental health issues

    In the early 2000s, the mental health landscape among preteens and adolescents appeared relatively stable, with no clear indications of an impending crisis. But the next decade brought about a dramatic shift: mental health issues among Generation Z children and teenagers began to surge at an alarming rate.

    To put this phenomenon into perspective, consider the findings of a US National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The data reveals a staggering 145 percent increase in reported cases of depressive episodes among girls since 2012. For boys, the rise is even more pronounced, with a 161 percent increase in reported cases of depressive episodes over the same period. The impact extends beyond self-reported symptoms, with college students receiving a 134 percent increase in anxiety, a 106 percent increase in depression, a 72 percent increase in ADHD, and a 57 percent increase in bipolar disorder diagnoses since 2012. This surge in mental health challenges is, with the exception of some young millennials, largely confined to the Gen Z demographic.

    The statistics only begin to scratch the surface. Among girls, there has been a 188 percent increase in emergency room visits for self-harm since 2010, and a 167 percent rise in suicide rates. For boys, the numbers are also alarming, with a 48 percent increase in self-harm-related ER visits and a 91 percent surge in suicide rates.

    What accounts for this dramatic shift in the mental health landscape of Gen Z? The answer may lie, in part, with the widespread adoption of smartphones and the corresponding changes in the social fabric of adolescence. Smartphones, first introduced in 2007 and widely adopted by the 2010s, have profoundly influenced the way young people interact, communicate, and engage with the world around them.

    Studies have shown that tweens and teens who accessed the internet in the 1990s and early 2000s were, on average, slightly happier during their adolescence than their Gen X predecessors. However, this trend reversed dramatically with the widespread adoption of smartphones, which enabled adolescents to be connected and online constantly, wherever they were. By 2016, 79 percent of teens owned a smartphone, as did 28 percent of children aged 8 to 12. Alarmingly, a 2022 Pew report indicates that 46 percent of teens describe themselves as being online “almost constantly.”

    This shift in the social landscape of childhood and adolescence, often referred to as the “Great Rewiring of Childhood,” has had a significant impact on the mental health of Gen Z. As their social lives have increasingly moved online through the constant access to social media, video gaming, and other internet activities, the first generation of teens in the United States to go through adolescence with this level of connectivity has become more anxious, depressed, and suicidal than any generation recorded before them. This troubling trend is not limited to the US; studies across Canada, the UK, and the Nordic states have reported similar findings, suggesting that this is a global phenomenon.

    While other factors, such as anxiety surrounding global issues like climate change, may also contribute to the mental health outcomes of Gen Z, the ubiquity of smartphone usage and the corresponding changes in social dynamics appear to be the primary drivers behind this tidal wave of mental illness. As we grapple with the implications of this crisis, it’s clear that a deeper understanding of the complex interplay between technology, social interaction, and adolescent development is needed to develop effective strategies for supporting the mental health of our youth.

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    What is The Anxious Generation about?

    The Anxious Generation (2024) argues that the decline of play in childhood and the rise of smartphone usage among adolescents are the twin sources of increased mental distress in Generation Z. Grounded in psychological and biological research, this eye-opening text explores how the profound shift from play-based to phone-based childhoods has disrupted adolescent development – and offers practical advice to address this crisis.

    The Anxious Generation Review

    The Anxious Generation (2022) delves into the complex psychological factors contributing to the rise of anxiety among young people today. Here's why this insightful book stands out:

    • Packed with research-backed insights, it sheds light on the driving forces behind the anxious trends and offers practical solutions.
    • By exploring the impact of technology, social media, and cultural shifts, it provides a comprehensive understanding of the modern sources of anxiety.
    • The book's thought-provoking analysis challenges conventional wisdom, making it a compelling and eye-opening read for anyone navigating the pressures of contemporary society.

    Who should read The Anxious Generation?

    • Parents and carers concerned about their children’s smartphone use
    • Educators and psychologists perturbed by increased rates of mental illness among Gen Zers
    • Anyone addicted to their smartphone

    About the Author

    Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist and professor of ethical leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He’s the author of several influential books exploring the moral foundations of political and social divides, including The Righteous Mind and The Coddling of the American Mind.

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    The Anxious Generation FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Anxious Generation?

    The main message of The Anxious Generation explores the rise of anxiety among young adults in the modern world.

    How long does it take to read The Anxious Generation?

    Reading The Anxious Generation takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Anxious Generation a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Anxious Generation offers insights into the challenges faced by today's youth, making it a valuable read for understanding societal anxieties.

    Who is the author of The Anxious Generation?

    The author of The Anxious Generation is Jonathan Haidt.

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