The Anxious Generation is Almost Here
On March 26, my new book will offer an analysis of what went wrong for Gen Z, and a plan for setting things right.
I have good news. The sonogram shows that everything is progressing normally with my forthcoming book, The Anxious Generation, and it even returned a high-resolution image showing us what it will look like when it is born on March 26:1
I can summarize the book in two sentences: We have overprotected children in the real world and underprotected them in the virtual world. The book explains how we came to make both mistakes and what we must do now, collectively, to escape from the trap we’ve found ourselves in and create a healthier childhood for kids. In more detail:
Table of Contents
Introduction: Growing Up on Mars
Part 1: A Tidal Wave
Chapter 1: The Surge of Suffering
Part 2: The Backstory: The Decline of Play-Based Childhood
Chapter 2: What Children Need in Childhood
Chapter 3: Discover Mode and the Need for Risky Play
Chapter 4: Puberty and the Blocked Transition to Adulthood
Part 3: The Great Rewiring: The Rise of Phone-Based Childhood
Chapter 5: The Four Foundational Harms: Social Deprivation, Sleep Deprivation, Attention Fragmentation, and Addiction
Chapter 6: Why Social Media Harms Girls More Than Boys
Chapter 7: What Is Happening to Boys?
Chapter 8: Spiritual Elevation and Degradation
Part 4: Collective Action for Healthier Childhood
Chapter 9: Preparing for Collective Action
Chapter 10: What Governments and Tech Companies Can Do Now
Chapter 11: What Schools Can Do Now
Chapter 12: What Parents Can Do Now
Conclusion: Bring Childhood Back to Earth
Readers of After Babel may recognize that many of our Substack posts were efforts that Zach and I made to work out ideas before committing them to print in the book.
So, for example, if you want to get an advance look at….
Chapter 1, on the surge of adolescent suffering:
Chapters 2 and 3, on childhood:
Chapter 6, on girls:
Chapter 7, on boys:
Read my recent post on boys
Chapter 10, on what governments and tech companies can do:
Read this post by Zach and me.
Chapter 11, on what schools can do:
Read my post on the vital importance of phone-free schools
There is so much more in the book. I’m especially excited about chapter 8, on “spiritual elevation.” That chapter draws on my older work on the moral emotions including awe and moral elevation. It also discusses the cultivation of virtue, community, and self-transcendence, all of which can be blocked by a phone-based life.
I can also tell you what my goals are for the book. Within two years of publication, I hope the book helps to drive the following outcomes:
For teachers and schools
Nearly all K-12 schools will be phone-free. Teachers will no longer have to compete with the entire internet to keep their students’ attention. There will be far less drama playing out on social media during the school day. There will be no more TikTok challenges being filmed in school bathrooms. All students will be comfortable interacting with each other, and with their teachers, for 6 hours each day without reaching for their phones. Students will have a lot more time to play during the day, including before and after school, which means they’ll be happier and will learn more when they are sitting in class.
For legislators and attorneys general at the state and federal levels
There will be far more support from constituents (parents) to continue the bi-partisan movement for holding social media companies accountable for what they are doing to kids. Bills will pass at the state and federal levels in the USA, and also in the UK, EU, and Australia, to support phone-free schools, age verification, raising the minimum age for social media, requiring parental consent for some activities, and making all online activities less damaging for children. There will be far more support for bills that help parents and schools give children the autonomy they need to become self-supervising, competent, happy, and mature young adults.
You will no longer feel that your children have been taken away from you, into a virtual world that seems to dull their senses and change their personalities. Your family life will no longer be a continual struggle over technology because there will be clear norms that most of your children’s friends’ families are following too. You are never again put in the situation of feeling that if you do what is right for your children, you will condemn them to social isolation. Your children will have a lot more fun playing with other children, unsupervised, developing a sense of independence.
For members of Gen Z
You will better understand what happened to your generation, and why it took adults so long to do anything about it. You’ll find support for making changes to your daily routines, to become more present in the real world and with the people who matter most to you, rather than spending so much time on platforms that are designed to addict you, and to make you spend far more time servicing of shallow network connections.
You will better understand how our phones morphed from digital Swiss army knives, which we pulled out when we needed them (back around 2008), into our overlords or puppetmasters, pinging us constantly and luring us away from whatever we were doing and shattering our focus and attention. The Anxious Generation is a book about how to reclaim human life for human beings in all generations.
If this future world appeals to you, join me in making it our reality. Please consider pre-ordering the book (and sharing this post with your family and friends). More pre-orders not only tell the publisher to increase the size of the first print run, but also help put the book onto the New York Times bestseller list (because all pre-orders count as first-week sales). Getting on that list would increase the publicity around the book, and ultimately, the reach of its message.
A central theme of the book is that we are stuck in multiple collective action problems–multiple traps–which are hard to escape as individuals, but easy to escape if we act collectively. Let’s make 2024 the year that the world said “enough is enough,” and began to act collectively.
For this brilliant cover, I thank artistic genius Dave Cicirelli, whom I turned to because he did such a fabulous job illustrating John Stuart Mill’s ideas in the book I edited with Richard Reeves, All Minus One: John Stuart Mill’s Ideas on Free Speech, Illustrated.