While generalized statements about the younger generation in any particular time are often derogative and poorly researched, there are two claims which can be decisively made about today’s teens and young adults – singling out this birth cohort from the ones that came before: young people today are experiencing significantly higher rates of unhappiness and mental illness, and they are also exhibiting a unique lack of sexual activity. Despite increased attention to mental health and the weakening of social norms proscribing sexual behavior outside of heterosexual marriage, today’s youth do not seem eager to take advantage of this new variety and availability of permitted sex, and increased openness to discussion and treatment of mental illness is not going very far to arrest it.
Young people today are experiencing significantly higher rates of unhappiness and mental illness, and they are also exhibiting a unique lack of sexual activity
Thus we have two distinct developments, and only limited means of explaining them. What causes could be responsible for each of these phenomena, and more importantly, are they related to one another? This paper will unpack the current data on youth mental health and sexual behavior, and then offer three macrosociological theories that could tie each of them together.
Youth mental health
Numerous studies have shown that indicators of mental health, particularly in teens, have been in decline roughly since the last quarter or the 20th century, with steep and well documented drops roughly between 2010 and 2020.
For instance, depression, one of the most commonly considered features of poor mental well-being, has been particularly on the rise among youths over the last several years. According to one study, between 2005 and 2015, rates of depression among teens ages 12 to 17 increased from 8.7% to 12.7%.1 Likewise, data from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health revealed that teens ages 12 to 17 who have had at least one major depressive episode increased from 8% (or 2 million) in 2007 to 13% (or 3.2 million) in 2017.2
Statistics on anxiety show a similar picture, although the increase became particularly noticeable a little earlier. Already in 2000, developmental psychologist Jean M. Twenghttps://wapercyfoundation.org/wp-login.phe found, “Anxiety is so high now that normal samples of children from the 1980s outscore psychiatric populations from the 1950s,” and, using the Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale (TMAS), between the 1950s and the 1990s, anxiety scores have risen about an entire standard deviation.3
Paralleling Twenge’s research, Cassandra Newsom analyzed the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) scores for teens ages 14 to 16. Between 1948 and 1989, the percentages of students in agreement with the statements, “I work under a great deal of tension,” “Life is a strain for me much of the time,” and “I’m afraid of losing my mind,” increased from 16.2% to 41.6%, 9.5% to 35.0%, and 4.1% to 23.4% respectively.4
Suicidal thoughts, behaviors, and gestures among teens are seeing a marked increase as well. Research by Twenge showed that between 2009/2010 and 2015, suicide-related outcomes (i.e., suicidal ideation, plans, and attempts) rose amongst adolescents by 12%, and there was a 31% increase in adolescent deaths by suicide as well.5 The CDC, meanwhile, reports that for people ages 10 to 24 suicide rates, which had been stable between 2000 and 2007, increased nearly 60 percent by 2018, and emergency room visits due to anxiety, mood disorders and self-harm rose sharply as well.6 Before that, there was another sharp spike in teen suicides, specifically in boys. Between 1975 and 1990, suicide rates of males ages 15-to-19 rose from 12.0 per 100,000 to 18.1.7
To see how these changes are affected by certain variables, here is a quick look at some of the data when divided by certain factors. According to the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report: 2009–2019, the percentage of students who “experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness during the past year” increased linearly for white (23.7% to 36.0%), Black (27.7% to 31.5%), and Hispanic (31.6% to 40.0%) students, in other words a far greater increase among the racial group thought to have the most advantage in US society.8 The same pattern was also found for the percentage of students who “seriously considered attempting suicide during the past year,” “made a suicide plan during the past year,” and “attempted sucide during the past year.”
As for the effects of economic stability on youth mental health, Twenge matched the rates of depressive symptoms in 8th, 10th, and 12th graders since 1991 with national unemployment rates, the Dow Jones Index change, and the GINI index of income inequality and saw no significant correlation. Suicide-related outcomes did increase with unemployment, but not with the Dow Jones Index change and the GINI index of income inequality.9 However, these are national averages and do not account for individual households.
Golberstein et al. (2019) similarly found broad connections between state unemployment rates and housing price indices and child mental health. However, the results per household do not show a predictable effect of family employment instability on child mental health. The data shows that some children whose caregivers are likely to face unemployment during economic decline suffer a reduction in mental health while others are unaffected, indicating that unemployment is not necessarily a primary catalyst for worsening mental health in youth save in conjunction with some other factor(s).10
Biological gender has much more statistical relevance to the decline of mental health among American youths than race or socioeconomic status. For instance, according to the Pew Research Center, the total percentage of teenagers who have experienced one or more major depressive episodes in the last 12 months increased by 59% between 2007 and 2017, though the rate of increase was significantly higher for girls (66%) than boys (44%).11 Research conducted by Mercado et al. (2017) showed that between 2001 and 2015, rates of hospital admittance due to self-inflicted injury remained stable for boys ages 10 to 24. For females, admittance rates remained stable until 2009. After that, every year between 2009 and 2015, the percentage of female youths hospitalized for self-inflicted injury increased by 8.4 percent.12
Sexual identity also has an impact: according to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report: 2009–2019, the percentage of lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB) high school students who have experienced “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness during the past year” is more than twice as high as that of heterosexual students: 66.3% compared to 32.2% for heterosexual students in 2019. However, it has increased for both populations since 2015, starting at 26.4% for heterosexual students and 60.4% for homosexual students.
A severe worsening in youth mental health, especially in the past few decades, has taken place in what many would call a peculiar moment in time, as most of the traditional indicators of teenage welfare have been improving. As University of California, Irvine, psychologist Candice Odgers says, “Young people are more educated; less likely to get pregnant, use drugs; less likely to die of accident or injury …. By many markers, kids are doing fantastic and thriving. But there are these really important trends in anxiety, depression, and suicide that stop us in our tracks.”13
The sexual recession
As a youth mental health crisis looms, there is another trend ongoing among teenagers and young adults, and that is a marked decline in sexual activity of all kinds across race, ethnicity, and gender. According to a study by Debby Herbenick et al. (2022), between 2009 and 2018 the percentage of adolescent boys (14 to 17) who reported no sexual behavior in the previous year, including even solo masturbation, increased from 28.8% to 44.2%. Among adolescent girls these numbers went from 49.5% (2009) to 74.0% (2018).14 This study also showed a decrease in adult sexual activity as well. However, that change took place at a slower rate, and can partially be explained by a general delay in the age of marriage, as non-married status is a significant indicator of low sexual activity.15
Research by the CDC shows a similar trend. Between 2009 and 2019, the percentage of high school students who have “ever had sex” decreased from 46.0% to 38.4%. There was also a decrease in the percentage of students who “had four or more lifetime sexual partners” (13.8% to 8.6%), and who “were currently sexually active” (34.2% to 27.4%).16 Divided by ethnicity, white students who reported ever having sex decreased from 42.0% in 2009 to 38.0% in 2019. The change was most pronounced in Black students, however, with that number going from 65.2% in 2009 to 42.3% in 2019. For Hispanic students the rate went down from 49.1% (2009) to 41.8% (2019). This pattern held true for the categories “had four or more lifetime sexual partners” and “were currently sexually active” as well.17
Lastly, by sexual orientation, between 2015 and 2019, the percentage of heterosexual students who reported that they had “ever had sex” only slightly decreased, though for lesbian, gay, and bisexual students it decreased more significantly, from 50.8% to 44.9%.
Meanwhile, the percentage of heterosexual students who have “had four or more lifetime sexual partners” decreased from 11.2% in 2015 to 8.2% in 2019. For LGB students, reports of having had four or more sexual partners in ones life decreased from 14.7% (2015) to 11.1% (2019). Finally, the number of LGB students who reported that they were “currently sexually active,” dropped from 35.1% (2015) to 30.3% (2019). There was little change for heterosexual students in this category.
The risks of sex are greatly decreased by not having sex at all, and it is possible that recent changes in sex education have made teenagers more aware of its dangers. But is this sexual recession a consequence of teenagers making healthier choices or are there other explanations worth exploring?
Many of the sources presenting this data, interpreting it purely from a public health approach, take it for granted that this decline in teen sexual activity is a net positive. For instance, in the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report: 2009–2019, the authors color coded each trend in red, yellow, and green: “red” meaning “moving in the wrong direction,” “yellow” meaning “no change,” and “green,” meaning “moving in the right direction.” Each statistic which indicated that sexual behavior amongst teens was decreasing was marked with green – a value judgement made without considering whether or not the sex was unprotected or coerced.
The report calls this trend “especially encouraging,” and suggests that it could be the result of higher quality sexual information available to teens through school and the internet. It also claims “Early initiation of sexual activity is associated with having more sexual partners, not using condoms, sexually transmitted infection and pregnancy during adolescence.” However, this report not only showed a decrease in teen sexual behavior, but a decrease in condom use as well (61.1% of students used a condom the last time they had sex in 2009 compared to 54.3% in 2019), plus a decline in HIV testing (12.7% had ever been tested for HIV in 2009 compared to 9.4% in 2019). Therefore, when Laura Lindberg, principal research scientist at the Guttmacher Institute, said, “we need to do what we can to encourage delay (of sex) and support healthy choices,” she seems to falsely equate the former with the latter.18
Of course, the risks of sex are greatly decreased by not having sex at all, and it is possible that recent changes in sex education have made teenagers more aware of its dangers. But is this sexual recession a consequence of teenagers making healthier choices or are there other explanations worth exploring? A debate about the quality of a nation’s sex life cannot be settled by mere reference to the rates of unplanned pregnancies and STD’s. The less statistically discernible, but equally important concern is whether courtship, sex, and intimacy matter in other ways besides health and safety. Dr. Marty Klein responds by writing “For those of us who think that sexuality can be a positive force for humanizing, connecting and even transforming people, it definitely does.”19
A common denominator?
The fact alone that these two developments are occurring simultaneously gives us little information apart from the type of questions we should be asking. Is there a causal relationship between them? If so, which way? Is the decline in youth mental health contributing to the reduction in sexual activity, or is the decline in sex negatively impacting mental health? It is also possible that they are unconnected to each other, and each caused by their own distinct set of factors. However, as will be shown, there are reasons to suspect that some common sources have affected both. Here is an exploratory look into three aspects of contemporary culture and how they can account for these anomalies.
I. The erasure of play and the syntheticizing of childhood
One silent yet enormous change which has taken over American social life is the slow disintegration of play amongst children and its replacement with adult surveillance and structured/planned activities. Allowing even very young children unregulated reign over their playtime without monitoring or even watching their behavior was once considered sane parenting. Now it’s deemed irresponsible and often criminal. Leonore Skenazy, founder of the blog, “Free-Range Kids” and the non-profit “Let Grow,” has spent the last ten-plus years encouraging parents to give their children the freedom to roam and play unsupervised, and she laments that they are often unable to, due to social pressure and even force of law.
As demonstration, Skenazy cites the case of Danielle and Alexander Meitiv. In 2014, the Meitivs let their ten-year-old son Rafi and their six-year-old daughter Dvora walk home from the park by themselves. An onlooker called the police and Child Protective Services (CPS) forced them to sign a “safety plan” wherein they promised not to let their children out of their sight for more than 48 hours. A few months later, Rafi and Dvora were picked up by the police again – walking home from a different park. They were detained for five hours before their parents Danielle and Alexander were allowed to take them home, and the couple was charged with neglect.
After months of social workers coming into their house and pulling their kids out of school to interview them, charges against the Meitivs were eventually dropped, but not before terrifying them with the prospect of legal retaliation and giving their kids nightmares. Unfortunately, this situation is far from unique and is becoming much more frequent. Between 2003 and 2008, the number of kids taken away from their families by CPS rose from 206,000 to 267,000, almost a 30% increase. More than 41% of these kids, however, were found not to have been mistreated.20
Criminal charges are not the only thing that people need to fear. Even without an official allegation against the parents, child protection can quickly become child intimidation, which is what happened to Heather Head’s two sons. On one occasion, the youngest was approached and scolded by a police officer while riding a bike on his driveway alone. Shortly after, his brother was also stopped by the police while walking a few blocks from home. Both boys soon became too afraid to leave the house by themselves.21
Of course, the police are rarely directly needed to prevent kids from self-directed play and exploration. It’s generally the fears of parents themselves which do the policing for them. Media and corporate entities whose livelihoods depend on emphasizing every possible danger have made caution a cardinal virtue, and the threat that fills them with the most dread should not be difficult to deduce. According to an IKEA study the most cited reason why parents restrict their kids outdoor play was “They may be in danger of child predators” (cited by 49 percent of parents).22
Since the mid-eighties, stranger danger has struck a chord with innumerable Americans, both young and old, and it has especially caught the attention of the federal government, which in 1984 under Ronald Reagan culminated in the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), a government-funded private charity designed to assemble any and all information on children reported missing or abused. However, according to the NCMEC’s 2018 statistics, 95 percent of children reported missing have run away from home while less than 0.1 percent were taken by strangers, and nearly all of these were returned unharmed.23 According to Warwick Cairns, then, a child would need to be left outside for 500,000 years before being abducted by a stranger. Likewise a kid is 14 times more likely to be injured while being driven to school by a parent than while walking to school on their own.
This concern would have been more profitable if directed towards a different threat on children’s well-being – one less thrilling, but much more dangerous: the decreasing of opportunities to play. Cross-cultural research of hunter-gatherer societies has revealed that when they have the opportunity, children never miss a chance to play. Observers have noted that when conditions allow for it, all children, from toddlers just learning to walk to those into their teen years, play and explore freely for as long as there is light.24 However, as several studies have indicated, including one by the University of Michigan, between 1981 and 1997, children have spent more time in school, doing homework, and shopping with parents, and less time spent in outdoor play.
Many scholars, including researcher Peter Gray, have an explanation for the change in youth attitudes and mental health which many sociologists, psychologists, and anthropologists are beginning to take very seriously, and that is the role of play in child and adolescent development. Gray offers five benefits which come from play: they help children “(a) develop intrinsic interests and competencies; (b) learn how to make decisions, solve problems, exert self-control, and follow rules; (c) learn to regulate their emotions; (d) make friends and learn to get along with others as equals; and (e) experience joy.”25
To illustrate this hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt cites an experiment conducted with young rats. One group of rats was kept completely isolated in a cage, one group was allowed to play with another healthy, energetic young rat for an hour a day, and the last was also allowed an hour with another rat – though a rat which had been given a drug to suppress its spirited, roughhousing instincts. Unsurprisingly, the rats who experience an hour a day of playtime exhibited less fear when placed in a new environment and more of an eagerness to explore.26
Of course this experiment is impossible to replicate with humans, but considering that humans more than any other animal rely on experience over instinct for our essential skills (as Haidt notes “Human beings have only about 22,000 genes, but our brains have approximately 100 billion neurons”), there is no reason to suppose its findings are irrelevant to ourselves. Play gives kids the opportunities to test their limits, witness their choices in action, situate themselves among their peers, control their environments, and discover life’s intrinsic pleasures.
Not only is commitment to safetyism gaining more and more territory over the imagination, it’s replacing much of what’s being lost with excessive homework and extracurricular activities.
Play pushes nearly all human boundaries: physical, social, emotional, personal, etc. Wrestling, for example, is a test of strength, but it also requires emotional regulation – being able to fight clean without succumbing to rage and resorting to biting and kicking. It requires one to know one’s own level and the level of the other – holding back when your opponent is smaller than you and not taking advantage of a sprained wrist.
As for climbing and swinging, meanwhile, Gray argues that this is one of the ways kids dose themselves with fear. “All such activities,” he writes, “are fun to the degree that they are moderately frightening. If too little fear is induced, the activity is boring; if too much is induced, it becomes no longer play but terror. Nobody but the child himself or herself knows the right dose.” Lastly, as Gray notes, during sociodramatic activities like pretend play, “you must stay in character: If you are superman, you must not cry when you fall and hurt yourself; And if you are the pet dog, you must walk around on all fours, regardless of the discomfort.”
Free play, in contrast to structured activities such as school sports leagues and board games, is more than something which adults must simply tolerate, it is something that adults must guarantee. Its importance to human development is becoming increasingly documented, and in 2018 the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement on the neurological and cognitive benefits of play, and called on parents to actively encourage it.27 Even still, the obstacles put in place are too numerous. Not only is commitment to safetyism gaining more and more territory over the imagination, it’s replacing much of what’s being lost with excessive homework and extracurricular activities.
The urge to immerse children in disciplines like math and reading as early in their lives as possible to keep them ahead of the pack is what David Epstein calls “the cult of the head start,” and its based on the idea that specialization of a handful of skills over a prolonged period of time leads to greater success than dilettantism or dabbling.28 As more parents adopt the ideology, and kids are driven to accumulate as many accomplishments under their name as possible, William Deresiewicz has added another phrase to the lexicon, calling it “the resume arms race.”29 With an endless list of tasks that kids can be doing to potentially increase their chances in life, what possible benefit could play have – an activity that is “useless” (i.e., undertaken for its own sake) by definition?
Gray answers this by giving several reasons why this “useless” activity should be made a priority. For one thing, unlike tests and other school assignments, wherein a student attempts to decipher another person’s standards and waits to see if they have matched it, play creates a real-time connection between action and its effect on reality. Whether you throw a frisbee downwind instead of against it, whether you open your eyes during blind man’s bluff – the feedback is near instantaneous.
Spending time in this environment helps shift an individual’s locus of control toward the internal. The Locus of Control Scale was originally developed in 1954, and it gauges a person’s belief about how much control they have over their lives. The more “internal” the locus is, the more a person feels that their life is in their control, as opposed to an “external” locus of control, wherein a person feels their life is dictated by other factors. As Gray notes, as time spent in free play began decreasing, the scores of college students shifted dramatically towards an external locus of control,30 writing “The shift was so great that the average young person in 2002 was more external (more prone to claim lack of personal control) than were 80 percent of young people in the 1960s.”31 And as feelings of powerlessness are closely linked with depression, there’s a strong chance that this is one of the reasons it is on the rise as well.32
And, although a loaded term, research analyzed by Twenge has noticed that “narcissism” has also increased over the last several decades based on surveys using the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI). While the NPI has been criticized for sometimes confusing narcissism with healthy self-esteem, and is not a reliable tool for diagnosing narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), it has shown that several traits associated with narcissism have increased. For example, the study suggested that students today are more likely to cheat in academics, and that the percentage of students who ranked “being very well off financially” as their most important goal increased from 46% in 1967 to 73% in 2006, and “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” dropped from 86% to 42%.33
This does not mean that the young today are less moral, or even necessarily more “narcissistic” in both the common and clinical meaning of the word, but it does show a shift of interests from the intrinsic values in life (meaningful relationships, purposeful living) to more outward and external ones (material wealth, status). There is also the possibility that there were biases in the past which affected the way respondents answered these questions, e.g., acquiescence bias and social desirability bias, which are no longer as influential. However, considering the corresponding studies revealing a reduction in feelings of personal control, a decrease in response biases or an increase in self-esteem are unlikely explanations for this study’s results.
If the theory of play presented here is correct: that the will to play is an instinctive early human development impulse designed to foster socialization and self-actualization, what are the real-world impacts of play’s decline? Its relation to the well-being of the individual mind have already been explored, but culturally speaking, what about its effect on institutions and interpersonal relationships? Most of the five benefits of play which Gray presented have social implications as well, and there are good reasons to believe we are observing the results of a generation which was raised with less of it, particularly in the domain of dating, sex, and romance.
Journalist Malcom Harris makes this connection by writing:
A decline in unsupervised free time probably contributes a lot. At a basic level, sex at its best is unstructured play with friends, a category of experience that … time diaries … tell us has been decreasing for American adolescents. It takes idle hands to get past first base, and today’s kids have a lot to do.34
Like play, intimacy requires a willingness to step within a sphere of shifting boundaries and to co-write the rules in the moment, something becoming increasingly difficult. Indeed, despite the fact that tolerance for diverse sexual orientations is the highest it has been in modern history, that has not translated into higher and more seamless coupling. According to a recent Gallup poll, 21% of Gen Z identifies as LGBT: twice as much as Millennials and many times the rate of those born before 1980. However, as Eric Kaufman writes, there is a conspicuous absence of any corresponding rise in homosexual activity.35 36 And the CDC confirms that the number of LGB teenagers who are sexual active is declining.
As for the sex that young people are having … it’s often not as pleasant as it could be, especially for women. Using a sample of almost 2,000 men and women in the 2012 National Survey of Sexual Health Behavior, Herbenick remarks on the frequency of “rough sex,” including choking, restraining, spanking, etc., writing, “They’re hooking up with this person they’re really into, and suddenly that person hits them or punches them, or maybe they even ask to be hit, but they think it’s going to be a light, little playful slap and they just get walloped.”37 Meanwhile, psychologist Lucia O’Sullivan became concerned with the amount of unpleasurable sex when she discovered how many vulvar fissues were detected in her university’s student-health center. These women were not reporting rape, but the state of their genitals revealed that they were frequently having rough “sexual experiences that they didn’t want (and) weren’t aroused by.”38
Herbenick believes that even though we don’t have good data for comparison, these rates are likely on the rise, and porn may have something to do with it. Despite the persistent scapegoating of porn by reactionaries, even sex therapists like Marty Klein worry that pornography can replace healthy sexual education and sexual expression instead of improving it. Porn is scripted and then watched. Sex is negotiated and then performed – often simultaneously. Klein writes,
While organized psychology and well-meaning advocacy groups are encouraging young people to thoughtfully explore their idiosyncratic gender and sexual orientation, there is very little attention to the way these same young people are imagining actual sexual activity as complicated, dangerous, and something that’s more symbolic than practical.39
Porn cannot fix this because its primary focus is on people – their bodies and their desires – and not the space in between. It doesn’t focus much on the relationship between them, the norms in their lives, or the people outside of the room who may be influencing their decisions and how they’ll be affected by them.
In a world where teens struggle to find meaningful relationships at the same time as they watch their parent’s marriages fall apart, people are eagerly turning to sex and relationship experts for the right formula for effective communication, cooperation, and intimacy. However, it’s possible that the best education for these skills which a person can receive comes from time spent in unsupervised play, where nothing is “taught,” but much is learned.
II. Communal breakdown
The previous section investigated the trends in parenting and schooling that influenced the upbringing of the Gen Z birth cohort (as well as many Millenials). This section will tackle some of the same themes – though this time with a focus on the broader cultural and economic landscape which was forming at the same time.
While children and teens have been facing increasing obstacles coming together and forming autonomous communities through play, the rest of American society was also disconnecting from one another at a surprising pace. Group activities and acts of civil engagement seemed to no longer have the attraction they once had for a significant number of citizens. According to research done by Robert Putnam, civic engagement has been declining since the 1960s, and from the early 1960s to 1990, voting, something which Putnam calls “the simplest act of citizenship,” had decreased by nearly 25%. Meanwhile, between 1973 and 1993, the number of Americans who reported “attend(ing) a public meeting on town or school affairs” dropped from 22% to 13%.40 Church attendance, though steady from 1938 to 1997 with around 70% of U.S. adults reporting membership in a church, synagogue, or mosque, has dropped from 69% in 1998-2000 to 52% in 2016-2018.41
As the currency of social capital becomes more unstable, other types of capital are defining more of people’s lives.
The drop in church attendance has been frequently commented on, but less well known is the decline of the role of fraternal societies in American life. According to Rodrick T. Long, in the 1920s a quarter of all adult Americans were involved in some fraternal organization or “lodge” such as the Elks, Shriners, and Masons. They were particularly popular among immigrant and ethnic minorities and they served as both voluntary mutual aid associations and social organizations, as well as community service centers.42 Between the 1980s and the 1990s, however, membership in these groups has been tapering as well – down 12% for the Lions since 1983, down 27% for the Shriners since 1979, and down 44% for the Jaycees since 1979. This not to mention the significant drops in participation in Boy Scouts, labor unions, parent-teacher associations, and the Red Cross.43
While Putnam does note some countertrends to this general disengagement, such as increased participation in many social justice and environmental causes including the Sierra Club and the National Organization for Women, he argues that these organizations don’t provide the same opportunities for community connection and solidarity. First of all, they are scattered. Unlike the numerous local women’s clubs throughout the 19th century and much of the 20th, where members were often friends with one another and were in close contact on a daily basis, many of these new organizations confine themselves to sending a few newsletters. Today, unity and solidarity means little more than a “like” or a “repost” – a long way from the level of community building seen just a few decades ago.
Even neighbors who live less than 30 feet away from one another are becoming more and more distant. According to Joe Cartwright, “In the 1970s, nearly 30 percent of Americans frequently spent time with neighbors, and only 20 percent had no interactions with them. Today, those proportions are reversed.”44
What happens when these connections are severed is something with subtle, but pervasive effects: the erosion of social capital. “Social capital,” according to political scientists like Robert D. Putnam and Francis Fukuyama, is the capital derived from the relationships, shared values, common identity, trust and reciprocity, and established norms of a given society that allows it to function and sustain itself. Social capital theory has been applied to various disciplines. Fukuyama has analyzed its role in corporate/market economies.45 Jane Jacobs, meanwhile, incorporates it into urban sociology.
In her classic The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961) she addresses the issue of safety, writing, “the first thing to understand is that the public peace – the sidewalk and street peace – of cities is not kept primarily by the police …. It is kept primarily by an intricate, almost unconscious, network of voluntary controls and standards among the people themselves, and enforced by the people themselves.”46 Unfortunately, as Jacobs makes clear, social capital takes a long time to develop, and is easily destroyed. Gentrification and other “slum clearing” policies replace small businesses with imposed economies of scale and replace bottom-up crime deterrence with police surveillance.
Paul Goodman likewise writes,
“… official policy has often worked to increase delinquency rather than remedy it …. Slums have been torn down wholesale, disrupting established community life. By not building on vacant land and by neglecting master planning, our officials have created insoluble problems of relocation and have vastly increased the number of one-room flats, making decent family life impossible.”47
Both Goodman and Jacobs were convinced that self-organization and sense of community were the prime benefactors of safety and social cohesion, and the data suggests they were right, as studies conducted in Chicago showed that neighborhoods with higher levels of trust and social engagement were closely linked with low rates of violence.48
Even without strong social ties, people still need to interact with one another. To attempt to maintain cohesiveness and prevent the group from splintering into sectarian factions, many institutions have taken drastic, through highly counterproductive measures, most visibly on college campuses.
As the currency of social capital becomes more unstable, other types of capital are defining more of people’s lives. The digitalization of the workforce and the advent of the “gig economy” (the increase of independent, highly mobile, temporary workers as opposed to steady employees in a company), the hierarchization of large firms, globalized systems of trade, high levels of immigration, outsourcing, and the now widespread use of cryptocurrency have all made economic and human capital more important, more fungible, and much faster. Social capital, on the other hand, has become no easier to transfer, and no less easily destroyed.
As civil engagement and group activities have been on the decline, misanthropy has seen an increase. According to Tom W. Smith, national research conducted by the GSS (General Social Surveys) shows that between 1975 and 1992 rates of misanthropy, measured by a three-item scale adapted from Morris Rosenberg’s five-item misanthropy index (1956), have significantly increased among high school seniors. For instance, when asked “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people?” 34.5% believed that others could be trusted in 1975, compared to 18.3% in 1992.49 Belief in the average helpfulness and fairness of others showed a similar decrease as well.
A causal relationship between these two trends is difficult to prove, however, there are grounds for assuming that there is a connection, considering the links between social connectedness and mental health. Research by Twenge et al, reveals that changing rates of anxiety and neuroticism show a clear correlation between scores in anxiety and social connectedness, especially among those in middle childhood and adolescents.50 Other studies similarly point out the impact of low community engagement and feelings of burdensomeness on depression and suicidality.51 52
Now, even without strong social ties, people still need to interact with one another. To attempt to maintain cohesiveness and prevent the group from splintering into opposing units via sectarianism, many institutions have taken drastic, through highly counterproductive measures, most visibly on college campuses. For instance, instead of addressing speech that one feels hurt by and contesting the thesis of the argument and/or the language being used, restricting certain ideas and censoring them when they crop up is quickly becoming normalized.
For example, Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a First Amendment rights group, noticed this change when he saw that students, who have traditionally been the ones who appealed to FIRE when they believe that the faculty was trying to silence them, have now become the ones requesting that certain material be removed from the courses and controversial speakers are disinvited. Lukianoff writes that even though students have always protested ideas they opposed, recently these calls for censorship have begun to appropriate a medicalized language, referencing things such as “mental health,” “safety,” and “ability to function.”53
When people lose faith in the possibility of forming meaningful bonds with peers, especially across religious and political lines, protection from emotional pain becomes an administrative issue. One incident, though no doubt anecdotal, demonstrates this point. In 2014, a student at Northern Michigan University was sexually assaulted. The following year she attempted to address this by visiting the university’s counseling office.
Shortly after, she received an email from the associate dean of students, Mary Brundage, which read:
…engaging [sic] in any discussion of suicidal or self-destructive thoughts or actions with other students interferes with, or can hinder, their pursuit of education and community. It is important that you refrain from discussing these issues with other students and use the appropriate resources listed below. If you involve other students in suicidal or self-destructive thoughts or actions you will face disciplinary action. My hope is that, knowing exactly what could result in discipline, you can avoid putting yourself in that position.54
As disturbing as this email is, this is not the only time NMU has sent this out. Dozens of other students over the years have received an email like this, threatening them with academic discipline if they discussed thoughts of suicide or self-harm with others. NMU has since changed their policy after much criticism from student activists and mental health professionals, but not before Dean Brundage defended the policy by saying, “relying on your friends can be very disruptive to them.”55
This intensive focus today on “harm” – that harm of any type or degree is morally intolerable and must be prevented at all costs – has impacted many spheres of life, though perhaps none more than sex. Although the sexual revolution promised to clear sex of all unneeded baggage, leaving only personal liberty and human happiness, this vision was quickly complicated. This was largely a result of the HIV/AIDS crisis and the Satanic panic of the 1980s, during which time the religious Right gained a foothold in government, but the Left legalist wing of the feminist movement made just as much of a contribution, loading sex not with right-wing ideas of “disease” or “perversion,” but with updated concepts like ‘objectification,” “power imbalance,” and “coercion.”
Laura Kipnis describes the reclinicalization of sex by writing,
“…before AIDS turned sex into a crime scene replete with perpetrators and victims – back when sex, even when not so great or when people got their feelings hurt, fell under the category of life experience –words like pleasure and liberation got tossed around a lot. But campus culture has moved on and now the metaphors veer toward the extractive rather than additive – sex takes something away from you, at least if you’re a woman: your safety, your choices, your future. It’s contaminating: you can catch trauma, which, like a virus, never goes away.”56
In this cultural climate, sex is increasingly treated as a market transaction instead of an activity, where poor experiences constitute real losses. As a result, lawsuits are in the air. According to Kipnis, when a Title IX violation is being investigated, many of the accused are not given any specifics about what they have been charged with, and are not allowed to confront the witnesses, discuss the investigations, or even present a defense. Consequently, hundreds of lawsuits from falsely accused students have been brought against colleges for railroading them without due process, and one insurance company paid $36 million in settlements between 2006 and 2010.57
Meanwhile, there is still an abundance of women being left unheard and unprotected by that same system. One woman is suing Harvard for ignoring abuse by her ex-boyfriend, despite several interviews with her, him, and 17 other witnesses, and reviewing texts and emails exchanged between them.58 Unfortunately, there are innumerable stories of a similar nature drowned out by the continuing conflation of displeasure and violation. For instance, Fischel writes, “I worry that the more we equate consent with desire, pleasure, or enthusiasm, the more students will feel themselves as sexually assaulted when sex does not go well ….”59
This also relates to a deeper problem, and that is that many people, particularly women, do experience bad sex – from sex that it boring and unsatisfying to sex that is physically painful.60 To put sex on a scale between “good” and “rape” sends a message to women that they must either learn to enjoy sex that does not give them pleasure or launch a Title IX investigation. What’s worse is that college bureaucracies not only support this dichotomy, but enforce it. Mandatory reporting policies require that all faculty and staff notify the administration when informed about a potential case of sexual harassment. These policies effectively bar students from asking a trusted adult for advice about incidents which they want to discuss and interpret before deciding whether it merits formal investigation.
To borrow a concept from economics, this disrupts the free flow of market information in the dating pool. Whereas once, men and women could share details about partners they’ve been with, e.g., who’s open to new experiences, who isn’t interested, who’s looking for a committed relationship, and who you should stay away from, policies like these can create a chilling effect and remind people that they need to watch what they say.
With so much sex that is bad for women and dangerous for men, it’s no wonder that young adults and teenagers are beginning to have less of it. For males, at least, this has culminated in an official social movement called “MGTOW” (Men Going Their Own Way).61 The movement combines principles of self-help and independence with hyperbolic and spurious beliefs about women and feminism’s control over society, and it encourages men to abstain from romantically pursuing women, and sometimes to avoid them entirely. One 15-year old boy, part of a growing number of people involved in TGTOW (Teens Going Their Own Way), says, “It’s probably not true of all women, but I’ve got the feeling that women are dangerous. Maybe the men around me have just had bad experiences.”62
For most of the people who are feeling the effects of the sexual recession, however, their lives are not as explicitly ideological. As social norms and bonds decay, people’s ability to form networks of communication and mutual aid to help navigate the complexities of dating and deter abuse decays with it, and is replaced by top-down administrative bodies which operate by pitting people against one another in a winner-take-all fight and obstructing the possibilities for common understanding. And as the media continues to exploit these stories in the most sensationalistic way possible, the liberating and enriching elements seem more like a postscript of sex, and many young people have just lost interest.
III. Digitizing the drive
Finally, dovetailing all of these factors contributing to the decline in youth sexual activity and the increase in mental health issues is the internet, particularly social networking sites (SNS). High profile SNSs such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have received large amounts of scrutiny from the public and the media over the last several years for their alleged role in promoting self-esteem issues, “screen addiction,” etc. In response, many have criticized the tendency to pile a variety of social ills onto SNS without regard for competing data and confounding factors.63 Some, such as New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo, believe that while the dangers of social networking deserves our attention, many of its denunciations are hasty, fear-driven, and bordering on “moral panic.”64
Imparting a completely causal significance to SNS is, indeed, unwise as many of the trends in declining mental health began before SNS, or even widespread cell phone or internet usage existed. For example, one of the steepest spikes in suicide amongst males ages 15 to 19 occurred between 1975 and 1990, from 12.0 per 100,000 to 18.1.65 Nor can it necessarily take the blame for the decreasing rates of civil engagement, as the data on voter turnout, PTA membership, and labor union memberships cited by Putnam each had their sharpest drops between the early 60s and the early 90s.66
However, much of the data collected on declining teen and young adult sexual activity such as that by Herbenick and the CDC indicate that this trend does coincide with the ascent of the internet and SNS.67 Furthermore, research by Twenge et al. (2017) showed a positive correlation between screen time usage in adolescents and depressive symptoms or suicide-related outcomes, and teens using electronic devices for three or more hours a day were 34% more likely to have a suicide-related outcome then those who used those devices for two hours a day or less.68 However, as the authors note, the outcomes of these studies depend “on motivation for using social media and whether the frequency of use qualifies as addictive.”69 For this reason, results vary, and according to Tang et al. (2021) in a systematic review of 35 studies, there is a lack of consistent evidence on the association between screen time and poor mental health outcomes in teens.70 The authors agree with Twenge et al. that the type of digital activity conducted and the motivation behind it needs to be analyzed specifically as opposed to total usage of electronic devices, including video games, television, etc.
For example, while mental health issues such as anxiety, poor self-esteem, and general internalizing problems showed no significant correlation with total screen time (apart from depressive symptoms which had a “small to very small” association with total screen time)71 according to a UK study by the Office for National Statistics, children ages 10 to 15 who spend more than three hours a day on social networking sites had significantly higher difficulty scores on the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire, scoring 13.3 out of 40, compared to those who spend less time on them (10.5) and those who didn’t use them at all (10.2).72 Meanwhile, a study by Woods and Scott (2016) demonstrates that social media use, particularly when usage occurs at night and is accompanied by high emotional investment, is positively correlated with poorer sleep quality, lower self-esteem, and higher levels of depression and anxiety.73
It can be said, then, that even if technology is not the primary cause of some of the issues addressed above, it is likely an exacerbating factor and possibly reinforces many mental health issues already extant. To hypothesize how it may do this, it could be beneficial to wonder, not what technology (particularly social networking sites) deprives people of, but what it offers. It appears that there are three major benefits that SNS provides which have been lost in recent decades.
Firstly, the internet is (or feels) safe. The feeling of unsafety among children and teenagers is becoming increasingly relevant in the media. A recent international study showed that among 13 European and Asian countries, an average 31.4% did not feel safe at school.74 In America, according to a study by YouthTruth, only 59% of students reported feeling safe at school.75 Given that high levels of social connectedness and areas high in social capital both make people safer and feel safer,7677 it is understandable why technology is being used more frequently as an emotional regulator, and according to a Pew Research Center study, 11% of teens “often” and 32% of teens “sometimes” use their smartphones to “avoid interacting with people.”78
Unlike a party or a walk through a city street, using digital media allows individuals to directly control the level of information they want to experience, as they can increase or decrease it on command. This flexibility makes laptops and computers an especially enticing pastime, as they filter out much of the unpredictability of experience without leading to total seclusion.
The second benefit that SNS provides is connection. With loneliness on the rise amongst teens, SNS gives people something like the feeling of belonging.79 As in Gray’s theory of play, SNS involves participating in an activity alongside others for some collective purpose, though unlike Gray’s play, the primary function is much more related to comparison with others and much less to joy in the activity itself. As one 10th grader put it in an essay for class,
When I have my phone out, it makes me feel like nothing else is going on around me. I use social media as a way to feel popular, important, and also just to fit in. My friends and I always compare ourselves to each other, wondering who has more Facebook friends or Twitter followers. But what really ends up happening is I begin to talk less and end up relying on text for a conversation. Ever since I got a smartphone I have been distracted from everything. I watch television less, do homework less, and even spend less time with my friends and family.80
The appeal of SNS to isolated young people may come from its presentation of a large variety of potential connections, even as it avoids opportunities for true personal connections.
Lastly, SNS and the internet is stimulating in a way that few other activities and types of media can match. Studies on the effects of increased digital stimulation on the brain are mixed, and though some studies have linked overexposure to digital media to the decrease of certain cognitive functions such as attention span and social intelligence,81 evidence of a uniform correlation between screen time and cognitive decline is limited.82 There are many different ways people can experience excessive amounts of sensory stimulation with various neurological effects, however, the internet and SNS do deserve particular attention for their unique user-controlled format. Unlike a party or a walk through a city street, using digital media allows individuals to directly control the level of information they want to experience, as they can increase or decrease it on command. This flexibility makes laptops and computers an especially enticing pastime, as they filter out much of the unpredictability of experience without leading to total seclusion.
Those are three ways in which technology seems to reinforce, and thereby perpetuate, the current trends towards social isolation, more external loci of control, and depression/anxiety. It also makes the prospect of living without romantic and sexual relationships more palatable. Atlantic editor Kate Julian, who coined the term “sex recession,” received a letter from one 24-year-old male:
The internet has made it so easy to gratify basic social and sexual needs that there’s far less incentive to go out into the “meatworld” and chase those things. This isn’t to say that the internet can give you more satisfaction than sex or relationships, because it doesn’t … [But it can] supply you with just enough satisfaction to placate those imperatives … I think it’s healthy to ask yourself: “If I didn’t have any of this, would I be going out more? Would I be having sex more?” For a lot of people my age, I think the answer is probably yes.83
For some, like the young man quoted above, the internet simple satisfies the desire for courtships and sex. For others, it seems to replace it.
For example, another person Julian contacted said about her relationship with her partner, “We’d probably have a lot more sex, if we didn’t get home and turn on the TV and start scrolling through our phones.”84 Thus, though most of the data suggests that dating and romance is declining at much the same rate as sexual activity, this suggests that even within established relationships, many are giving sex a lower priority. Growing disinterest in finding sexual partners is not unique to North America and Europe. Japan is encountering a similar phenomenon. One term, soushoku danshi (lit: “grass-eating boys”) was popularized by philosopher Masahiro Morioka, and it refers to the new wave of young, timid Japanese males who don’t feel compelled to pursue relationships or other societal standards of success. This is accompanied by the rise of onakura shops, where men go to pay women to watch them masturbate.85
As noted, earlier, despite this lack of confidence surrounding sex, rates of LGBT self-indentification have significantly increased. Roughly 21% of people in Gen Z identify as LGBT – nearly double the percentage of millennials. However, this rise has been accompanied by only a marginal rise in homosexual behavior.86 A very likely explanation for this seems to be related to the internet, SNS, and the “confessional society” they foster. Zygmunt Bauman uses the phrase “confessional society” to describe the growing acceptability of using technology to project one’s personal thoughts and desires into view.87
A world of identities is becoming easier to exist in. Through a social media profile, one can announce sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, ethnicity, political ideologies, job and relationship status, film preferences, etc. It’s a reification of the self which exists motionlessly for others to see. What it doesn’t facilitate so well is interaction with the world – combining one’s stagnant state of existence with the fluctuating circumstances of reality – particularly the shifting structures of human relationships. Whatever factors are driving more and more teens and young adults into frigidity and discontentedness, technology does not give them any motivation to leave.
What two better ambitions could one generation have for the one to follow but that they be safer and happier? By many standards, Gen Z is safer: they are drinking less, waiting longer to drive, and more knowledgeable about the risk factors of contracting an STI than any generation before. And yet, compared to earlier generations, they are stunted and isolated, feeling powerless and afraid. Whether the decline in sexual activity is another symptom of the issues contributing to the worsening state of youth mental health or a secondary symptom caused by poor mental health, the two phenomena are clearly interconnected at numerous points.
Some of the issues responsible for the sexual deficit and the mental health crisis relate to the upbringing of today’s youth, including the lack of unsupervised play, intensive surveillance and protection from real or imagined threats, and the high importance placed on academic performance / extracurricular activities. The youth mental health crisis also reflects broader developments in society, from the weakening of community bonds and social capital to the confusion and danger inherent in “consent culture” to the internet and social media pervading nearly every aspect of today’s world.
All together, it’s a perfect storm. But how long will it last, and will it change before Generation Alpha – those born roughly between the mid-2010s and the mid 2020s – begins coming of age? One can only speculate, but at this pace, it doesn’t seem likely. What, then, will be the long-term consequences? Poor mental health not only affects quality of life, but can lead to suicide and can even cause complications like heart disease and gastrointestinal problems.88 It also affects workplace productivity, and can cause a moderate strain on the economy via disability benefits and medical costs.
We are moving into a society where people do not necessarily need sex and relationships to function. Love and sex with another person are widely regarded as key elements of a joyful and full life, but one can still find modest satisfaction with less or even none. And, despite the seriousness of mental illness, treatments for them are improving constantly, and people can not only manage them, but lead positive, fulfilling lives with them. People may be finding themselves with a little less pleasure and a little more pain, but the economic engines can remain stable. Now we must ask ourselves, is stability the most we can hope for?
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4 Cassandra Rutledge Newsom, Robert P. Archer, Susan Trumbetta, and Irving I. Gottesman, “Changes in Adolescent Response Patterns on the MMPI/MMPI-A Across Four Decades,” Journal of Personality Assessment 81 (2003): 74–84.
5 Twenge, J. M., Joiner, T. E., Rogers, M. L., & Martin, G. N. (2018). Increases in depressive symptoms, suicide-related outcomes, and suicide rates among U.S. adolescents after 2010 and links to increased new media screen time. Clinical Psychological Science, 6(1), 3–17. https://doi.org/10.1177/2167702617723376
8 The Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report: 2009–2019
9 See note 3.
10 Golberstein E, Gonzales G, Meara E. How do economic downturns affect the mental health of children? Evidence from the National Health Interview Survey. Health Econ. 2019 Aug;28(8):955-970. doi: 10.1002/hec.3885. Epub 2019 Jun 4. PMID: 31165566; PMCID: PMC7427110.
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12 Mercado MC, Holland K, Leemis RW, Stone DM, Wang J. Trends in Emergency Department Visits for Nonfatal Self-inflicted Injuries Among Youth Aged 10 to 24 Years in the United States, 2001-2015. JAMA.2017;318(19):1931–1933. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.13317
14 Herbenick D, Rosenberg M, Golzarri-Arroyo L, Fortenberry JD, Fu TC. Changes in Penile-Vaginal Intercourse Frequency and Sexual Repertoire from 2009 to 2018: Findings from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior. Arch Sex Behav. 2022 Apr;51(3):1419-1433. doi: 10.1007/s10508-021-02125-2. Epub 2021 Nov 19. PMID: 34799832; PMCID: PMC8604196.
16 See note 7
22 Family Kids and Youth, Playreport: International Summary of Research Results (2010) (Cited from Gray ).
23 Levine & Meiners, The Feminist and the Sex Offender, (2020).
24 Peter Gray, “The Decline of Play and the Rise of Psychopathology in Children and Adolescents,” (2011).
26 Lukianoff, Greg, and Jonathan Haidt. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure. Penguin Books, 2019.
28 Epstein, David. Range. Penguin USA, 2020.
30 Jean M. Twenge, Liqing Zhang, and Charles Im, “It’s Beyond My Control: A Cross- Temporal Meta-Analysis of Increasing Externality in Locus of Control, 1960–2002,” Personality and Social Psychology Review 8 (2004): 308–19. (cited in Gray 2010).
31 See note 24
32 Lyn Y. Abramson, Gerald I. Metalsky, and Lauren B. Alloy, “Hopelessness Depression: A Theory-Based Subtype of Depression,” Psychological Review 96 (1989): 358–72
33 John H. Pryor, Sylvia Hurtado, Victore B. Saenz, Josẻ Luis Santos, and William S. Korn, The American Freshman: Forty Year Trends, 1966–2006 (2007): 32. The steepest rates of changes in these two life goals occurred between 1967 and 1987; then the slopes leveled off, and the percentages remained relatively constant from year to year (Gray’s note).
34 Harris, Malcolm. Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials. Back Bay Books/Little Brown and Company, 2018.
37 Herbenick D, Schick V, Sanders SA, Reece M, Fortenberry JD. Pain experienced during vaginal and anal intercourse with other-sex partners: findings from a nationally representative probability study in the United States. J Sex Med. 2015 Apr;12(4):1040-51. doi: 10.1111/jsm.12841. Epub 2015 Feb 4. PMID: 25648245.
39 See note 19
43 See note 25.
45 Fukuyama, Francis. “Social Capital.” The Tanner Lectures on Human Values, Oxford, Brasenose College. 1997.
46 Jacobs, Jane. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Cape, 1961.
47 Goodman, Paul. Growing up Absurd. Vintage Bks., 1960.
48 Sampson, Robert J., et al. “Neighborhoods and Violent Crime: A Multilevel Study of Collective Efficacy.” Science, vol. 277, no. 5328, 1997, pp. 918–24. (Cited in Fukuyama, 1999).
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50 See note 3.
51 Steger, M. F.; Kashdan, T. B. (2009). “Depression and everyday social activity, belonging, and well-being”. Journal of Counseling Psychology. 56 (2): 289–300.
52 Joiner, T. E. Jr.; Pettit, J. W.; Walker, R. L.; Voelz, Z. R.; Cruz, J.; Rudd, M. D.; Lester, D. (2002). “Perceived burdensomeness and suicidality: Two studies on the suicide notes of those attempting and those completing suicide”. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology. 21 (5): 531–545.
53 Lukianoff, Greg, and Jonathan Haidt. The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting up a Generation for Failure. Penguin Books, 2019.
54 https://bit.ly/3vAJ2xN (cited in Lukianoff and Haidt, 2019)
56 Kipnis, Laura. Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus. HARPERCOLLINS, 2018.
59 Fischel, Joseph J. Screw Consent: A Better Politics of Sexual Justice. California.
60 See note 37
65 See note 7
66 See note 26
67 Trends in the Prevalence of Sexual Behaviors and HIV Testing National YRBS: 1991—2015
68 See note 5
70 Samantha Tang, et al, The relationship between screen time and mental health in young people: A systematic review of longitudinal studies, Clinical Psychology Review, Volume 86, 2021, 102021, ISSN 0272-7358, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2021.102021.
72 Measuring National Well-being: Insights into children’s mental health and well-being, Office for National Statistics, 20 October 2015.
73 Woods HC, Scott H. #Sleepyteens: Social media use in adolescence is associated with poor sleep quality, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. J Adolesc. 2016 Aug;51:41-9. Doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2016.05.008. Epub 2016 Jun 10. PMID: 27294324.
74 Yuko Mori et al, Feeling Unsafe at School Among Adolescents in 13 Asian and European Countries: Occurrence and Associated Factors, Frontiers in Psychiatry (2022), DOI: 10.3389/fpsyt.2022.823609. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9082541/
77 See note 31
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86 See notes 24 and 25
87 Bauman, Z. (2007). Consuming Life. Cambridge: Polity.