Hope and peace for the anxious generation

Published: 1st May 2024

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt has coined the phrase the “anxious generation” to describe those adolescents whose mental health declined sharply in the early 2010s. He links this directly to the growth in ownership of affordable smart phones which, he says, wiped out “play-based” childhood and replaced it with a “phone-based” childhood. Perhaps Haidt’s analysis is too simplistic, but he believes he has the research to prove it. He argues, a “phone-based” childhood is an impoverished one and has led to growing rates of depression and anxiety amongst young people.

Of course, the older generation always looks on the activities of the young with a mystified suspicion and sometimes sees danger where there is none, but it is also true that every new technology brings with it risk as a well as opportunity.

As Christians we have something important to offer to the debate by affirming both the dignity of the individual-in-community and the goodness of the material world.

If indeed the online world is making us anxious, this is, in part, because it in encourages us to find our worth in comparison with others rather than in relationship with one another. Social media can distort our understanding of what is really true about our lives and those of others - the Instagram posts that depict perfect lives that do not exist, the X/Twitter storms that set us against one another. The scriptures are clear: our value and significance does not depend on the opinions of others or how well our lives compare to others. Our dignity and identity are found only in the fact that we are made and loved by God whose love is not conditional on how we look or what we think.

This same God has also made us to be in relationship with one another and to express this in community life.

Communities and relationships are made online and they can be very supportive, but we are more than the disembodied avatars tapping away on our keyboards and flickering on a screen. We need more, as the pandemic demonstrated. We crave the warmth and intimacy that interaction in the physical world and actual people can bring alone. It is no accident that St Paul’s picture for the church is that of a body and, at their best, churches are places in which we discover what it means to be fully embodied, living, breathing people held in relationship with God and others. In a fretful, lonely and competitive digital world, your church, with all its grace and messiness, joys and frustrations, can be a place of hope and peace for the anxious generation.

Rt Revd Matthew Parker, Bishop of Stafford
1 May 2024


Page last updated: Wednesday 1st May 2024 11:31 AM
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