Mission & Vision

The Problem

Adolescents are in a mental health crisis. Major depressive episodes among American teens have more than doubled since 2010 as their social lives moved onto smartphones loaded with social media apps. The only available explanation for why this happened in many countries at the same time is that the ancient “play-based childhood” was replaced by the “phone-based childhood.”

The changes started in the 1980s and 1990s when adults in the U.S. and other English-speaking countries began systematically depriving children and adolescents of freedom, unsupervised play, responsibility, and opportunities for risk-taking, all of which promote competence, maturity, and mental health. This change in childhood accelerated in the early 2010s when an already independence-deprived generation was lured into a new virtual universe that seemed safe to parents but was, in fact, more dangerous than the physical world. It was in this brief period—2010 to 2015—that children’s lives changed so rapidly that we call it “the great rewiring of childhood.” This is precisely the period in which teen mental health began to collapse in many countries around the world. Many published experiments now show that moving teen social life onto phones and social media is a cause, not just a correlate, of bad mental health. The new “phone-based childhood” has been a disaster of epic proportions. We must roll it back.


To motivate and empower teens, parents, educators, policymakers, and tech industry leaders to act collectively to free children and adolescents from a childhood spent largely alone on screens, and instead promote independence, free play, and responsibility in the real world.


We foresee a world in which our children have reclaimed their birthright: a play-rich and community-centered childhood. Children are no longer overprotected in the real world while being underprotected online.

Play-based Childhood World

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