The great peril at the heart of democracy is that no one can compel anyone to save democracy. That is, no one can compel the sort of behavior that would sustain it—or, at least the government cannot.

Our Constitutional Republic rests on the radical hope that the American people, of their own accord, will be virtuous. Thank God for our Constitution, but without virtue, the basest of human passions, as John Adams put it, “would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net.”

English writer G. K. Chesterton commented on this conflict in “Orthodoxy”: “In short, the democratic faith is this: that the most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men themselves—the mating of the sexes, the rearing of the young, the laws of the state.”

This is why, hand in hand with Convention of States, we are also interested in self-governance. We must order the federal government, but we must also order our own lives. If ordinary men do not mate, rear, or legislate appropriately, the Republic will falter, whether the “system” is healthy or not.

This leads me to one of the greatest crises of self-governance today: the existential crisis of Gen Z.

My generation is in a tailspin. Forgive me for being perhaps overly pessimistic but this tailspin of meaning threatens to topple society as we know it. Our government is, for good reason, gravely concerned. But this is one of those affairs that cannot be handled on the federal level. It must be addressed by us all.

Here is what I mean:

SEE ALSO: ‘Grotesque Fantasy’ targets Gen Z

Those born between 1997 and 2012 (Gen Z) are shockingly depressed, suicidal, lonely, and confused. Mental health is plummeting even as self-harm rates skyrocket. “For people ages 10 to 24, suicide rates increased almost 60% between 2007 and 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Emergency department visits for suspected suicide attempts among adolescents rose 31% from 2019 to 2020….”

Curiously, this rapid increase first began in 2012. As psychologist Jonathan Haidt noted, “If you’d stopped collecting data in 2011… you’d see little change from previous years.”

To further note, the mushrooming crisis primarily affected only Gen Z. Anxiety, for example, increased by 18 percent for Gen X and decreased for boomers between 2012 and 2018. But for Gen Z, in that same six-year period, anxiety increased by a shocking 92 percent.

This begs the question: what happened in 2012? Two things worth noting here: Facebook purchased Instagram, and “selfies” became a global phenomenon (the first forward-facing smartphone camera launched in 2010—it was “much improved in the iPhone 5,” which launched in 2012).

This leads many to conclude that we should hold social media companies responsible for Gen Z’s mental health crisis. I agree—to an extent. But whose fault really is this?

After The Wall Street Journal in a bombshell report exposed that “Facebook knows Instagram is toxic for teen girls,” the social media giant found itself embroiled in a congressional investigation. Politicians concluded that more government oversight was needed. “It is time for Congress to act,” declared one social media spokesperson.

But is this truly Congress’s problem to solve? What about parents? If anything, this crisis should bring neglectful parents into question—not necessarily by Congress but by, well… themselves.

SEE ALSO: Fidelity to spouses and families

Youth these days tend to be overprotected in the real world. Then, they are abruptly handed access to the internet, where they will be severely under-protected. They go from being shielded from “rude” words, never climbing trees, and wearing bike helmets on trampolines to navigating the most vitriolic and menacing place on earth.

We sent them from the nursery to a minefield. That Gen Z has both safe spaces and social media is an oxymoron straight from hell.

Suddenly, the red light district becomes obsolete, Playboy passé. The bullies of yesteryear exist en masse online with enlarged audacity. Everything a good parent would shield their child from now exists in an unrestricted portal at their fingertips. We let them use that portal for hours on end. And yet we want “Congress to act.”

The buck stops with you, parents. And for kids over 18, it stops with you. Don’t blame the waitress for your corpulence when you won’t stop eating. Don’t sell your kids to the devil and then ask Washington to “keep them safe.”

This crisis is solvable but not by Meta or government regulators. And if we, a self-governing people, do not solve it, all of society will continue in its downward spiral. The next generation will be worse.

So my message is to parents. Kids do not need smartphones. They do not need social media. They certainly do not need unrestricted access.

Granted, your kids may be the “odd ones out.” But when everyone else is drifting and depressed, who wants to fit in, anyway?

Jakob Fay is a staff writer for the Convention of States Project, a project of Citizens for Self-Governance.

About The Author