Abigail Shrier: Stop Obsessing Over Our Children's Happiness

The author of Bad Therapy argues that we have created a generation of "emotional hypochondriacs."


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Abigail Shrier is author of the best-selling new book Bad Therapy: Why the Kids Aren't Growing Up. She argues that the mental health of Gen Z—people born between 1997 and 2012—is a mess because an infantilizing therapeutic culture pervades every aspect of their lives.

Shrier stresses that she's not against psychological counseling and help per se, but she believes too many unqualified and misguided people are causing far more problems than they solve.

Her previous book was the controversial Irreversible Damage, which looked at the rapid rise of girls identifying as transgender. We talk about the roots of today's therapeutic culture, the extent of the problems it causes, and how parents, teachers, and young people themselves might find a better way forward.

Previous appearance:

Abigail Shrier: Trans Activists, Cancel Culture, and the Future of Free Expression, July 7, 2021

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This interview has been condensed edited for style and clarity.

Nick Gillespie: The new book is Bad Therapy: Why the Kids Aren't Growing Up. Can you give us the elevator pitch for Bad Therapy?

Abigail Shrier: So I always start a book with a question, and my question was, why are the kids who've gotten the most mental health resources, had the most therapy, the most diagnoses, the most psych meds, the most wellness tips, the most coping tips, etc. They should be the picture of mental health. Instead, they're the picture of despair. And I wanted to know why. 

And I also wanted to know why they have no interest in growing up. Why weren't they looking to move out of their parents' house? A larger percentage of them are living at home more than ever before, even with our low unemployment. Why are they putting off getting a driver's license or claiming that driving is scary? Boys over 17 are saying this. So, those were my two questions, and I found that they were related.

Gillespie: A couple of the big points that you make, which I think are really good and interesting and important, is that all medical interventions or any kind of interaction with a doctor of any stripe, they have the potential for negatives. Explain how that kind of intersects with the topic here.

Shrier: So there's this concept called iatrogenesis, which is a Greek word meaning when the healer introduces harms. What I want people to know is that any intervention, no matter how good, if it is efficacious, if it has the power to help, also necessarily has the power to harm. If it can do anything at all, then of course it can harm. So Tylenol, which is wonderful, can damage your liver if you take too much of it. X-rays. But what people might not know is that therapy, which also has the power to help, can harm as well.

Gillespie: For the context of the book, you're talking about Gen Z, but also kids who are in school now and are dealing with a much more therapeutic culture generally than you or I grew up with. Kids are different from adults. How does that factor into your book?

Shrier: A number of ways. When an adult goes to therapy, an adult first of all makes the decision, I want to work on this or I need the support. I know myself and I need this. You have their buy-in, the therapist has their buy-in, and they show up ready to work. Number two, they've lived enough life that if the therapist is a little off track, or maybe the therapist got the wrong impression, an adult can say, "You know what? I really think I gave you the wrong impression of my mom." Or "Look, my parents were difficult in that regard, but I wouldn't call them toxic. And I don't think breaking off with them is the right move." 

It's very hard for a teenager or a child to say those things, especially if they're angry with mom. They don't know what constitutes emotional abuse, especially if an adult is leading them to think that they were emotionally abused, or that they had experienced trauma. And with a child, you don't have their buy-in. So a therapist is naturally going to want to pander to a child to get them on board. Now, if a child has a severe problem that they're coming to a therapist with, that sort of focuses the mind. You've got a kid who's anorexic or who has severe [obsessive compulsive disorder], you know what they're going to be talking about. But if you drop off a kid who's got some anxiety for general psychodynamic psychotherapy, the therapist could lead in any direction. And I think that's what we're seeing.

Gillespie: How many kids are on psychoactive drugs and in active therapy?

Shrier: We only stopped talking about ADHD not because it was being diagnosed any less—there are more diagnoses—but because so many young kids are on selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) today, the antidepressant. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just cleared Lexapro, which is a very strong antidepressant, for 7-year-olds. In fact, we've been going in one direction, putting kids on more and more and more psychotropic drugs, anti-anxiety medications, and various forms of speed for ADHD. 

So in 2016, one in six kids between the ages of 2 and 8, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), already had a mental health or behavioral diagnosis. Those kids weren't on social media. They didn't have smartphones, certainly not in 2016. They don't have them today. So we know that this diagnosis has been exploding. And also mental health treatment has gone in one direction. So, nearly 40 percent of the rising generation has been to see a therapist already. And I'm not the only one to have noticed this—a team of researchers did a year ago and called this the treatment prevalence paradox. 

What they were noticing is that with treatment of illness, the more treatment there is, the more the point prevalence rate of a disorder should go down. We saw this with breast cancer treatment and other things. The incidence of death from breast cancer went down with more pervasive treatment. Here, there's been vast expansion of treatment and the rates of depression and anxiety have only gone up.

Gillespie: Supporters of that trend would say, "Well, that's because it's an epidemic. It's a pandemic of anxiety, of depression, of isolation, of whatever." But you're effectively saying that it's probably more caused by the intervention itself. Let's also talk about how the therapy culture has gone into schools. Because it used to be, certainly 30-40 years ago, teachers were not trained in therapy. They were not expected to be counselors. Most schools probably didn't even have school counselors or psychologists or anything like that on staff. But now, everywhere you look, that is considered part and parcel of K-12 teacher education, right?

Shrier: And that's why we're seeing so much increase in anxiety, depression, and the known harms of therapy, because we are treating a vast population, and mostly they are well. And here's the thing with iatrogenesis or when a healer introduces harm: If you have a problem, if you have a serious cut and you need stitches, it's worth the trip to the emergency room. But if you have a minor scratch, then you only stand to face risk, right? Because you don't stand to benefit, really. 

So all the exposure to MRSA and other bacteria at the E.R., now you're just facing risk. And that's what we're doing with this generation. We're taking healthy kids who are a little bummed out, a little anxious, and we're loading them with intervention, as you say, much of it through school, through social-emotional learning and all the therapeutic techniques now going on in school. And so all these kids face is risk. 

Gillespie: Why don't teachers push back on this ask of them, to be teaching history, or reading, or math, or whatever, and to also be scanning the classroom for problematic behavior? 

They seem to have embraced this role as being therapists or being on the lookout for stuff, which I think you both stress and document very well. Whatever else you think about therapy and counseling, these teachers just aren't equipped to do that. So it's really wrong to ask them or to expect them to be any good at it. But why aren't they saying, "If you want kids to be put in therapy, come and do it yourself."

Shrier: So teachers broke down into a number of categories. Some of them absolutely objected. They're desperate to get through their lessons. That's why they got involved, and many of them told me they can't deal with even the behavioral outbursts. The kids have become so dysregulated. They're being asked to do things that aren't their job. They want to get out of teaching. 

Then there are the teachers who don't really want to teach, or they find it really challenging, and it's much easier to play "Let's talk about your trauma" or to play a sort of amateur therapist. And of course, the third answer I have is that a lot of this is coming from school counselors who march in. And what I want people to know is that when a school counseling staff expands in your high school, it operates a lot like the [diversity, equity, and inclusion] staff of a university. It starts to take over everything. All of a sudden, the mental health staff is overseeing the entire curriculum. And that's what we're seeing.

Gillespie: One of the people that you talked to in the book is Elizabeth Loftus, who is an incredibly well-known psychologist who helped to pop the recovered memory bubble a couple of decades ago. And one of the things that she stressed was that psychologists oftentimes can introduce memories that people then take on as their own. 

Last night, I watched a documentary about Joan Baez, the folk singer in the '60s. She, late in life, became convinced that she may have been assaulted by her father and that her sister probably was. And she had multiple personality disorder. 

So let's talk about iatrogenesis. And how does the work that Elizabeth Loftus does help explain the worst case scenario of a therapist-created issue?

Shrier: Well, Elizabeth Loftus, who is widely considered one of the most important psychologists of the 20th century, really showed that our memory is like a mosaic. You can introduce things into it and it's always being updated, a little like a Wikipedia page. And other people can edit it and you can edit it. And here's the thing: It's especially true of children. 

So what she did was she helped expose the recovered memory epidemic of the '90s, in which kids were being led through questioning to remember things that didn't happen to them. Traumas, assaults, sexual molestation that never happened. The problem is, what's going on today in schools is effectively group therapythey don't call it thatsocial-emotional learning where the kids sit around sharing their pain and sharing their trauma. You're very likely in that process to introduce incorrect memories or exaggerate kids' memories of a past pain.

Gillespie: There's also a valorization of having pain or of having trauma or of not feeling well. Can you talk about that? How did that happen? 

Shrier: Maybe that's the goal of therapy. It's a question and I'll tell you why. The profession makes no effort to track improvements or harms. That's a real problem. And when I say the profession makes no effort, it's not that no therapists do that. There are some very good cognitive behavioral therapists who absolutely do this, and that's wonderful. 

But in general, most psychotherapists do not track any harms they make, no effort to see, "Gosh, have your relationships gotten worse since we started? Has your anxiety gotten worse? Has your depression gotten worse?" And that's a huge problem because those are the known side effects of therapy. We know that when they've studied burn victims, breast cancer survivors, first responders to catastrophe, in many cases, the ones who went to therapy ended up with worse symptoms than those who didn't go to therapy at all.

Gillespie: What is The Body Keeps the Score and why do you spend as much time as you do in the book talking about it?

Shrier: You're talking about a book that sold over 3 million copies. This has entered the bloodstream, and it's convinced a generation that they experienced childhood trauma. Actually, he kicked off an effort to go into schools and teach teachers that they needed to be trauma-informed about their education, because every child may have been traumatized and, in fact, likely had been traumatized. 

And the problem with this is, of course, that kids and people are highly suggestible. And they came to believe it. And we've basically induced what I think is something like an emotional hypochondriasis. We've created a generation of emotional hypochondriacs who are so focused on their emotional pain, so convinced of their trauma that it's debilitating them. And that's not to say that their pain isn't real. But as I learned when I talk to experts in hypochondriasis, the hyper-focus on real pain magnifies it. And I think that's what they're doing.

Gillespie: So in a simplified way, what you're arguing, at least on this point, is that trauma has been kind of defined downward. Everyday aspects of adolescence or growing up have been redefined as traumatic.

Shrier: Absolutely. Exactly right. There was just a new study out in the last couple of months by this wonderful researcher, a psychological researcher I love, named Kathy Witham. She did a prospective study. So these are the only rigorous studies really. They actually start with the kids. And they check who has actually experienced documented abuse. Then they follow them 15 years later and see what they're like as adults. And the researchers are blinded. They don't know which group is the control group. 

And what she found was the contextualization of what happened to these kids had more to do with adult psychopathology than what actually happened. Meaning, if an adult thought that what happened to him as a kid constituted trauma, he was more likely to suffer as an adult than a child who actually had suffered but didn't think of it as trauma. And here's the thing: Many of the adults who believed they had been traumatized as kids and so were suffering as adults, when they went back and looked, there was no record of actual trauma.

Gillespie: In a way, those of us who are parents, when your kid is a toddler and they hurt themselves, sometimes they look to you for the cue of like, are you hurt or not? And depending on how you react, they react. If you show them that you think they're hurt, they start to cry. If not, they kind of shrug it off.

Shrier: That's true of all of us is the remarkable thing. It turns out, if we come to believe we were traumatized as children and that the body keeps the scorethat somehow, mysteriously, we have these memories stored outside our central nervous system, which has been disprovenwe're a lot more likely to manifest symptoms than if we just think, "Yeah, I went through a hard time," and are able to surround ourselves with family, with friends, if we exercise, if we are active in the world, if we contribute to others. We tend to do really well in life with those things. In fact, the story of humanity is one of profound resilience in the face of what we think of as trauma.

Gillespie: You talk about Viktor Frankl in the book. Can you explain who Viktor Frankl is and why he's important to Bad Therapy?

Shrier: Sure. Well, he was a survivor of Auschwitz. He wrote a wonderful book called Man's Search for Meaning. And he was a psychiatrist himself. And one of the things that he says in his book that I quote in mine is that, actually, there are a number of things that he felt got him through Auschwitz; one of the things was humor, which is an amazing defense. And unfortunately, it has become so politically incorrect that we are often not allowed to avail ourselves of it. But actually, it's really good for getting through hard times. 

The other thing he said was that if you want the parts of an arch to form together, you don't relieve it of weight, you put more weight on it. And what he was saying is, making demands of children, which doesn't mean being cruel but giving them chores, giving them responsibilities, making them responsible for each other, having them in the world doing things, that's better for their mental health than telling them they've probably been traumatized and might not actually recover. That's the worst thing you get.

Gillespie: Another person that you cite in the book is Christopher Lasch, who is best known for two works that came out in the late '70s and early '80s, The Culture of Narcissism and The Minimal Self. You quote him in the book about the rise of therapeutic culture, how it's kind of gone everywhere. 

In The Minimal Self, Viktor Frankl is one of his villains because he felt that Frankl and a number of other people expanded the experience of the concentration camp, which is a very unique historical experience, and also one that is unbelievably intense beyond virtually anything anybody today could be doing. And Lasch argued that that was where trauma talk started seeping out in the '50s. People started equating their everyday life in a relatively comfortable suburb with a concentration camp. The most famous case of that is Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique,  saying that being a housewife was like being in a comfortable concentration camp. 

It's a vast army of educators and people in the mental health industry that have fanned out into the schools. But what do you think about that argument that the beginning of the redefinition of trauma to everyday life might actually start with the misapplication of the experience of the death camps in World War II? 

Shrier: I agree with it completely. In America, we saw a vast expansion in the treatment of the well. All of a sudden, mental health experts were not just treating the sick. They decided to treat the well. And, so that meant mental health for everybody, first of all. And second of all, we see that people often extrapolate from people who experienced the most severe trauma. Bessel van der Kolk himself talks about combat vets and PTSD and then uses that to extrapolate to kids in elementary school who grew up in the most gentle circumstances. 

That's exactly what's gone wrong. Trauma experts often use metaphor. And so it's very hard to evaluate their claims because they slip between what seems to be a serious scientific claim into metaphor. So you can never tell. Are you saying that you literally passed down your trauma through your genetic code? Or are you just saying that you told your kids really upsetting stories and it upset them? And very often they sort of make a lot of headway by not being clear about that. 

Gillespie: When a kid has a real problem, not an everyday-life problem, they can benefit from counseling or therapy or some kind of intervention. How do we draw that distinction in a meaningful way?

Shrier: That's a great question. And I think parents know their kids best. But I think in general, a good sort of shorthand is, is this something that I could handle when I was their age? If something really didn't qualify as trauma when you were a kid, it probably isn't traumatic. It's probably something they can handle. Now, if you've tried to stabilize your kid, if you've taken the tech out of their environment or whatever else seemed to be contributing to their problem—and you can't stabilize a child who is anorexic or has obsessive-compulsive disorder and any other number of things where it's really interfering with their daily life—and their suffering, by all means, get them help. I certainly wouldn't say, don't get them help. Get them help, get even medication if they need it. But we need to change our default settings, and the default should be no intervention. The default should be: Let's see if we can give him a healthier life.

Gillespie: You talked at length about your grandmother, who was born in 1927. She actually contracted polio and spent a year in an iron lung and then ended up flourishing. Is there a problem where we valorize the unbelievable stress that people were under in an earlier age?

Shrier: Well, a few things. First of all, I think we need to get clear on what the goal is. So the goal isn't someone who doesn't go through any pain. We all have our different personalities. We all have different levels of patience with each other or forbearance. Some people are more irritable or whatever else it is, but here's the thing. Can they function? Because my grandmother formed a family. My grandmother had a stable marriage. My grandmother had certain things. My grandmother could be depended upon by her neighbors. My grandmother was a good citizen. 

These are things we're seeing the rising generation opt out of. They don't even want to leave their parents' house, and they don't want to get married, they don't want to have children. They don't want people depending on them. And so whatever else you say—you might say, "Oh, you're looking past the rose-colored glasses." I think that's a fair criticism. But the question is, were these people undertaking adult responsibilities? Because that's ultimately what we want. We want to raise kids who can say, "You can depend on me" to other people. That's what we want. 

Gillespie: Is part of this that we're misdiagnosing because of the fact that childhood is lasting longer and longer, which is annoying if you're a parent because it's like, "Hey, you're 21. Maybe you ought to think about getting your own place."  But, are we misdiagnosing the curse of wealth that we can afford to start our work lives and our adult lives later as a crisis?

Shrier: Absolutely. There's no question that wealth has played a role. When I started writing the book, I thought, gosh, these kids have gone through no World War, no Great Depression. They have everything they could want. Why are they suffering? And one of the answers is, having responsibility is really good for you. Having a job, having to show up on time, having people you see in person regularly, having neighborhood friends and cousins around, that's all really good for you. And the responsibility is really good for you too. And what I wanted parents to know was not only that that stuff was good for you, but to stop feeling guilty if they wanted to give it to their kids, that kind of responsibility.

Gillespie: It is amazing how an afterschool job, which used to be something of a rite of passage for everybody from the wealthiest to the poorest—sometimes out of privilege, sometimes out of necessity—has really disappeared at every level of income. Do we just need to put our kids back in factories or something like that?

Shrier: We need to put them back into something. People ask me, well, instead of doing social-emotional learning in schools, what would be better for the kids? They could paint the gym. They could literally do anything. They could clean the yard with rakes. They could engage in any activity. They could dance. Anything would be better than sitting around and talking about their problems. And that's the truth. Like, we all need to feel productive. We do. And part of that is having responsibility where someone cares if you show up.

Gillespie: So part of it is giving them more responsibility, but part of the solution might also be giving them more free time where they're expected to hang out with their peers and kind of figure out how to do things.

Shrier: That's right. Tech-free free time is great. Sitting around on their phones is a lot less great. And we know that there's no question, as Jonathan Haidt always talks about, that social media has played a really bad role in our mental health. The problem is, this is a problem we've known about for eight years, how bad it's been. And we've done nothing to take it out. The schools allow kids to be on their phones and on social media all day long. And why have we done [nothing to change this]? Partly because parents have gotten no support from the mental health establishment. These schools, they were happy to go in and give therapy and social-emotional techniques and mindfulness, but they were less happy to take away the kids' cellphones even during the school day.

Gillespie: Can you talk a little bit about why the therapeutic culture in your argument is more important than the social media one?

Shrier: Sure. Because if you give kids a healthy life, then no one harmful thing is going to be that damaging. So, for instance, social media is bad. There's no question, and it's harmful. My last book was about a horrible trend spread through social media. But here's the thing. It's like that old commercial when we were growing up with the Frosted Flakes. They would put a bowl of sugar cereal until there was orange juice on the side and toast on one side and eggs on another, and they would say it's part of a nutritious breakfast. And what they were saying is, well, Frosted Flakes isn't great, but look at all these other things you could be eating too. 

Gillespie: It's not so bad if you eat a balanced diet.

Shrier: Right, and that's the problem. We have social media, which is bad, and then we have all these other things, like a constant valorization of being emotionally traumatized, like regular therapy teaching you that you need to check in with an adult or a mental health expert before you take any risks whatsoever. Like your mental health diagnosis that you now believe limits you in some profound way, and you can't just get over on your own like you can with, say, shyness or sadness. Now, I have depression. Well, that suggests you need an expert. So all these things have contributed to incapacitating these young people.

Gillespie: One of the things you discuss is the current parenting generation. Talk a bit about why parents surrender authority as parents to experts.

Shrier: I think that part of it is that our parents divorced in such high numbers. We had the high watermark of divorce in America when I was young, and people were put in therapy, or they felt like they needed therapy, because they went through something hard, like their parents splitting up. And as they entered adulthood, they entered therapy. They went into therapy and they thought it was beneficial. And they thought, my parents weren't there for me in various ways. I remember the pain I went through and also my therapist really encouraged me to see my parents' failings. 

They weren't emotionally sensitive enough. And my generation and millennials went into parenting thinking we were going to be the most emotionally sensitive generation of parents. We were going to watch our kids like hawks. We were going to be there for them, and we were going to constantly ask them how they were feeling. And we thought that being gentle with our kids would produce them as gentle as possible. And we never asserted our authority. We avoided all punishment. And frankly, we've presided over something like a disaster.

Gillespie: Just to play devil's advocate, I think about that a lot. My parents were members of the Greatest Generation. And in a way, they were emotionally unavailable, partly because they were dealing with their own shit. They were the children of immigrants, and they grew up in not only stern families, but also in stern subcultures. And that clearly was not good. 

I didn't want to be like them as parents. I don't want to be my kid's friend. How do we find a happy medium, where it isn't like going home to a German family in the 1930s that people rightly thought was the incubator of fascism or something like that, with a stern father and a stern mother? How do you balance not being distant but also not being smothering with positive regard?

Shrier: I think this is such an important question because a lot of people feel like, "My parents were cold. I didn't like that. I didn't get all the hugs I wanted and the love I needed." So there's a difference between, some of this is what kids need and other is just good stuff to have. 

Being loving with your kids, as affectionate as you want to be, is great. No one says you have to be cold. And in fact, there's great research on this. In study after study—this is such a replicated study, it's a very sturdy studyauthoritative, meaning the parents are in charge, but loving, raise the happiest, least anxious, least depressed, and honestly, most successful kids. And the kids end up having the best relationship with their parents. What you can't do when you're loving and affectionate with your kids is divest yourself of authority. That's what you can't do, if you want them to raise them well and then have them be adults themselves.

Gillespie: When did we, as a culture, start surrendering our authority to experts? I think America was a relatively poor country before World War II. There was a huge boom after, and a lot of people entered the middle class who really came from places of little authority. There was a cult of experts growing in the mid-20th century. Parents either read Benjamin Spock in droves and were supposedly being permissive about their kids, although his book is just filled with passive aggression. Or Bruno Bettelheim, who's another concentration camp survivor who also turned out to be, in many ways, a fraud. There was a real dichotomy between hard and soft parenting. But there was an overwhelming urge for people who were newly in the middle class, I think, to say, we really don't know what we're doing, and our parents can't help us because they grew up in Italy, and Ireland, and Poland, or under bizarre circumstances. 

Are we actually getting out of the cult of experts? 

Shrier: Well, I don't think they knew that therapists were a part of that. I don't think they knew that the mental health establishment was part of that. I think they thought, "I want to be as emotionally attuned. I want to get this right. I'm better educated than my parents. So I'm going to go to the most educated therapist I can find to help me with the exact technique I need for a child." And what they didn't ask themselves, what we didn't ask ourselves is, what are we actually looking to produce? So we thought, "Oh, I'm going to raise the most sensitive, emotionally in-tune, happy child." Well, turns out that's actually not how you do it. We obsessed over our children's happiness and spent no time at all thinking about how to make them strong. And it turns out, raising strong kids is a much better way to raise happy kids.

Gillespie: Let's talk a little bit about the treatment of your book. It's funny, it has not been reviewed as widely as I would have thought. This is not because it is a bad book or a lacking book. It's curious to me. And that is also reflected in the treatment. I looked this morning and of all books sold on Amazon, you were at No. 8. But on The New York Times bestseller list, you are nowhere to be seen. Can you talk a little bit about the treatment of the book in the legacy media? And how is that working for you?

Shrier: I think all of us who are the truth-tellers out there and went against various narratives, that's the treatment we get. So, of course, right away, The New York Times decided it wouldn't review my book and other legacy media, because that's how they treat you when you were questioning the transgender narrative or the gender ideology narrative with teenage girls early on. 

Now, of course, they write whole articles about it, as if it's obvious. Everything that I said in the book four years ago is now so obvious, The New York Times can casually write about it. But at the time, they tried to paint me as some sort of bigot or something. I write for readers, I don't write for reviewers, and I don't write for legacy media, which is what it is. 

Gillespie: Obviously, sales are brisk. You were telling me before we started recording that Amazon actually ran out of the book. Is it going through another print?

Shrier: We just got another shipment. So they should be ready to go. But, it was the No. 1 book on Amazon of all books in the world and quickly sold out. And that's because there actually is a desire to talk about what the harm therapy and over-focus on feelings might be doing. Any criticism of the ruling class tends not to go over well.

Gillespie: It seems like in a strange way, and I would argue a wonderful way, your work and certainly your first book, Irreversible Damage—which was the subject of various attempts to kind of limit its circulation through discussion or to take it off certain websites and things like that—finds its audience. So that must be heartening.

Shrier: It's absolutely heartening. Look, I have no complaints. I've been very happy that I've been able to reach so many readers. But, I think we should all be getting a little tired of being told what we're allowed to read. And unfortunately, there are always these campaigns to limit certain authors because they're so afraid that if your message gets out, people might think for themselves and agree with you. And, it's just a really ugly strain that we're seeing. Obviously, it's often enforced through the various tech fora. But I certainly hope that there's a good amount of pushback to it.

Gillespie: Nothing brings out social anxieties more than talking about children. They're a blank screen that we project all of our anxieties, all of our aspirations on. And I think the book should be read by everybody who has any interest in that. What are the next steps now?

Shrier: So this is the thing I'm most optimistic about. We can absolutely turn this around, and here's why. You don't need any money. You don't need expert help. You can do it yourself as a parent. Kids need authority. They need to know they're going to be just fine. We need to remember to tell them that minor injuries are fine. They can shake it off. It's fine and play on. We need to assume that most kids will be resilient. Most combat veterans are resilient in the face of trauma. Certainly most children are, and we need to tell them that their ancestors were resilient. 

We need to tell them about what their grandparents and great-grandparents went through. We need to reassure them that they can get through hard times too. There are so many things we can do for our kids, like giving them some amount of independence, teaching them a skill, giving them time when we're not monitoring and hovering. All these things are really good for them, surrounding them with a family who loves them. And it doesn't cost any money to do it. That's the thing.

Gillespie: On a systemic level, are there particular interventions that you would make or that you think should be done because there are, what, 15,000 school districts in the country, etc.? Are there particular interventions that can have a broader reach than being the change that you want to see in the world?

Shrier: Absolutely. You can start by shrinking all the mental health staff at schools and bringing back order to schools. Right now, all disciplinary problems are treated as a mental health problem. And the kids get talk therapy and no discipline. That makes us put kids who are good kids really in danger of violence from other kids who really should be expelled. And we're seeing that. We're seeing kids brutalized in school. Since [former President Barack] Obama issued his "Dear Colleague" letter, they're not allowed to expel a disproportionate number of minority students. So instead of doing that, they do these therapeutic interventions. They don't work. We're seeing chaos in schools. We need to bring back order and shrink the mental health staff so that they can only treat the kids who actually need it, not everyone.

Gillespie: For the Gen Z kids who are in their 20s, who were raised under this dispensation of bad therapy, what's your advice to them? 

Shrier: They're on way too many medications that they don't need, way too many therapeutic interventions. And they all believe they have a mental health diagnosis. I just want to say, some kids are a little different. They're a little weird, awkward, quirky; it doesn't mean you have a mental health problem. 

I would caution people, as serious as I think it is to put a child or an adolescent on SSRIs or a serious antidepressant, you'll also need medical oversight coming off of those things. So definitely don't try to quit cold turkey. These medications have very powerful withdrawal symptoms. And you really need to very carefully taper if you're going to try living without the snowsuit you may not need.