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Hello, fellow wayfarers … What findings on the problem of children’s anxiety can teach all of us … How a quote from the most familiar authors in the world to me shook me up this week … Why so many X-Men are quitting what was once Twitter … A Desert Island Playlist with Georgia on its mind … This is this week’s Moore to the Point.

Russell Moore

Let the Children Play: Their Lives Depend on It

Most people know that something is going badly awry with the next generation.

We know this not because older people are, as always, complaining about how the morals and manners of kids these days are so much worse than they used to be. We know it instead because the young people themselves are telling us so. In almost every category of mental health disorder—anxiety, depression, and so on—we see spikes that are unprecedented. The question is why, and why now?

It’s not often that an executive summary from The Journal of Pediatrics ricochets around the internet. But this week we saw just that with the findings of a study from three researchers entitled “Decline in Independent Activity as a Cause of Decline in Children’s Mental Well-Being: Summary of the Evidence.”

The broad thesis is that, while many factors have led to the national emergency we are seeing with adolescent mental health, there is one major factor that is insufficiently recognized: the decline in unstructured, unmanaged, and unsupervised play.

The study shows, for instance, how rates of children playing outside has plummeted. This is not because of the “laziness” of video-gaming kids but because of parents’ fears of crime or traffic or, I would add, of not being seen as good parents.

This research is supported by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s upcoming book The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness, which releases in March 2024. After reading the manuscript, I believe this will be a decade-shaping book—Haidt’s arguments are compelling and reshaped my thinking.

Haidt demonstrates that what we are currently seeing are not just the “normal” patterns of anxiety true in every era. Something has dramatically changed since 2010. One of the major points of the book centers on a shift from what Haidt calls “play-based childhood” to childhood based on “safetyism”—defined by “over-supervision, structure, and fear.”

It turns out that play and exploration are essential for what it means for us to thrive as human beings. And by play, I do not mean organized sports or hobbies (while those are important). I mean the sort of unstructured freedom to independently encounter obstacles and problems—and overcome them. And to pursue this for its own sake, not to put an item on a college admission application or a résumé or even to gain status with one’s peers.

This might look like spending a day wandering through the woods, playing an impromptu stickball game with the neighbors on a city street, or combing the neighborhood looking for arrowheads or lost coins—without a hovering parent in sight.

Why do we need this?

In the book Wayfinding: The Science and Mystery of How Humans Navigate the World, M. R. O’Connor notes that one of the things that distinguishes human beings from animals is that our cognitive abilities are rooted not in instinct but in process.

No one tells cicadas when it’s time to find a mate or bees how to get back to the hive. Human beings, though, need to be lost. We need to find ourselves in situations where we must collect information, remember markers and monuments, and find our own way.

In this kind of “wandering,” we learn how to “record the past, attend to the present, and imagine the future.” A child who gets lost in a game of Capture the Flag or who doesn’t know how to get back from where she meandered in a forest becomes embedded in a story—a story filled with manageable “crises.”

“Out of the stream of information generated by our movement, we create origins, sequences, paths, routes, and destinations that make up narratives with starting points, middles, and arrivals,” O’Connor writes. “It’s this ability to organize and remember our journeys that gives us the ability to find our way back.”

In this week's episode of The Russell Moore Show, I had a conversation with Amanda Ripley, who is probably the world’s most-respected living expert on matters of “high conflict.” Referring to some of my experiences over the past few years, she said, “I genuinely don’t know how you survived that.” I don’t either.

I can say that it was by the grace of God, which is true—but that grace didn’t just suddenly show up. Part of that grace was the fact that, growing up, I had ample time to explore on my own. When I wasn’t in school, at church, or at a family meal or outing, my parents did not know where I was.

I cringe when I think of the snake-infested swamps I explored and the busy roads on which I rode my bicycle with a friend—all without GPS or an app synced to a device in my mom’s pocket. That wasn’t because my parents were neglectful. In fact, just the opposite—both my parents were deeply involved in my life, as were both sets of grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, church members, pastors, and the Avon lady. They just never thought to helicopter, mostly because they didn’t think they were supposed to.

They would never have allowed me in a place of danger that would be too overwhelming for me. They would have stepped in immediately had they found out that I was going to a knife-throwing competition, a biker gang meetup, an Alice Cooper concert, a Southern Baptist Convention executive committee meeting, or anything like that. But short of that, I was given the freedom to find my own way. And that is grace.

Without a sense of play and of wayfinding and of overcoming manageable obstacles, any one of us could start to see the world as a dark, foreboding place and ourselves as at its mercy. With that sort of pressure, one simply cannot engage the imagination or learn how to quiet the limbic system. By learning how to find our way home literally, we learn that we might also find our way home metaphorically when needed.

As Christians, this principle shouldn’t surprise us. The Bible repeatedly pictures human life as a pilgrimage. God put his people in wildernesses without maps, with only landmarks that pointed to past mercies and future promises—a Bethel here and an Ebenezer there.

Sometimes God led his people with an unpredictable pillar of cloud or fire, at times leaving them in the tension of it all with what seemed to be a silent sky overhead. It’s the wilderness, not the temple courts, that teaches us that “man does not live on bread alone” (Deut. 8:3).

When his disciples wanted to know where they were going, Jesus would say, “Come … and you will see” (John 1:39). When one of them wanted to know the way to the other side, to where they could find him, Jesus simply said, “I am the way” (14:6).

We ought to thus learn from this moment. The next generation needs security—counsel, guidance, affection, love. But they also need to not be responsible for assuaging all the adult anxieties of their parents or teachers. They need to play. They need to wander. They need to imagine. That’s true of parenting, and it’s true of discipleship too.

Perhaps the best thing we can do for the saved is to let them get lost sometimes.

Tolkien, Lewis, and the Quote that Rocked My Week

This past week I was at a gathering of my fellow senior fellows at The Trinity Forum. It was one of the most enriching, encouraging, and worthwhile meetings I’ve experienced in a long, long time. But there was one quote mentioned that I can’t get out of my mind.

The meetings happen under Chatham House Rules, which means I’m not supposed to quote any person directly. I think, though, in this case, no one would mind.

Joseph Loconte, a prolific scholar I respect a lot, mentioned in some context or other a letter from C. S. Lewis to J. R. R. Tolkien. Now, it’s hard to surprise me with any quote from either one. How many times have I read through all of Lewis? And I feel like the Lord of the Rings trilogy is some of the most well-traveled ground in my mind.

And yet.

Joe referenced Lewis’s writing to Tolkien: “All my philosophy of history hangs upon a sentence of your own.”

If I’ve ever read that letter, I’ve forgotten it. And I think I had forgotten the sentence in question too. I immediately went to my well-worn copy of The Fellowship of the Ring to find it.

In it, Gandalf says to Frodo, “That is a chapter of ancient history which it might be good to recall; for there was sorrow then too, and gathering dark, but great valor, and great deeds that were not wholly vain.”

“Great deeds that were not wholly vain.” Gandalf was right (on this and most other things). Yes, this is a time of darkness. Yes, there is sorrow all around us. But there’s valor too. And there are deeds done—small, almost always unnoticed—that will turn out to be not wholly in vain.

So don’t be afraid. And don’t give up. Onward.

After Twitter, What?

Speaking of anxiety-provoking hellscapes, let’s talk about the platform previously known as Twitter. This week, my friend Sam Allberry announced that he was done with X—as Twitter is now called—for good. “The relentless ugliness is not worth it,” Sam wrote. “We all know it can be toxic here, but it has been the conduct of Christian leaders that has most grieved me here. Slander works, and I don’t have the will to deal with it.”

He’s not wrong.

For quite a while, the place has seemed to accelerate every year into more and more a gathering of trolls. Worse than that, the platform itself seems to shape otherwise reasonable people into increasing levels of trollishness themselves. Now, as Elon Musk has done away with almost every kind of identity verification or moderation, X seems to be more and more an undifferentiated vector of fake news, conspiracy theories, doxing, bigotry, and rage. With the news this week that Musk will soon require payment for some people to tweet or retweet—sorry, “post” or “repost”—most people think the platform is on borrowed time.

In some ways, that’s sad. Twitter, after all, is where I first “met” or interacted with people I couldn’t imagine my life now without. For a long time, it was fun—more a place of unstructured “play” than what it’s now become: a place where one must post, as soon as possible, whenever any controversy (including almost wholly imagined “really online” controversies) emerges, in order to prove that one is still in one’s tribe.

We don’t really know what’s next in social media. I am still on X, but I can say that I find myself spending a lot more time these days on Threads. Threads is not perfect, of course, but it does seem to have a culture that is not toxic. The algorithms seem to favor constructive engagement over digital screaming. People seem more engaged there.

If you want to follow me there, I’m at @russellmoore (same handle as on Instagram).

Desert Island Playlist

Every other week, I share a playlist of songs one of you says you’d want to have on hand if you were stranded on a desert island. This week’s submission comes from reader Vic Pentz, pastor emeritus of Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia:

  • Every Grain of Sand” by Bob Dylan. His much-maligned “Jesus Period” includes what some now consider his masterpiece.

  • Old 55” by Tom Waits. Nobody (not even Jan and Dean or The Beach Boys) better captures the sheer bliss of an afternoon of cruisin’.

  • Mr. Wolf and Mama Bear” by Robert Earl Keen. Brilliant, fun, comic nonsense. REK is considered “the country Dylan.”

  • One of These Nights” by the Eagles. This was a favorite lullaby for my young daughters with a tickle from Dad when it came to “git you baby, one of these nights.”

  • Good Vibrations” by The Beach Boys. The soundtrack of my SoCal youth. Brian Wilson is finally getting his due for the genius he is.

  • Love Potion Number Nine” by The Coasters. Laugh-out-loud lyrics and raw exuberant fun. “… when I kissed a cop down at 34th and Vine / He broke my little bottle …”

  • Hotel California” by the Eagles is like the revelation of John on his desert island where you “just can’t kill the beast.”

Thank you, Pastor Pentz!

Readers, what do y’all think? If you were stranded on a desert island for the rest of your life and could have only one playlist or one bookshelf with you, what songs or books would you choose?

  • For a Desert Island Playlist, send me a list of up to 12 songs, excluding hymns and worship songs. (We’ll cover those later.)

  • For a Desert Island Bookshelf, send me a list of up to 12 books. If possible, include one photo of all the books together.

Send your list (or both lists!) to, and include as much or as little explanation of your choices as you would like, along with the city and state from which you’re writing.

Quote of the Moment

Peace is only better than war if peace is not hell too. War being hell makes sense.

—Walker Percy

Currently Reading (or Re-Reading)

Richard Adams, adapted and illustrated by James Sturm and Joe Sutphin, Watership Down: The Graphic Novel (Ten Speed Graphic)

William Inboden, The Peacemaker: Ronald Reagan, the Cold War, and the World on the Brink (Dutton)

Sandra L. Glahn, Nobody’s Mother: Artemis of the Ephesians in Antiquity and the New Testament (InterVarsity)

Victoria Barnett, For the Soul of the People: Protestant Protest Against Hitler (Oxford University)

Douglas A. Sweeney, The Substance of Our Faith: Foundations for the History of Christian Doctrine (Baker)

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Ask a Question or Say Hello

The Russell Moore Show podcast includes a section where we grapple with the questions you might have about life, the gospel, relationships, work, the church, spirituality, the future, a moral dilemma you’re facing, or whatever. You can send your questions to I’ll never use your name—unless you tell me to—and will come up with a groan-inducing pun of a pseudonym for you.

And, of course, I would love to hear from you about anything. Send me an email at if you have any questions or comments about this newsletter, if there are other things you would like to see discussed here, or if you would just like to say hello!

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Russell Moore

Russell Moore
Editor in Chief

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