Why I Traded My Smartphone for an Ax

Plus: what to do about porn. Meet the two runners-up in our high school essay contest.

American teenagers aren’t having a good time. They aren’t having sex. They aren’t driving. They are depressed, anxious, and lonely. (Whether social media is the cause or the catalyst is a subject of ongoing and intense debate.)

We’ve done a lot of reporting on Gen Z. Earlier this summer, we decided to ask them to report on themselves. 

More than 400 teenagers submitted essays for our inaugural high school essay contest, on themes ranging from gun violence and AI to student debt and fentanyl.

Three essays in particular blew us away. 

Today, we’re announcing our runners-up: Caleb Silverberg, 17, from Santa Barbara, California; and Isabel Hogben, 16, from Redwood City, California. They each won a $1,000 cash prize and a lifetime subscription to The Free Press. Tomorrow we’ll announce our winner.

Isabel Hogben (left) and Caleb Silverberg are the two runners-up in our contest.

Both Isabel’s and Caleb’s essays, which you can get a taste of below (click through to read the pieces in full), touch on the dangers of technology and what can be done to fight them.

See you in the comments. —BW 

If you support our mission of nurturing the next generation of independent journalists, become a Free Press subscriber today:

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Also: We’re hosting our first live debate on September 13 at the Ace Theatre in Los Angeles! Has the sexual revolution failed? Come argue about it and have a drink. We can’t wait to meet you in person. You can purchase tickets now at

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