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The Anxious Generation

Stop following me. With this new campaign, the charity Global Action Plan UK wants to end online targeted advertisements to people under 18. The overexposure to stereotypes used by adverts to make children believe that they need products to fit in or to look a certain way contributes to anxiety, depression, self-harm, eating disorders and body dysmorphia among youth.

The campaign taps into what is gaining momentum in society: the awareness of the poor mental state of the youth and the role social media and smartphones play in this. Even though mental health issues and its causes are complex and multifaceted, it is remarkable that since smartphones became affordable and part of our everyday life in 2012, there has been a significant rise in mental issues among young people. 

In “The Anxious Generation,” social psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues that the continuous access to social media, online video games, porn and other internet-based activities has ignited a wildfire of anxiety and depression among Generation Z. But he’s not alone, Dr. Anna Lembke, psychiatrist and addiction expert, referred to smartphones as “modern-day hypodermic needles.” Just as a hypodermic needle delivers a quick hit of a substance, we turn to our phones for quick hits of dopamine. With each swipe, like, and tweet, we seek attention, validation, and distraction. These actions feed our habits and contribute to our digital dependency which leads to addictions. Even though the type of addiction might seem less harmful, they provoke similar reactions in the brain: addicted brains show symptoms like anxiety and restlessness, withdrawal symptoms, neglect of other activities, and impaired control. Also, Haidt points out several symptoms likely caused by the overuse of smartphones among teens, like social deprivation, sleep deprivation, attention fragmentation, and addiction. 

Although social media usage and smartphones aren’t only bad, there’s an increasing body of research pointing out that we’re just not wired as a human species for this overload of indulgence that is always at hand through our smartphones. The constant presence of a “portal” in their pockets during puberty draws young people away from real-life interactions and into an online world that is exciting, addictive, unstable, and unsuitable for children and adolescents. As their brains are still developing, particularly the prefrontal cortex responsible for impulse control and decision-making. Excessive screen time can interfere with healthy brain development, affecting emotional regulation and cognitive abilities.

To counter the negative effects of smartphone usage, Haidt recommends no smartphone use before high school, no social media use before 16, phone-free schools, and more independence, free play, and responsibility in the real world. What role could brands and organizations play in this. How can you stop following kids, and teach them to engage with the world around them and build resilience instead?

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Kim Pillen

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Kim Pillen


Before Kim Pillen started as a trend consultant at TrendsActive, she worked for four years as a creative strategist at Dept. For brands such as Philips,, Beiersdorf, JBL, and the Consumers’ Association, she built (online) campaign, brand, and social media strategies. After four years, she decided that she wanted to better understand people and society in order to advise brands more effectively. That’s how she ended up at TrendsActive. Here, she can do what she loves most: digging into people’s needs and then working with brands to see how and where they can be relevant and meaningful.

Douwe Knijff


Douwe is fascinated by how people work. With a background in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences (Bachelor) and Psychology (Master) and an analytical mind he tries figure out how societal shifts manifest themselves through social culture and human behaviour.

Aljan De Boer

Keynote speaker

Aljan has been widely recognized as an inspiring professional speaker on the critical trends that will shape society in the decades to come. He works as the Head of Inspiration at TrendsActive, a trend consultancy from the Netherlands using social science to human-proof business decision for brands like

  • Disney
  • Vodafone
  • Hugo Boss
  • ASR
  • Rabobank

Next to his role at TrendsActive he is the Community Director at the Institute for Real Growth where he inspires and connects a global community of +400 CMOs.  

He has been on the board of the Dutch Platform of Innovative Marketing for almost a decade. Regular speaker and moderator for the Dutch Marketing Awards and 3 times winner of the best of MIE. 

Kees Elands

Founder & Strategist

Kees his purpose is to help ambitious leaders and brands to human-proof their business. In 2003 he founded TrendsActive, a trend consultancy enabling brands to become more human centric.

Kees consults global brands like

  • Disney
  • The Coca-Cola Company
  • Asics
  • Discovery Channel
  • Swiss Life
  • Vodafone

and many more.

Next to being the founder of TrendsActive, he is also initiator of the first academic trend master for executives at the University of Utrecht and is initiator of various trend studies and white papers on subjects like trust, meaning, visual culture & generations.


Kees Elands

Founder & Strategist

Kees Elands

Founder & Strategist