From the Principal’s Desk – 16 May, 2019
An interesting article in Psychology Today by Hara Estroff Marano entitled “A Nation of Wimps” speaks of the trend in the USA of parents going to ludicrous lengths to take the bumps out of life for their children. The writer argues that this “hyper-concern” of parents has the net effect of making our children more fragile and may be the reason why they are breaking down in record numbers in college.
With all-rubber-cushioned surfaced playgrounds, sending children to school with sanitizing gels to protect them from school bathrooms and removing any opportunity for failure, psychologists believe we are on our way of creating a nation of wimps. “Kids need to feel badly sometimes,” says child psychologist David Elkind. “We learn through experience and we learn through bad experiences. Through failure we learn how to cope.” Taking all the discomfort, disappointment and even play out of development prevents children from forging a robust personality that can cope with life, making them risk-averse and riddled with anxiety.
It seems that when our children reach university or college that the “fragility factor” is now most evident. Psychological distress is rampant on college campuses, taking a variety forms like anxiety, depression, binge drinking, substance abuse, self-mutilation, anorexia and bulimia.
“There’s a ritual every university administrator has come to fear…every fall, parents drop off their well-groomed freshmen and within two or three days many have consumed a dangerous amount of alcohol and placed themselves in harm’s way. These kids have been controlled for so long, they just go crazy”
Psychologists urge parents to allow their children to find a way to deal with life’s day-to-day stresses by themselves and in this way develop resilience and coping strategies. “Having over-protective parents is a risk factor for anxiety disorders because children do not have opportunities to master their innate shyness and become more comfortable in their world”. Furthermore, “Hothouse parenting” undermines children making them extremely self-conscious by being examined all the time. As a result they get less communicative, teaching them to bury their real feelings and becoming detached.
More and more studies are suggesting that parents should abandon the idea of perfection for their children and give up some of the invasive control they’ve maintained over their children. Stories are told of parents phoning up college administrators to protest about their children receiving a C in Economics because it’s going to jeopardise their son’s chances to get into grad school, or a university lecturer, after announcing to his class that he expected them to work hard and would hold them to high standards, receiving a complaint from a parent, on judicial stationery, asking him how he could dare mistreat the young.
The goal of parenting, after all, is to raise an independent human being.
“Parents assume that if kids start getting into difficulty they need to rush in and do it for them, rather than let them flounder a bit and learn from it. I don’t mean we should abandon them, but give them more credit for figuring things out”
This is especially pertinent to their schooling, where one of the goals of education is to help young people develop the capacity to think for themselves.
The article warns of the effect of this “hothouse parenting”: young people becoming weaker, more responsive to the herd, too eager to fit in, afraid to question authority and taking longer to grow up with “post-adolescence/early adulthood” extending from 20 – 30.