Has anyone seen the data? Kids today are anxious, depressed, and massively unprepared for the rigors of life. Think this is just one of my rants? Wrong. Case in point: 1 in 3 incoming students has a diagnosable mental illness. Nearly 30 percent are overweight or obese. An astounding 87 percent felt overwhelmed by the work and unprepared. What the fu**? Is anyone paying attention?
The primary driver? Our constant bubble wrapping of children. Parents are so overprotective that kids don’t experience the much-needed hurt, pain, and distress that turns them into prepared adults. STOP ruining your children!
Let them fail!
Your Kids’ Growth Starts With Adversity
You kids’ growth starts with adversity, and adversity is the path to advantage.
We should all be asking this critical question, How do we intend to prepare our kids for the pain of life if we don’t let them experience any pain while they develop? If they don’t practice adversity, how will they learn to thrive in tough times? Parents are treating their kids like china, carefully and methodically making decisions for them and hiding them from all things difficult.
They are not fragile. All organisms become stronger under pressure, like our immune systems, like our brains, like our bodies. Our muscles remember a certain sequence of actions that result in a behavior — like riding a bike. Kids need to build the muscle memory of failure and recovery. They need to build a database of failures so that they can refer back to those each time they fail, and remember that recovery is possible. No struggle, no failures, no muscle memory.
Building Conflict Resolution Skills Doesn’t Start With Avoiding Conflict
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges, according to the authors of The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure. A movement is arising, undirected and largely driven by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or offend. Even higher education systems and public universities have joined parents in wildly overprotecting children, hurting their ability to have difficult conversations and manage hard topics.
When we engage in disagreement, we build essential communication skills, and also experience an opportunity to get more clear about our own beliefs. Disagreement used to be seen, and should be seen, as a chance for learning and growing. Today, a disagreement is too often seen as a canary in a coal mine, signaling that bad things are about to happen. As a result, we don’t face it.
Authors Greg Lukianoff — the president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education — and Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the New York University Stern School of Business, tell us it’s all wrong. Children need to grapple with opposing views to grow strong, just like vaccines.
“Childhood vaccines make us healthier NOT by reducing threats in the world,” they write in The Coddling of the American Mind, “but by exposing children to those threats in small doses, thereby giving children’s immune systems the opportunity to learn how to fend off similar threats in the future.”
The Benefit of Resilience Data Points
People think I’m some masochist who likes watching people suffer. Now, while that might be somewhat true — I kid, of course — the bigger truth is that I enjoy the failure because I know what’s coming next: the establishment of a resilience data point. When I see my kid fail, even though it sucks, I think to myself: They’ll look back on that and learn something from it. It will be a good data point for what they need to do differently next time, and a memory of how they were able to recover.
If we don’t let our kids fail, they don’t build resilience data points. And then, when they head off to college and all of a sudden they can’t get into that course they really wanted, they panic. They can’t tether themselves to any resilience because they haven’t built any. So they pick up the phone, call their parents, and freak out that their binky isn’t available on demand.
Use Failures to Feed Their Self-Esteem
Many people think that we only build self-esteem from doing things right. That’s bullshit. Often, our biggest moments of self-esteem come from when we had our face in the mud, failed miserably, and found some way to rise. That’s where self-esteem really develops. If you think you’re doing your kid a service by pulling them out of the mud or, worse yet, not even letting them fall flat on their face, you’re wrong. Kids are proud, and they become confident after struggling through difficult challenges.
Let’s give our kids the benefit of the doubt. Think of them first as strong and capable before you brand them as fragile and breakable. Assume that your kids are able humans that can figure it out, and let them explore their own capabilities. Don’t jump in and help them, even when they get frustrated. They have to learn to work through things on their own! Allow the trial and error to unfold, no matter how painful it might be for you. (And at times, it will indeed be painful.) And let your kids take some risks. Let them build the tree fort with hammers and nails, ride down the steep hill on their skateboard, and find their own way down after climbing the oak tree.
There will be a day when you’re not around to save them. Building up their resilience and capacity for difficult experiences will not only serve them on the course of life, but will also serve you in knowing that when you’re gone, they won’t simply survive. They’ll thrive.