Want to Save Money and Raise Strong Kids? Experts say, “Quit Coddling.”
The “Coddling of the American Mind” explains how ‘good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure.’
Now, I’m not a parent, so you can go ahead and discredit what I have to say on that merit. I do work with kids all day, every day, and I read a lot about childhood development, financial literacy, and environmental science. Recently a book caught my attention because it linked these three areas of my interest, and it offers fodder for related Green & Green discussion. I encourage you to check out the book from your local library or get the gist below. As someone who has identified herself as a staunch liberal since the early days of Clinton’s recycling initiatives, here goes my best attempt at articulating the big picture.
There’s a myth amongst the most well-meaning parents right now, and it's ultimately the cause of the breakdown of civil discourse in America. It is costing parents money and children their futures.
What could our culture be purporting as facts that could lead to tribal thinking, identity politics, and failure to thrive for the next generation?
The Three Great Untruths:
What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
Always trust your feelings.
Life is a battle between good people and evil people.
We’ve all read the numerous articles bashing obnoxious millennial behavior, but few point to an origin. After all, social behaviors are a learned concept. In “The Coddling of the American Mind,” First Amendment expert Greg Lukianoff and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt critique and deconstruct how well-intentional liberal policies and belief in the Three Great Untruths have stifled children’s ability to problem solve, lead creative and productive lives, take initiative, and work independently.
Parents are hemorrhaging their money to provide every opportunity for their children. Just because one can afford creature comforts and finance ways for doors to open doesn’t mean it is in their child’s best interest developmentally. Seeing their parents try, fail, and define their own success promotes confidence in the child that he or she can do the same. Throwing money at problems does not.
‘Coddling’ opens by comparing a kindergarten teacher’s efforts of disinfecting her classroom to the hand-holding of American parenting - both paired with unintended bad consequences. The teacher makes a noble effort to keep her students safe, but it’s short-sighted, considering immunity is built by exposure to bacteria and viruses. By sanitizing every surface and failing to expose children in a controlled way to allergens such as peanuts, we have created a youth who is sicker, super-bugs that have evolved resistance to antibiotics and disinfectant sprays, and higher rates of allergies than ever before. In the same fashion, when we protect our children from every form of adversity, they learn they are delicate and easily harmed.
I’ve dealt with my fair share of helicopter parents in my twelve years as an educator. In recent years, the whirling blades have landed. A new, super-form of invasive parenting has evolved; the lawn-mower parent. These adults, consumed by a culture of safetyism, believe their role is to serve as their child’s linebacker, essentially mowing down any adversity that comes their way. They prevent their children from building resilience through interactions with natural and necessary challenges. In terms of preparing humans for an independent life, this toxic cultural phenomenon (contributed to by Common Core Standards, overuse of testing, and public school bureaucracy) has effectively removed play and creativity from the American childhood experience.
In a culture that promotes worst-first thinking, parents and lawmakers embolden fear-mongering around children playing independently. A few years back, a single mother who worked at McDonald’s chose to let her 9 year-old child play at the park adjacent to her workplace because she thought it would be better than sitting in the fast food restaurant all day. She was arrested for ‘abandoning’ her child.
It is important to note class differences. Many parents have no option but to grant their children freedom because they need to work to put food on the table. Those privileged enough to have choice in the matter have swung the pendulum far from their parent’s generation when climbing the neighbor’s tree was considered a normal past time.
My family was frugal out of both necessity and values rooted in self-reliance. I can’t ever recall having a baby sitter, other than our Bernese Mountain dog, Badger. We came indoors only at dusk and told stories of our black bear siting, catching frogs in my cousin’s pond (naked, apparently - see image above), building and fine-tuning forts and bridges and dams, and scrapping our knees crawling under logs to look for red-spotted newts. Since my formative years of the late '80s, an irrational wave of paranoia and litigation about our children’s safety has swept across our country.
Richard Louv’s bestseller, ‘Last Child in The Woods,’ first coined the term, ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ more than a decade ago. He recognized the serious risk of not taking risks. Numerous studies have shown that exploring the natural world, independent of close supervision and structured activity, builds fine motor skills, problem-solving, and is essential to age-appropriate brain development. It also builds confidence to be alone with oneself and ones thoughts. Playing in grit builds grit, but most parents would likely scorn my parents for allowing - encouraging - us to navigate obstacles on our own.
Layered on this notion of hyper-sensitivity toward perceived danger is a pressure-cooker environment in schools. Academic rigor is now determined by the stress level imposed on students. If they aren’t pushed to their breaking point, rigor must not be high enough. Through this academic lens, we create intellectuals, but ill-prepared adults who suffer from a range of mental health disorders; screen addiction, anxiety, and depression to name a few. We send these teenagers to college campuses, all holding strong beliefs they are vulnerable and delicate, they need hand-holding in order to face adversity, and the world is a scary binary landscape of good and evil.
Professors also have bought into the narrative of the need to cater to the delicate emotions of this new generation. ‘Trigger warnings’ in classrooms abound. I remember it vividly playing out in Environmental Studies class at my alma mater. A professor showed us a video clip of an old growth forest in the northwest being clearcut and bulldozed. She verbally related the footage to the rape of the land, but first declared a ‘trigger warning’ and gave us the option to leave class if we felt ‘triggered.’
Could we address feelings by engaging in a facilitated discussion rather than isolating and silencing the student, thus perpetuating their belief they are delicate and should not be confronted with conflicting opinions or jarring imagery?
A few miles down the road, at one of the nation’s top liberal art institutions, a school club invited a controversial figure to speak on campus. Once word spread that the school supported this person’s right to share his conservative rhetoric, riots erupted from liberal student protesters, school property was damaged, and campus security officers were injured in the violence.
It begs the question; are we raising strong, worldly, open-minded individuals like college brochures promote, or are we inadvertently strengthening narrow tribal thinking? By censoring the sharing of unpopular ideas, are these ‘top’ academic institutions further promoting identity politics? Where did civil discourse go? The cost of tuition alone at this college is $55,000/year. Having a conversation with someone who holds differing opinions and checking a book out of the library to learn more about their position doesn’t cost a dime.
Exploring nature builds confidence and is also free of charge. Spending time outdoors might even cultivate a lasting sense of stewardship for the land and sea, an understanding of the interconnection between living things, an appreciation for a warm fire or comfy bed, and a solid dose of perspective when staring in awe at something greater or more complex than oneself.
I’ve been fortunate to gain this perspective through my own experiences in the wild - hiking to sweeping vistas of the Grand Canyon, standing beneath a sequoia tree, observing a whale spout break the ocean’s surface, catching fireflies, identifying constellations with my dad, and exploring the tiny but vast world of tide pools with my mom. In terms of childhood memories though, what stands out the most is sitting perfectly still to witness the opening of a monarch chrysalis in a swath of our untamed, un-mowed lawn.