First, an update on a story I posted yesterday. I wrote about how Nordstroms was testing a system where they tracked people’s cell phones around one of their stores. They claim it was to just determine where people went in order to determine traffic flow. That may be but they stopped the trial the day after the story went public. Still, I’m sure this sort of thing will happen in the future. It may not be done via cell phones but technology will make it possible nevertheless. They have cameras everywhere already, so maybe image recognition technology will apply here? We will see.
Now for the main topic. I read this story in Psychology Today from 2004 called A Nation Of Wimps. Right off the bat, what a great title. The article talks about how parents and society itself has tried very hard to shield children from any kind of hardship. As a new parent myself I can understand the urge to protect our children but are we doing them a disservice in the long run? Here’s a few choice quotes from the story.
Behold the wholly sanitized childhood, without skinned knees or the occasional C in history. “Kids need to feel badly sometimes,” says child psychologist David Elkind, professor at Tufts University. “We learn through experience and we learn through bad experiences. Through failure we learn how to cope.”
Yes exactly. I remember my failures from my childhood and can say they have an impact on my behavior even today. We learn so much from failure. We learn how to deal with stress, how to overcome adversity, and in a lot of cases we learn self reliance. It makes people not as fragile. When you make steel, you need a lot of heat.
So what is the effect of this according to the article?
With few challenges all their own, kids are unable to forge their creative adaptations to the normal vicissitudes of life. That not only makes them risk-averse, it makes them psychologically fragile, riddled with anxiety. In the process they’re robbed of identity, meaning and a sense of accomplishment, to say nothing of a shot at real happiness. Forget, too, about perseverance, not simply a moral virtue but a necessary life skill. These turn out to be the spreading psychic fault lines of 21st-century youth.
That’s harsh but aren’t we seeing that in society today? It seems to me that young people are much less ambitious overall than previous generations. By this I mean they are willing to give up their goals if it means it will take hard work.
Teachers have certainly noticed this over time. It used to be that if a student got a bad grade their parents would get on their case. Now often the parents get on the teachers case! Perhaps this explains the rampant grade inflation showing up in colleges?
Perhaps that also explains how college campuses are more like 4 star resorts than schools? Or schools that produce multi million dollar gyms? Is this what is required to keep these fragile kids happy?
So here’s my 64 dollar question. What if this is all intentional? Who benefits by a citizenry who collapse at the first sign of adversity? How about the government? If kids are conditioned to always turn to somebody when something doesn’t go their way, who do they turn to when they become adults? It can only be the government. This reminds me of a website put out by the President last year during the campaign. It is called the Life of Julia. In it, at every point in a fictional woman’s life, she gets to the next part of her life because of a government program.
I don’t want to get too political here. I just believe that everyone and everything does things to help themselves. It’s called enlighted self interest and it governs human behavior. Government is no different because it is driven by people. It wants to get bigger in order to “help” more people. Government is in charge of K-12 school, therefore to a large extent can determine what gets taught. Colleges have more freedom but have to adapt to the kind of students they get from K-12. Perhaps our kids are being made fragile in order to be dependent? Who knows for sure. All I know is I want my son to grow up able to fix his own problems and to be adaptable to and ever changing world.
I am very interested in your thoughts about this, especially from any teachers. Have you noticed a change in durability in the kids over the years?