by michael on August 14, 2011

A Nation of Wimps
I was on my AOL browser, ambling about, nonchalantly searching for interesting material for my new book, The Art of the Ask. I learned when writing my current book, The Good, The Bad & The Difference that marvelous ideas pop up in the most unpredictable places. I saw an article title “How Not To Save A Marriage.” Intrigued, I clicked on the link and read the article. I was looking for references to questions that were asked or that could have been asked that might have saved or did save a marriage. As a general proposition, I think saving marriages is good. When children are involved, the moral imperative to try to save a marriage increases exponentially. The article is worth reading.

Within the article was a reference to a book titled A Nation of Wimps by Hara Estroff Marano, editor at large of the magazine Psychology Today. Now I was really intrigued. I am dismayed by many currents of thought and behavior in our culture that give incentives to risk avoidance, phony self esteem, turning weakness into a virtue, the subversion of competition and many others. If she addressed such themes, I wondered how Marano would do so. I Googled her and found the following interview of her discussing her book.

I like this lady. I will invite her to write a statement on this blog. Here are a few key paragraphs from the interview. One of Marano’s observations is among the most telling indictments about our culture. It plays out in the home, in the nation and around the globe.

Hara Estroff Marano discusses A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting
What makes you think that we’re raising a nation of wimps?

I didn’t set out to write a book of that title. In 2002, I discovered that record numbers of college students were experiencing serious psychological disorders. Major depression. Panic attacks. Self-mutilation. Eating disorders. Substance use and abuse. I spoke to hundreds of campus counseling center directors and the people manning the front lines in them. The article I wrote, Crisis on the Campus, made news. In 2004, I found that things had only gotten worse. All along, I had been asking why. The folks at the front lines find that today’s students lack the most basic coping skills, because growing up they were overprotected, never allowed to mess up or to experience discomfort, never encouraged to take risks. Coping skills come from figuring out ways to deal with uncertainty and life’s lumps and bumps. When the lumps and bumps are smoothed out for you, you have no opportunity to learn how to cope. Then, when you leave the protective cocoon of home for college, you feel overwhelmed by the slightest difficulty. So my book evolved from the evidence that these kids are already psychologically very fragile.

What kinds of things do parents do?

They run homework over to school if their kid leaves it at home. They call the teacher or the professor if their kid gets less than an A. They don’t tell the child to study harder; they ask the school to change the grade. They get their kids tested and seek “accommodations” so they can take all their tests untimed, especially that big one at the end of the rainbow, the SATs. They hire $600 an hour tutors. They literally and figuratively wrap their kids in bubble wrap.

True Story #1. A couple flew out to Los Angeles from Nebraska with their toddler. On their way from the airport to the hotel, they asked their cab driver to stop off at the nearest Home Depot. There they ran in and came out with a roll of…yes, bubble wrap. They checked into their hotel and proceeded to line the entire room with bubble wrap. Aside from the absurdity of it, and hotel rooms are not very dangerous places, do you know what message that delivers to a kid? The world is a dangerous place and you’re too fragile to deal with it.

Are you saying the world is not a dangerous place?

It’s not anywhere near as dangerous as parental anxieties have made it out to be. Many of the things parents are worried about are not the things parents need to be concerned about. Just take one example. If you ask parents why they don’t let their kids go out and play, they’ll look at you in horror and say it’s because of all the sexual predators out there. You know all the laws we’ve enacted about registering sexual offenders. I won’t go into the unenforceability of most of them. But in fact, even before the hysteria was escalating, sexual crimes against children were dropping dramatically; we’re talking in the last two decades. A child is much more at risk of sexual victimization from a member of the family, especially a stepparent, than a stranger. Another example, why do parents suddenly feel the need to use padded cotton liners before parking their kids’ butts in the seat of a shopping cart? Shopping carts are just not great vectors of disease. But parents today see danger everywhere outside the home. It’s their own anxiety speaking.

Why is overprotection bad? What are the effects?

Let’s take the example of the shopping carts. The world we inhabit is full of germs. On shopping carts. On doorknobs. On telephones. This isn’t generally cause for alarm. You actually need exposure to a wide array of them because they keep the immune system stimulated and it has a memory for that particular kind of bug. So you’re protected when you face a much greater exposure. But if you’re overprotected with liners and sanitizing gels, you’re not exposed to the few germs that might be on a shopping cart, and so you’re made more susceptible to every serious bug that crosses your path. Without behavioral coping skills, every little challenge becomes insurmountable and you get depressed or you panic or you don’t even have words to express your inner alarm so you cut yourself. And you become risk-averse, because you can’t handle uncertainty. Or difficulty.

How is that those who mean only the best bring for their kids wind up bringing out the worst in them?

It’s always been terribly hard for a parent to watch a child struggle with something. When you throw into the mix parental anxiety for the success of their children, parents wind up taking over tasks or doing things for their kids because they want their kids to achieve and to be happy. But that grossly misunderstands happiness. You don’t become happy by the absence of difficulty. The greatest satisfaction come from setting a challenging goal, being engaged in pursuing it, not being sure you can reach it, and summoning up all your resources to stretch towards it. You’re never so happy as in that last final sprint towards a challenging goal, when you can almost taste it but still have to reach a bit more for it. That’s how the brain creates positive states of mind and a sense of satisfaction that has far more staying power than buying the latest gizmo.

Why are you worried about a nation of wimps?

These kids will be the next generation of adults and as the educated ones, our leaders will be drawn from them. If you have a whole generation that has grown up not having to make decisions for themselves, you have a generation that has no experience with the basic requirements of democracy. How do they stand on their own two feet? The amazing thing is how compliant these kids are, in the classroom, with their parents. They talk to their parents constantly by cellphone. They are not problem-solvers and risk-takers, so how will they sustain the economy in the years ahead, when we will need innovation even more than we do now? To be an innovator you have to not only know how to solve problems but you have to have perseverance and persistence. These are all the traits that are being bred out of this generation.

MGS: This last sentence is the most compelling and most disturbing. Traits for success are being bred out of our children. Indeed, the instinct for survival is being bred out of our population. Really, Marano assesses the nation as more than wimps. By implication, she is asserting that the nation no longer will have the skills and the will to survive. We will become a nation of appeasers within a civilization that has lost its confidence. Please read the entire article and get Marano’s book.
More later

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Ava Parnass (@ListenToMePleas) August 14, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Michael very interesting great article,coupled with the fact that parents are over protecting they are also not helping kids with hidden feelings correctly , which also leads to all the teen and college pathology..but bet you knew I would say that(lol)


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