07 Oct Safetyism, Snowballs and Fragile Youth
Book Review: Coddling of the American Mind, Lukianoff and Haidt, 2018
We parent, teach and support. We want the best for young people. What we are seeing is a collapse of mental well-being. At the same time, events of intimidation, violence and witch hunts increase.
Lukianoff and Haidt take us on an evidence-based and carefully considered journey through modern parenting, teenage mental illness and education. They describe how we are losing the pursuit of truth and growth. Society is being pulled apart by partisan politics and intolerance. Young people are not coping well with this.
Most importantly, the authors detail what we can do to improve this situation. What they describe is American but the signs are global. The solutions are practical and immediately applicable in families, schools, universities and societies.
The book is excellent. Three ideas:
Overprotective society, parenting and education is depriving young people of growth. They are missing the opportunity to engage skilfully with truth, diversity, risk assessment, empathy and situation agility (the authors use Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)). The i-Generation, born after 1995, suffers rapidly increasing rates of anxiety, self-harm and depression. They are poorly prepared for the challenges of work, relationships and politics.
The authors recommend using safety for physical risk only. They encourage us to help our youth take risks through free play, debate, conflict resolution and respect for truth. Social media must be limited – particularly for young women.
A school demands that student never touch snow because it may produce a dangerous snowball. Similarly, we have invited and expanded the concept of threat to include diverse views, free speech, “micro-aggressions” and “avoiding triggers”. Thus universities have, since 2013, experienced an alarming increase in mental illness and campus violence. Research from left-leaning perspectives is all that remains. Moderate views have been silenced. Social media helps us name and shame those who voice disquieting views. If that does not work, students increasingly resort to violence. All because someone touched the snow.
Young people are complex adaptive systems. Genes create a rough template upon which the challenges of life – most specifically play and direct social interaction – work. We must play and practice to develop our neural wiring and the skills required to thrive. Jean Twenge shows that teen development is now delayed by three years. They are physically safe but mentally vulnerable.
The authors recommend that we rethink and look for proven wisdom. Treat our youth as antifragile. They have specific suggestions for parents, junior and senior school and universities. Much is based on teaching young people to own and master their emotional and cognitive responses. “Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.”