Raising Our Children the Wrong Way

Safe Space. Microaggression. Trigger Warning. These new terms have invaded the lexicon of college campuses as Generation Z (those born after 2000) begins to leave the safety of their childhood homes to attend college. Greg Lukianoff, an attorney advocating for civil liberties in academia, partnered with social psychologist Jonathan Haidt in authoring The Coddling of the American Mind. The product of their collaboration is a critique of today’s parenting style in which children are treated as fragile. Risk averse parents and school administrators don’t allow children to assess risks themselves; rather, exposure to any such risks is eliminated through supervised play and helicopter parenting. The ultimate effect of this child-rearing behavior has proven disastrous, as rates of depression and anxiety have both soared.

Lukianoff and Haidt argue that emotional discomfort is now being conflated with physical danger. A childhood absent of risky situations or trying experiences leaves college aged adults unprepared for the divergent viewpoints and differing worldviews they encounter in the classroom. Protests against speakers on college campuses have become commonplace. College administrators have been pressured to cancel talks in which attendance is optional because students claim the mere presence of a speaker with different opinions threatens their safety. These cancellations further insulate students from those outside their echo-chambers. Lukianoff and Haidt advocate for college administrations that do not succumb to the demands of students as a means of better preparing these students for adulthood.

Prepare the Child for the Road, Not the Road for the Child

Lukianoff and Haidt have enumerated some prescriptions that can potentially cure Generation Z of the disease it suffers from. The Free Range Kids movement, founded by Lenore Skenazy, is one such prescription. Skenazy believes that to future proof our kids, we need to overthrow the current culture of overprotection. Experimentation and self-direction are the healthy alternatives to inflexible schedules and paranoid parenting. The Free Range Kids movement has the potential to reduce levels of depression and anxiety by enabling kids to become self sufficient and better prepared for the challenges and complexities of adulthood.

Additionally, Lukianoff and Haidt suggest that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), in which individuals use strategies to identify and overcome harmful thoughts, should be taught to children. CBT focuses on an individual’s response to stressors. Acknowledging that stressors exist and learning techniques to manage them helps children become more resilient. Unfortunately, parents and college administrations focus on removing stressors completely. This is both an impractical an injurious approach to parenting and schooling, as students are ill equipped to handle the trials that inevitably surface in the classroom and on campus.

Lastly, Lukianoff and Haidt credit the University of Chicago for not offering any concessions to students steeped in the culture of safetyism. In 2012, the University of Chicago issued a statement on free speech that stresses the importance of open debate and deliberation. The administration is committed to the principle of free speech and promotes the exchange of diverse ideas. Lukianoff and Haidt would like to see other universities share the same commitment to free speech and to defend professors who object to the suppression of controversial viewpoints.

Readers of The Coddling of the American Mind will come away with a better understanding of how to combat the many behaviors and enablers that are harming America’s children. The actionable suggestions Lukianoff and Haidt conclude their final chapter with make this a book worth reading.

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The Coddling of the American Mind book review

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