Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Unhappy kids

A recent NYT article about parenting caught my eye this past weekend. Based on a research study, it posits that we are seeing more children who report being unhappy despite having loving parents.
She theorizes that today’s parents are making themselves miserable trying to make their children happy. And, ironically, their children are less than content as a result.
The root of it, the article said, is that parents spend so much time trying to make everything perfect, no bumps in the road, that it leaves children unable to cope with hardship when they have to fend for themselves. They called the failure a type of "psychological immunity," a comparison to the way the body builds up immunity by weathering sickness.

It's an interesting take. I wonder whether parents are so focused on showing love that sometimes they mean they can't let the kid experience pain if it can be avoided. I can see the reasoning behind it, that if you can intervene before a child falls or fails then why should you not?

On the other hand, I wonder how many of the angst-ridden kids come from a helicopter style of parenting. I see this results of this parenting style in education, and I am not a fan. The effects of this (probably unseen by their parents) come in how their children react to college environments, often disempowered and unsure of their ability to think for themselves. I've often wondered whether so many of my students say they lack passion for what they want to do in life because they've never had room to explore things like that when decisions and experiences are so heavily mediated by their parents. I'm 100% convinced that helicopter parents mean well and see anything less as showing you don't care (and probably think they are not a helicopter parent), but can't help but think there needs to be a balance.

My teaching style is all about experiencing moments of success and failure. I've written before I learned more in failure than success in my professional journalism work, and in my classes I try to create room for both. In fact, I expect it will happen.

Classrooms are easier, though. They are controlled labs where I control the material, the pace, and the grading schema. I am almost certain parenting will mean the loss of control, and so how I incorporate this view of failure-is-good in everyday situations will be interesting.

I have long said that the best gift my parents gave me was my ability to be independent, to get to the point where I don't need them to guide me through every decision. I'd like to do the same for my child. I want them to know they're loved, but I also want them to learn that does mean you stop them from every little mistake in a way that takes away their own freedom to grow.


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  1. Does this mean that you won't be calling your child's college for them? I'm so proud already.

  2. There is also a theory that today's parents (who were largely latch key kids who felt neglected and 2nd to their parents work - thinks 80s) are trying so hard to overcome their childhood and give their children every advantage and thing they didn't have that they are creating a generation of entitled spoiled brats who feel they deserve everything because its always been handed to them. It's almost like their parents are doing therapy through their children. Interesting discussion for sure. Lots of thoughts on this one especially when you take our ad culture into account which in and of itself creates a sense of entitledness - you deserve a break today afterall :) Also interesting to think about this as the first generation of kids who had timeouts instead of spanking (not that I advocate for that), who all get recognized for showing up instead of winning. As a society are we coddling our children and creating our own monsters? Good stuff.

  3. I do see the residuals of coddling kids. I don't think it's purely parenting, though. Some of our other systems such as education have stressed the winning-for-showing-up approach. Kids don't learn to recognize flaws, or when they do they aren't taught how to fix them. It's not like I want kids to have a complex about their mistakes or anything, but at some point they're going to see them anyway. Teaching them how to identify-then-fix is important.