I was listening to a podcast this morning where Jonathan Haidt was interviewed. He’s a very interesting guy and I recommend checking out some of his work, but he was there to talk about his new book that he co-authored called The Coddling of America. It is something that is commonly talking about as a university professor, and of course it is a pretty mainstream discussion as well. Helicopter parenting and the hand-holding that still takes place even as they enter college is somewhat alarming. He argues that the changes in attitudes of university students on campus started around 2013 and so his discussion isn’t about millennials but rather about iGen or GenZ. He talks about the fact that we have this generation that is raised where an adult is constantly around. Also the constant testing and homework means kids don’t play enough and when they do play it is always under adult supervision. Kids don’t learn conflict resolution strategies when an adult is always a mediator. There was far more detail that he gave but what primarily caught my attention is his explanation of why this is. I mean if these young people are actually having moral panics and creating obstacles in their life that don’t actually exist, it is the fault of the parents and how they are raised. So he asks the question, why are we pre-disposed as parents to coddling?
He talks about the progress paradox. The basic idea is that what progress has done is made us all a lot safer, and thus we begin to worry about low probability risks. Things we wouldn’t have paid much attention to before but now do simply because we don’t have to worry about kids dying from small pox. Progress means we also aren’t having as many kids, as education and access to birth control has increased for all people. This progress means we are more worried about the few kids we do have. Progress has also led to increased leisure time which gives us more time to spend with our kids and watch over them. We also are more aware of child development issues and are more apt to get them involved in structured activities over free play. All of this, Haidt claims, explains why we have increased levels of moral panics on university campuses, why there safe spaces, trigger warnings, and microaggressions. (Interestingly Haidt says that removing yourself from triggers if you’ve experienced trauma is the exact opposite of what you should do if you want to heal from trauma. In cognitive based therapy which has been shown to be the most effective in helping people recover from traumatic events, it is recommended that one have graduated exposure to triggers rather than removing yourself from them.)
It seems a weird byproduct of a safer world, but from the discussion it seems that what we are doing is inventing or exaggerating fears because we don’t have as many as we used to. So I thought I would ask some questions for purposes of discussion. Does this hypothesis seem reasonable and fit what you’ve observed in society? What sort of shift would you like to see happen, and how do we go about making that change? Are we all just old fuddy duddys who don’t get the younger generation?