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Home Other Books Creating a nation of wimps;

Creating a nation of wimps;

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Creating a nation of wimps;

The dangers of over-protective parenting

Are parents today too over-protective of their children? This question is explored in

A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting by Hara Estroff Marano. The author, who has strong credentials as the Editor at Large of Psychology Today, takes aim both at parents and at the education system. She cites both academic sources and many real-life anecdotes to paint a very disturbing picture of parenting overtaken with hyper-concern and micro-scrutiny. Our society is producing a generation of fragile young people who have no experience in dealing with adversity or ambiguity. It’s not a pretty picture...

Marano suggests that contemporary parents are exerting a level of control over their children greater than if they were to arrange marriages for their offspring. She describes two popular parental behaviour styles of either always hovering around the lives of their children (‘helicopter parenting’) or of deliberately clearing all of life’s obstacles from the path of their children (‘snowplow parenting’) and details how both are harmful.

The old adage is that people learn from their mistakes, but somehow we are no longer permitting kids to make mistakes. Children feel pressured to get high marks on their report cards, but this makes them more likely to concentrate on what they already know rather than trying to learn about new fields. The result is often kids with high marks but who know very little about the real world. Some health issues could be implicated here, too. Eating disorders like anorexia might be linked to expecting perfection from our children. We should lower the bar for them and remember, to learn about the real world, kids need to take a few risks and perhaps skin their knees along the way.

Instead of letting children learn how to overcome obstacles, parents today are likely to type their children’s term papers and want to accompany them on job interviews. When a kid moves across the country to go to college, some parents move there, too, so their kid does not feel lonely. Even where parents do not physically follow their kids to college, they can let their presence be known. In one anecdote, an over-protective parent played his connections and telephoned the vice dean of a college to complain that his daughter’s roommate there was not keeping her room clean. This example might well win a booby prize for the most inappropriate intervention in the misguided quest to help our kids.

The importance of letting our kids find their own way—within reason—cannot be overstressed. We have to let our children taste failure and messy situations to figure out for themselves how to deal with these. “A wholly sanitized childhood will only defer failure until later,” Marano writes. Given the lack of life lessons that these kids have experienced, it is small wonder that she cites employers who prefer to hire the kids of immigrants rather than “the fancy kids” from Ivy League colleges.

Much of this over-protective behaviour is motivated by a perverted desire to simply want the best for our children. Many of us have fears that our kids might end up in the poor house in this rapidly-changing world we live in. This breeds anxiety that our kids must be able to get the best grades, go to the best schools, and then go to work with big companies for fat salaries. But somehow having a healthy childhood gets forgotten in that formula.

It’s not only parenting, but also the education system that is to blame. Marano bemoans how many schools across America, in order to cram in more teaching time each day, have actually cancelled recess! Here she compares the cancelling of recess to some of the ideologically-motivated educational reforms enacted by the Taliban in Afghanistan. And the evidence suggests that children might actually learn more on the recess ground than in the classroom.

Many important life skills are also learned through play, which may even insulate us against depression. We also know that it is difficult for children—especially boys-- to sit still and absorb academic material for hours without a break. Is it any wonder that boys are becoming less interested with school and many of them are dropping out before they finish high school? Marano even questions whether there really is such a thing as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or whether it is simply boredom with a curriculum that seems irrelevant. She suggests that some rough-and-tumble play could be the best remedy for ADHD. Whatever the case, the curriculum is often not addressing what children really need.

This book is a must-read for everyone how wants to avoid a generation of infantilized wimps unable to handle everyday life. My favourite quote from Marano’s book is that: “None of us knows what the world is going to look like in 10 years. One way to prepare the kids for the future is to relax and let them play now.” My favourite chapter heading is: “We’re all Jewish mothers now.”

A Nation of Wimps (2008) by Hara Estroff Marano; 320 pages; Hardcover

Crown Archetype; $29.95 ISBN-10: 0767924037





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