Teaching kids to be Un-Fragile

Consideration is give to astronauts in space as to the amount of muscle atrophy they experience by not having gravity to work against. NASA is very aware and actually has an exercise regime to keep the crew fit, strong, and ready for when they return to Earth.

Years back, doctors advised parents to keep their new kids away from peanuts as long as possible. Since the 1990’s we have seen a sharp increase of children with allergic reactions to peanuts. Some research shows that up to 5.9 million kids under 18 have that sensitivity, That’s 1 in 13 or approximately 2 in every classroom. It is now recommended that children are exposed to peanuts gradually in the first 5 years of life.

Those are facts, the rest here is speculation and opinion (just being honest).

I think parents now-a-days love their kids more than parents of yesteryear. You would agree if you have seen any of those “When we were kids…” memes on Facebook or Instagram. Kids were abused. Bikes without helmets, basketball without knee pads, being allowed a tantrum here and there. Clearly our folks never loved us, or did they? (tongue in cheek humor)

Today’s parents have the best intentions, but they may be doing more harm than good. We have all heard and seen “helicopter parents” who hover and try to control their children and their children’s experiences; but today the new concern is with “Bulldozer Parenting.” A Bulldozer parent tries to clear the path for their kids so that no obstacles, no hills or valleys challenge their child on the road of life. And I contend that this is a dis-service. Hills, valleys, pain, and challenge is what prepares our children for the road of life. Having to deal with these natural and normal occurrences leads to problem solving, tolerance, and growth. Their avoidance leads to much the opposite. Author Nassim Nicholas Taleb coined the term “Anti-Fragile”. He illustrates the term by comparing a China Tea cup, so fragile to handle and care for, to a child’s sippy cup. Drop a sippy cup and it bounces and rolls. Though a sippy cup is resilient; it is made to bounce back., but the cup gains nothing from it’s resiliency. A child, however, can be taught to be resilient and gain from it. He says “anti-fragile” because learning from their bounce back gives them new strength to prepare and defend against similar “drops.”

I feel that children need to experience a few bumps in the road. Without them the child doesn’t develop any ability to self-regulate or cope. Much like the absence of gravity and how it causes the loss of muscle in astronauts; the lack of challenge can make children weak. It certainly doesn’t prepare them for adult life.

Whole books are written based on research in this area and I cannot do any of them justice. (See below) And of course this post is an oversimplification of every concept I bring forth. However, I have seen so much of this exemplified with the exposure we have to families, that even simplified, it has become something I feel strongly about. We recently had a gymnast leave our program because of a personality conflict with another person. Rather than working to resolve the issues and establishing solutions, the parents pulled the gymnast out and away from any chance to demonstrate how we are all capable of conquering conflict. Their leaving may have been done with the best of intention, but removed an opportunity to grow and learn.

I believe that sports and participation in athletics, aside from the obvious physical benefit, can also teach children to develop dedication, drive, empathy, resolve, social interaction, problem solving, acceptance, coping, and forward focus. But if we seek to anesthetize sports from an occasional negative outcome or skinned knee we will lose all of that benefit, but hey at least they’ll have their meaningless participation trophy. But I digress…

A recent trend on campuses across the country is to restrict invitations of speakers whose topics may offend some students. The desire to keep kids physically safe is being confused with an effort to keep them from feeling emotionally challenged. There is confusion about “unsafe” vs. “uncomfortable”, and our schools are meant to be places of thought and learning not padded and protected flavorless institutions of unchallenged minds. Having a person speak about a topic you don’t agree with or one that conflicts with your values isn’t causing a physical risk, it’s granting an opportunity to develop your resolve and stand up to speak your mind. I remember when I was in college, we had a few speakers come to lecture on campus. I thought a few were brilliant and they challenged me to evolve my thinking. Some were absolute whackadoodles. You know what I did for those guys? I didn’t go to the lecture. I developed a strength in character to say: we will disagree, and that’s OK. Mostly because you are a whackadoodle.” Today speakers on topics like ethics, race, politics, history, or even comedians are being denied access to our higher learning institutions because of the risk of “triggering” an emotional response that may make a student uncomfortable. Professors are warned to avoid language that may trigger an adverse negative response as well. I would ask, what part of ethics, race, politics, history, or even comedy doesn’t evoke an emotional response? But then again, I’m a pot-stirer.

By sparing kids any exposure to thoughts and values that may conflict with how they were raised, we are creating a generation of anxiety laden children who are often diagnosed with depression or anxiety disorders as early as 5 years old. In fact the suicide rate in young people, age 15-24, has increased from 9.7 in 2003 to 13. 15 in 2016. People are being turned out into the harsh environment of the world without the ability to “deal” with it. Bulldozer parenting has eliminated anything that could make our children feel negatively and thus they are losing they’re losing the ability to cope and bounce back from discomfort and challenge. Just like the removal of peanuts we are leaving a generation of young adults susceptible to adverse reactions to, not nuts, but reality.

Books on the subject include:

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure

Freedom from Speech

Duct Tape Parenting

Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the end of American Debate

Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)

The Blessings of a Skinned Knee: Using Timeless Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children

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