Adam Smith, TMS on parenting, school of hard knocks edition

A social media acquaintance recently posted an article The One Question Every Parent Should Quit Asking. The article is an objection to competitive parenting and over-programming with constant expectations of excellence. Instead the writer wants us to encourage the kids to be good people and not be too stressed out and like us. Something like that. But it reminded me of a prior article in The Atlantic, How to Land Your Kid in Therapy. That article, written by a therapist, suggested that an over-coddled youth with too many choices can lead to frustration and unexplained unhappiness later in life. She writes:

…my colleagues and I began to wonder: Could it be that by protecting our kids from unhappiness as children, we’re depriving them of happiness as adults?

Paul Bohn, a psychiatrist at UCLA …believes many parents will do anything to avoid having their kids experience even mild discomfort, anxiety, or disappointment—“anything less than pleasant,” as he puts it—with the result that when, as adults, they experience the normal frustrations of life, they think something must be terribly wrong.

Wendy Mogel is a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles who, after the publication of her book The Blessing of a Skinned Knee a decade ago, became an adviser to schools all over the country… said that over the past few years, college deans have reported receiving growing numbers of incoming freshmen they’ve dubbed “teacups” because they’re so fragile that they break down anytime things don’t go their way. … what parents are creating with all this choice are anxious and entitled kids whom she describes as “handicapped royalty.”

Jean Twenge, a co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic… has written extensively about narcissism and self-esteem. She told me she wasn’t surprised that some of my patients reported having very happy childhoods but felt dissatisfied and lost as adults. According to Twenge, indicators of self-esteem have risen consistently since the 1980s among middle-school, high-school, and college students. But, she says, what starts off as healthy self-esteem can quickly morph into an inflated view of oneself—a self-absorption and sense of entitlement that looks a lot like narcissism. In fact, rates of narcissism among college students have increased right along with self-esteem. “Narcissists are happy when they’re younger, because they’re the center of the universe… Instead of feeling good about themselves, they feel better than everyone else. …They grew up in a bubble, so they get out into the real world and they start to feel lost and helpless.

We can try to protect them from nasty classmates and bad grades and all kinds of rejection and their own limitations, but eventually they will bump up against these things anyway. In fact, by trying so hard to provide the perfectly happy childhood, we’re just making it harder for our kids to actually grow up.

In the Theory of Moral Sentiments, Adam Smith writes:

The man of the most exquisite humanity, is naturally the most capable of acquiring the highest degree of self-command. He may not, however, always have acquired it; and it very frequently happens that he has not. He may have lived too much in ease and tranquility. He may have never been exposed to the violence of faction, or the hardships and hazards of war. He may have never experienced the insolence of his superiors, the jealous and malignant envy of his equals, or the pilfering injustice of his inferiors. When in an advanced age, some accidental change of fortune exposes him to all these, they all make too great an impression upon him. He has the disposition which fits him for acquiring the most perfect self-command; but he has never had the opportunity of acquiring it. Exercise and practice have been wanting; and without these no habit can ever be tolerably established. Hardships, dangers, injuries, misfortunes, are the only masters under whom we can earn the exercise of this virtue. But these are all masters to whom nobody willingly puts himself to school.

 

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