Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Lori Gottlieb and the Collapse of the American Empire

The message we send kids with all the choices we give them is that they are entitled to a perfect life—that, as Dan Kindlon, the psychologist from Harvard, puts it, “if they ever feel a twinge of non-euphoria, there should be another option.” Mogel puts it even more bluntly: what parents are creating with all this choice are anxious and entitled kids whom she describes as “handicapped royalty.” _Lori Gottlieb

Pity meek and mild Lori Gottlieb, an intern in family counseling who has made some interesting observations in the course of her work. Gottlieb discussed her observations in a recent piece in the Atlantic. The piece has raised a firestorm of online debate, snark, and condemnation, almost entirely undeserved. The fault in Gottlieb's piece lies not in what she says, but in what she leaves out -- what these disturbing findings imply for the future of the American empire.
...Here I was, seeing the flesh-and-blood results of the kind of parenting that my peers and I were trying to practice with our own kids, precisely so that they wouldn’t end up on a therapist’s couch one day. We were running ourselves ragged in a herculean effort to do right by our kids—yet what seemed like grown-up versions of them were sitting in our offices, saying they felt empty, confused, and anxious. Back in graduate school, the clinical focus had always been on how the lack of parental attunement affects the child. It never occurred to any of us to ask, what if the parents are too attuned? What happens to those kids?

...Dan Kindlon, a child psychologist and lecturer at Harvard, warns against what he calls our “discomfort with discomfort” in his book Too Much of a Good Thing: Raising Children of Character in an Indulgent Age. If kids can’t experience painful feelings, Kindlon told me when I called him not long ago, they won’t develop “psychological immunity.”

“It’s like the way our body’s immune system develops,” he explained. “You have to be exposed to pathogens, or your body won’t know how to respond to an attack. Kids also need exposure to discomfort, failure, and struggle...

...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. When I talked to her this spring, she 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. “Well-intentioned parents have been metabolizing their anxiety for them their entire childhoods,” Mogel said of these kids, “so they don’t know how to deal with it when they grow up.”

...A few months ago, I called up Jean Twenge, a co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic and professor of psychology at San Diego State University, who 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. When ego-boosting parents exclaim “Great job!” not just the first time a young child puts on his shoes but every single morning he does this, the child learns to feel that everything he does is special. Likewise, if the kid participates in activities where he gets stickers for “good tries,” he never gets negative feedback on his performance.

...This same teacher—who asked not to be identified, for fear of losing her job—says she sees many parents who think they’re setting limits, when actually, they’re just being wishy-washy. “A kid will say, ‘Can we get ice cream on the way home?’ And the parent will say, ‘No, it’s not our day. Ice-cream day is Friday.’ Then the child will push and negotiate, and the parent, who probably thinks negotiating is ‘honoring her child’s opinion,’ will say, ‘Fine, we’ll get ice cream today, but don’t ask me tomorrow, because the answer is no!’” The teacher laughed. “Every year, parents come to me and say, ‘Why won’t my child listen to me? Why won’t she take no for an answer?’ And I say, ‘Your child won’t take no for an answer, because the answer is never no!’”

... _theAtlantic
And so on... An interesting glimpse into the modern state of child-raising in the US from someone on the front lines of family therapy.

If Americans truly are raising generations of fragile, entitled children, who is going to do the hard work that needs to be done? As long as the US economy was doing well, America could import its hard workers and many of its hard thinkers, so as to keep the wheels of commerce and invention moving along. But with the rapid emergence of crisis levels of debt and demography, the US economy may not be able to import so much of its needed human capital -- to compensate for the disastrous failures of its parents and educational system.

Children need to learn practical competence in a wide range of skills. They need to learn to focus on a difficult task, and learn to work hard at it until it is done. Children must not be age-segregated in prison schools for so many of their formative years, kept away from any responsibility or opportunity to explore the real world.

The Roman Empire collapsed over a few centuries for many of the reasons the American empire is threatened: debt, demography, social problems that were swept under the rug, entitled and abusive ruling classes, etc.

American parents have only one or two children, on average, and far too many of them are being raised as "trophy children," pampered perpetually childish pets rather than skilled, competent, and responsible proto-adults. This failure to reproduce -- and failure to competently raise the meagre progeny which they do produce -- is what truly threatens the collapse of the American Experiment (not actually an empire in the Roman sense at all).

Gottlieb was actually rather tentative and modest in her conclusions -- not taking them as far as she perhaps should have. Yet she was castigated by the "pampering nannies" of modern academia, journalism, and the blogosphere. The dysfunction can probably not be reversed before catastrophe ensues, at least not in the many strongholds of the destructive philosophy.

It is up to parents who wish to raise competent and functional children to structure an environment around the child which facilitates the acquisition of skills and an ongoing successful adaptation to adult world responsibilities.

No comments: