Well before the recent reports by the CDC and the US Surgeon General, about the shocking rise of suicides among youth, in 2018, Jonathan Haidt a social psychologist appeared on various television shows to flog his book about his ideas of what happened to American youth, particularly American teenage girls. One of those shows was Real Time with Bill Maher. The book is called The Coddling of the American Mind: How good intentions and Bad Ideas are setting up a generation for Failure co-written by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff.
The book has its origins in an observation by Lukianoff that in 2013 for the first time it was students asking for protection from words and books and ideas and speech. All of which should be protected by the Constitution. Students had protested speakers before, but they never before medicalized it. They said that if this person says something I will be harmed or damaged and people will be traumatized. Therefore, schools like universities should protect them from hearing such speech. This was something new and when they put it in terms of safety to their university officials those officials had no choice but to respond.
As Haidt said, “This brought with it a whole package of innovations: micro-aggression training, safe spaces, trigger warnings, all this stuff appears from out of nowhere from around 2013 and 2014.”This made Haidt realize that this new generation of campus students are even more fragile than the millennials. And they wanted protection. Free speech be damned.
This drove both conservatives and liberals nuts, though liberals had a harder time deflecting these claims.
Haidt pointed out that kids born around 1995 had a very different childhood than children born before them. They don’t get driver licenses as much, they don’t drink as much, they don’t go out on dates, and they don’t have sex as much. What are they doing? They sit at home on their devices often with each other and this seems to be changing social development.” Haidt asserted, “As a result the rates of anxiety disorders, depression, self-cutting, and suicide are way, way up.”
This is particularly true for girls, and it all begins around 2011. In 2013 this generation entered colleges. And that is when these attitudes came out. In part this is because their parents insist on watching them all the time. Instead of helicopter parents they call it bull dozing parenting. They clear out all obstacles for their children. Their children are prepared to face no troubles at all. To put it bluntly, they have been coddled.
The main proposal made by Haidt and Lukianoff is anti-fragility. As Haidt said,
“Some things are fragile like a wine glass. You knock it over it breaks. Nothing good happens. If something is plastic, you knock it over nothing gets damaged. It doesn’t get better. But some things have to be stressed or challenged. Your immune system for example. If you constantly protect your kid’s immune system, use bacterial wipes constantly, you are actually hurting them. Then you are preventing the system from getting the information it needs. The same thing is true with social life. If you protect your kids from being excluded, from being insulted, from being teased when they grow up it’s like the Princess and the pea. Any little thing they encounter on campus now becomes intolerably painful.”
It doesn’t help that parents try too hard to be their kid’s friends. They negotiated too much. They say, ‘Hey buddy isn’t it time to go?’ According to Haidt, “Kids need instruction and authority.”
This is a very new phenomenon so scientists don’t yet have a lot of data about it. Yet Haidt was prepared to say this in 2018 (later he went even farther and I will get to that in later post): “The preliminary data suggests that the anxiety, the fragility, the mental illness, that is across the country, across social class and across races. And that’s why social media use is starting so early. That seems to be the most likely culprit of several likely culprits. Just that week (Oct/2018) students at the Munk University Debates in Canada were demanding that Steve Bannon not be allowed to debate David Frum. That would be a travesty if the organizers gave in. The Munk debates in Canada went ahead after the same debate had been cancelled in the US by The New Yorker magazine who chickened out because of the uproar. I lost a lot of respect for the magazine then. I was a subscriber at that time.
Bill Maher had a good point about this. He said allowing the kids to shout down debates is like allowing the kids to take over in their homes. And, of course all of this gives fodder to the right who blame the left wing for the coddling. And there is some truth to that. In civilization this authority should never be given up to the youth. You don’t stop giving them guidance. On this the right is clearly in the right, in my view.
In 2018 Haidt was worried about what was happening on line. The boys were mainly playing games on the Internet. They may be killing people but they talk to each other and they co-operate. So, it is not all bad. But the girls were doing something else. They were putting something out and then waiting anxiously for comments from others. They are governed by social comparison and the fear of missing out. With boys bullying is mainly physical. With girls it is relational. So, girls can never get away from it. That is why the suicide rate for boys is up 25%, which is bad, but it is up 70% for girls! This is serious stuff.
And he had more to say about it later. I will get to that.