Friday, January 2, 2015

Coddled Children

Do American parents cosset their children? Or, do they coddle their children? They might try to protect their children, even to coddle them, but cosseting… the word has not entered the parental lexicon on this side of the pond.

In England, overly protective parents are said to cosset their children. And a British neuroscientist has just discovered that cosseting children is a bad thing.

A child who is too protected will, upon confronting a trauma or a failure or a loss, not know what to do. He will be overcome with anguish and will retreat into a fictional world where he will see himself as having been subjected to an injustice.

Children ought to be allowed to make some independent judgments, to take certain risks and even to fail. In that way they will develop resilience and grit.

Ideally, this occurs with parental supervision.

So explains this story from The Daily Mail:

Parents who deny their children independence are creating a generation incapable of dealing with failure, a leading neuroscientist has warned.

A trend over the past two decades towards ‘wrapping children in cotton wool’ is leaving them struggling to cope with setbacks in their teenage years and adult life.

Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, an expert in cognitive neuroscience at University College London, said it was important for children to embrace a degree of risk and learn from mistakes.

But she warned youngsters nowadays were ‘not allowed to be independent’ as they were when she was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. Professor Blakemore, an expert in the teenage brain, said risk-taking was an ‘important developmental behaviour’ for teenagers as they began to negotiate independence.

Prof. Blakemore added:

When they suddenly do have independence as an adolescent, how are they expected to exert their independence if they’ve never had any practice? My view is that risk-taking and failing and things going wrong are really important skills for a child and an adolescent to learn... if you don’t allow an adolescent to fail or take risks then what kind of adult will they be when they go out and live on their own and have to deal with their own lives?

One British headmaster issued the following warning, accompanied by a recommendation for overcoming the problem. In his eyes children could learn how to take risks and to deal with failure by playing competitive sports:

Is this the way we do things in America?

In some places we do. In others, regrettably, we prefer to coddle our children by giving them all a trophy. Since children are traumatized by a loss or a failure we try to brainwash them into thinking that they never fail. Or else, that they deserve as much respect for failing as they would receive for succeeding.

In a more contemporary manifestation, some people are now arguing that law students should be excused from exams if they are traumatized by a grand jury decision.

Others believe that college students should receive what are called trigger warnings if a potentially uncomfortable topic is about to be discussed in class.

Are they being coddled? Are they being cosseted?

Whatever your word choice they are being prevented from becoming moral beings. For all I know, in some corners of the culture that is considered to be a desirable outcome.


Sam L. said...

You got to where I was planning to go. The college students are trying to keep themselves cosseted, bubble-wrapped to prevent getting scratched, scraped, or bruised.

A "Mugger-Friendly" sign on their backs and fronts should be mandatory.

Ares Olympus said...

This is clearly a divergent problem, without any universal rules that apply to all children in all conditions. So whatever answer we find it must have some sort of middle ground that we find by muddling.

Some people say children need parents to tell the truth in all things, so that means no santa claus and understanding where babies come from as soon as kids are able to ask.

I suppose one standard might be gender division - mothers-protect, fathers-challenge, so the mother is allowed to tell white comforting lies and support a creative interpretation of the world. Afterall babies start helpless and completely vulnerable, so you start with boundaries, inside the circle a child is completely safe, but he can leave the circle and come back whenever he needs to.

Maybe you could consider it unconditional and conditional love.

My (male) pastor likes to use the world indulgence quite a lot, in expressing ways in which parents spoil their children, as well as avoiding personal responsibility. So I can see as a father, he struggles with his own desire to set boundaries for his kids, and also not wanting to be the bad guy.

I'll never be a parent, but I've observed many kids, but I do see there's perhaps always some sort of rebellion that occurs in children, maybe expressed in opposite ways. Like "learned helplessness" would seem to be the opposite of rebellion, but if one or both parents always "take over" when things are not going right, a child will "test the limits" of a helping parent, and they'll keep on playing weak until the parent stops intervening unnecessarily.

So rebellion against motherly-love is harder to see what it looks like, while a strict father might promote much more obvious rebellion. Some kids for a long time will follow rules religiously, and will play tattle to earn parental trust. While others will rebel against authority immediately, and will be very aware of unfairness, and try to lawyer all agreements by techicalities, and also outright breaking rules without shame.

So anyway, I guess from all that, my conclusions are that parents need to run the gambit, from coddling kids when they're young, to setting hard absolute rules that are not negotiable, BUT probably will be broken at some point anyway, so the "punishment" for transgressions needs to be "natural consequences" as much as possible as kids get older.

On the other hand, somewhere the conscience must come in, since often "natural consequences" are so slow (like bad habits) that artificial ones are needed, like parental limits.

Its fun to think about in the abstract, but in practice, I can see what people say they'll do as parents will diverge what they really do, when faced by those cute innocent eyes looking up generously for forgiveness, after smouldering the cat's fur with a magnifying glass...