Are we raising wimpy kids?

Sitting in the urgent care waiting room this weekend, I had some time to read part of an article in a back issue of “Psychology Today” about whether over-parenting is resulting in “wimpy” kids. I didn’t get to read the whole article (it was rather lengthy), but the jist of it was that by over-protecting our kids, we may make them rely on us too much and result in “wimps.”

The summary of the article, called “A Nation of Wimps,” is as follows: “Parents are going to ludicrous lengths to take the bumps out of life for their children. However, parental hyperconcern has the net effect of making kids more fragile; that may be why they’re breaking down in record numbers.”

It talked about how many parents today start their kids wearing helmets as soon as they are old enough to ride a tricycle; how many kids don’t know how to play by themselves because their parents are always right there showing them what to do, what not to do, etc.; how sports are so organized and kids are so used to having someone tell them what to do that many kids don’t even know how to start a pick-up game of softball or basketball on their own. We could be raising kids that don’t really know how to play?

Another point was that there are many cases of grade inflation going on in schools across the country – from elementary to university. Parents don’t like to see their kids do poorly so they call and complain when Jr. gets a “C” in math. When enough parents complain, the teacher or school may feel pressured into padding the grades so that it looks like everyone is doing well. The article said that of a recent graduating class from Harvard, 94% graduated with honors. I know it’s Harvard, but still that number seems awfully high. Kind of scary to think that even a school as prestigious as Harvard may be guilty of grade inflation.

It also focused heavily on the use of cell phones in children and adolescents and hypothesized that the use of cell phones means that kids don’t need to learn to plan ahead. If they get out of class and feel like hooking up with a friend, they call them on their cell phone. If they forget their homework at home, they can call mom on their cell phone. The point was that these kids are then used to instant gratification and expect results right away. When they don’t get results right away, it can lead to depression.

Another topic of the article was that when these children – who are so used to being coddled and told what to do – go off to college, they don’t know what to do with their new-found freedom. “The perpetual access to parents [via the cell phone or, as the author says, 'eternal umbilicus'] infantilizes the young, keeping them in a permanent state of dependency. Whenever the slightest difficulty arises, ‘they’re constantly referring to their parents for guidance,’ reports Kramer. They’re not learning how to manage for themselves.”

“What’s more, cell phones–along with the instant availability of cash and almost any consumer good your heart desires–promote fragility by weakening self-regulation. ‘You get used to things happening right away,’ says Carducci. You not only want the pizza now, you generalize that expectation to other domains, like friendship and intimate relationships. You become frustrated and impatient easily. You become unwilling to work out problems. And so relationships fail–perhaps the single most powerful experience leading to depression.”

What happens to kids who are suddenly set free after having been controlled for so long? Along with depression, other problems affecting college students are binge drinking; substance abuse; an increased number in cases of obsessive pursuit, otherwise known as stalking, leading to violence, even death; and an increase in cases of eating disorders in women.

The connections between all of these things makes a lot of sense to me. Of course we want to keep our kids as safe as possible, hence the helmets, supervised play, etc., but what happened to harmless bumps and bruises, letting kids use their imaginations and come up with their own games, an occasional bad grade and letting kids learn from their mistakes? The psychologists in the article argue that letting kids make mistakes and fail builds character and helps children learn independence. Whereas if they constantly have things handed to them or are told how to do everything, they aren’t going to learn how to fend for themselves, and they won’t know how to deal with disappointment.

It’s something I definitely want to keep in mind as my child gets older. Sure I want to keep her safe, but I also realize that she can’t live and thrive in a bubble. I don’t know if this means I will pass on the bicycle helmet or not, but I do hope to be aware that as much as it will be hard for me to see her in pain over a scraped knee or disappointed because she didn’t get an “A” in biology, it will make her a stronger person. And the jury is still out for me regarding whether or not she will have a cell phone (and at what age). I definitely like that I’d have access to her whenever I want, and she access to me, but perhaps it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing. Like most everything in life, I believe moderation is the key.

The article ends with the following: “Parental anxiety has its place. But the way things now stand, it’s not being applied wisely. We’re paying too much attention to too few kids–and in the end, the wrong kids.”
“There are kids who are worth worrying about–kids in poverty, stresses Anderegg. ‘We focus so much on our own children,’ says Elkind, ‘It’s time to begin caring about all children.’”

I think that’s an excellent point. We as parents spend so much time worrying about our own children, yet there are so many out there slipping through the cracks who need our attention much more desperately.
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“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” — Friedrich Nietzsche

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Side note: For those of you wondering why I was in urgent care this weekend, it was because Ava was running a really high fever (over 104 at one point), crying inconsolibly and then her knee started popping out. (When it rains, it pours, eh?!) Anyway, it seems to be just a cold and she’s doing a bit better today. And as for the knee, the doctor thought it was a fluke thing since it was fine when he examined her, but it’s popped out a few times since we left there so I’ll be making an appointment with her ped to have it checked out.

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20 thoughts on “Are we raising wimpy kids?

  1. i too am undecided about the whole helmet thing. i mean, we never wore helmets when we were kids, and im sure we’ve all had a few falls. what really gets me is BY LAW here in MI a child HAS to wear a helment when riding a bike. that kinda bothers me….as a parent that should be my decision.

  2. Wow! I didn’t realize that there were laws pertaining to helmets and bicycle riding. And I hear what you’re saying, bike helmets were unheard of when I was a kid and I don’t know of anyone who was seriously harmed as a result of not wearing one.
    I tried to find a list of states with their helmet laws and here is what I came across (it has motorcycle and bicycle helmet laws): Helmet Laws
    It looks like about 20 states have laws requiring bicyclists of certain ages to wear helmets, most often age 15 and younger. According to that list, MI doesn’t have a state law re: bike helmets (but that list is only current through Dec. 2004, so maybe something has been passed more recently).
    That’s interesting to me though that so many states have passed laws. I wonder if they’ve had inordinate numbers of cases of head injuries related to bike riding.

  3. I’m a little confused here…helmets are meant to protect our kids from serious head injuries if they fall off of their bike. Why would you be so stupid as to not put one on your child? I don’t understand the logic. Just because the state wants you to??? This is dumbfounding to me. You wear a safety belt in the car don’t you and you put your child in a safety seat while traveling don’t you. This is the exact same thing. Are you not going to put a life jacket on your child while on a boat because it is required? Please explain this to me because I can’t see the logic anywhere.

  4. “Why would you be so stupid as to not put one on your child?”

    I’m not sure who the above statement is directed to, but regardless of that, can we please keep the discussion respectful?
    I see no reason for name calling.

    Thank you.

  5. While helmets is a good point, I think thats starting to digress from the point of the article which was, we try to protect EVERY little thing. I mountain bike (less now than I used to) and it is a required to wear a bike helmet as an adult when on a public road, most trails are the same way. I don’t care if its a state law or not, its good sense. (If its a law for adults, why not for children.)

    But… the point of the article was, parents are trying to be in everything the child does. The helmet topic is more about trying to protect them from little things. I think it would be a better thing to say that its ridiculous that parents complain to teachers about their kids grades. The grades should be the product of the child, not the interference of the parent. It really burns my @$$ to think my childs education is being fluffed by some worrisome parent that won’t let their underachieving child get a C.

  6. I would never complain to a teacher for my child getting a poor grade. I think it is horrible that parents would. My concern was with helmets. The fact the Amy and another poster said they weren’t sure as to whether or not they would put a helmet on their child. I was trying to keep the “discussion” respectful, but it is ludicris to me to think that parents would not put a helmet on their child. Amy, why don’t you give me a reason for even thinking not to put a helmet on your child.

  7. I said previously, “I don’t know if this means I will pass on the bicycle helmet or not…” To clarify, YES, most likely, she will wear a helmet the majority of the time – especially when first learning to ride a bike – but whether or not Ava wears a helmet is NOT the point of my writing this post.

    The point is that there is a bigger picture than what goes on in our own homes. Kids are suffering in the long run as a result of parental over-protecting (it’s a cumulative effect of the helmets, the padded playgrounds, the supervised play, the grade inflation, the cell phone usage, etc.).

    We are so wrapped up in protecting (and over-protecting) our own kids, while so many others have no one to look after or care for them and that is what’s sad and frightening to me.

    (For the record, Jody was agreeing with you.)

  8. We joke about this with our parents all of the time…like how are we not dead from all of the unsafe things we did? No helmets, no seatbelts, playing with rusty metal toy trucks, jumping off swings onto the actual ground, walking in 4 feet of snow, chewing on lead paint windowsills…some things were parental generation things.

    Anyway, I’m glad a lot of safety ideas are out. People should know about SIDS and head injuries, car safety, and swingsest safety. Sometimes things are overboard. Grade-padding, blamelessness, instant gratification, etc. I, for one, don’t miss dodge ball either.

    Times are different–I’ll not let my children use a bike unattended for miles and hours on end for an extremely long time. And the days of trick-or-treating solo are very far off.

    But we do allow our kids a lot of new independence. I think that anything has to be done in moderation. And I agree that we have to teach our children how to be independent problem solvers who can do their own laundry and resolve conflicts.

    It’s just that my 4 year old won’t be cooking on a gas stove just yet–even though my parents were more than happy to throw me into the fire :)

  9. I have this Jeff Foxworthy mp3 that made it onto my iPod somehow… don’t look at me like that… and it cracks me up.

    He is talking about how everything has a warning label for choking hazards and different safety issues, but then reminisces how he grew up getting a wood burning kit for chrismas, or chemistry sets. I had a chemistry set I used to play with in my UNVENTILATED closet (it was a labratory, ok?), anyway, I still remember the sulfury black power cubes I managed to create when heating in a test tube, or the ominous blue stained table that I used.

    I don’t think my parents were being remiss in their duties, but I don’t see how I could let my kid do that now. (I didn’t wear a helmet then, I will probably encourage it but I doubt I will strictly enforce it… just being honest.)

  10. well since im so stupid, i guess i won’t respond to janelle’s question. but thanks anyway for the insult.

  11. Please respond to my post Lisa. I would like to hear your explanation for not putting a helmet on your precious little guy. Enlighten me please. I am sorry for using the word stupid; I should not have.

    What is the right age for letting your child play in the front yard without supervision? My oldest is 5 1/2 and there is NO WAY I will let him play in the front yard until he is much older. He is never in the front yard by himself. Sorry, but there are too many crazy people in the world and it will only take a second for him to be snatched up. If that means that his “supervised” play outside will make him wimpy, well I would rather have him be wimpy than kidnapped or dead because I wasn’t watching him.

    I can’t believe we are even having this conversation! SERIOUSLY! It is our job to protect our kids!

  12. j-
    did you wear a helmet when you were a kid??……or were you not allowed to ride a bike??……if you did ride a bike and did not wear a helmet….why is it so different now??

  13. I do not believe I wore a helmet when I was a kid and I don’t appreciate the rude comment about me not being allowed to ride a bike when I was little.

    Just because the majority of people didn’t wear helmets back when we were kids, doesn’t mean that was a smart decision made by parents.

    So what you are basically saying is that if it wasn’t used by us in the past that we shouldn’t use them now? Even if it makes things safer for our kids? There is NO logic in that.

    You know, I think I need closure from this site. If there is a way to block me from this site Amy, PLEASE do it. I have said many times before, maybe not on the site directly, but I need to stop reading this entire blog. It upsets me, frustrates me, causes me stress and is completely unhealthy for me and I think one of the major causes of the health issue I have going on right now.

    I know I’m a great parent and I have two beautiful, bright kids and a loving husband and family. Their love and support of how I raise my kids is all I need in my life. This will be my last post and I will not be coming back to this blog.

  14. It’s interesting to me that in previous entries you were inspired to write letters to HBO regarding a children’s program that may or may not have a negative impact on your child’s brain, yet you have to give some thought about whether or not you would protect your child’s head from actually being smashed.
    Since your blog entries are not consistant in logic, I question whether you are just trying to mess with your friends, as some sort of weird past time. I would agree with JMS that she should avoid your Blog. I think you, and your loyal blog-pals post things just to try and f* with her.
    If you are looking for is assurance that you are parenting correctly, perhaps you should add a disclaimer to your site: “Only crunchy mommas who agree with me need answer”.
    I’ve noticed that whenever someone with a conflicting viewpoint answers, they are attacked (not by you…hmmm?) but by your friends and husband.
    As I see it, this blog is a way for you to get reinforcement for the way you chose to live your life. Everytime anyone disagrees with you or attacks you, you have your groupies come in and tell you what a perfect mother you are.

    Even better, if you are looking for assurance that you are parenting correctly, maybe you should just believe in yourself, and use your “blogging” time to spend with your daughter.

  15. George,

    I appreciate your post, but I don’t see where you’re coming from. The only person I’ve seen attacking anyone on this blog (with the exception of the first few days of it’s inception before I said “no attacks please”) is JMS.
    Other people have stated their opinions, just as JMS has been entitled to do, but when they agree with me they are suddenly “attacks”? I don’t understand.

    And believe me, there were plenty of comments in my posts about epidurals and breastfeeding from people who did not agree with me. I’m all for differences of opinion. If we all did everything the same, what a boring world we would live in. All I ask is that when people say they disagree with me, I want to know why. I like to have discussions. I like to hear other ppl’s points of view, but I appreciate more than “I think you’re wrong.” I want to know why.

    In fact, I LOVED it when “tracy” recently asked me about why I don’t vax. And I LOVED it when “JMS” brought up the claim that circumcision can lead to cancer. I didn’t respond to that because I felt that Jody already did and I had nothing more to add.

    I’m not asking anyone to say what a perfect mother I am. I am far from it. All I try to do is my best with the knowledge that I have.

    As for me trying to get a rise out of anyone, that’s completely unfounded. I don’t know how close you are to the situation, but JMS and I are friends in “real life” and I would never post something just to “f” with her. I post about things that are important to me and I know that she has every right to agree or disagree with them.

    I truly believe people are missing the ENTIRE point of the post about “wimpy” kids. If you can’t see the point, I’m sorry.

    Thanks,
    Amy

  16. First, there is a difference between defending one’s beliefs and attacking someone with opposing beliefs. I’ve never attacked anyone in Amy’s honor, and if anyone is ever defending her, it is because they see what appears to be an attack on her.

    Child rearing is not an easy task, people react emotionally whenever anyone questions that (on both sides of the fence.) Amy has never posted anything to try and get anyone’s goat, and doesn’t do any posting maliciously. Amy’s feelings have been hurt a few times because she felt like she was being attacked by her viewpoints

    The HBO letter vs a helmet is apples and oranges. Her complaint was that HBO says this TV show is good for kids, her point in this article was not directly aimed at bicycle helmets and that has been blown way out of proportion.

    If you read critically, you will notice that Amy is consistently challenging a society and a system that seems counter productive to raising a healthy child in a natural environment. Its American to consume, its American to accept, its American to glibly neglect children in favor of adult convenience. Amy challenges that (which, by the way, is also American.) You latch on to one detail, the helmet, and try to say she is inconsistent, but you aren’t really looking at any of this in any way larger than one post at a time.

  17. JMS said:

    “What is the right age for letting your child play in the front yard without supervision? My oldest is 5 1/2 and there is NO WAY I will let him play in the front yard until he is much older. He is never in the front yard by himself. Sorry, but there are too many crazy people in the world and it will only take a second for him to be snatched up.”

    I totally agree with you. I wouldn’t leave my 5 year old out in the front yard unsupervised either. The world we live in today isn’t the same world we grew up in.

    I don’t know if you got a chance to read the Psychology Today article, but the supervised play I was referring to was not about leaving your kids alone to play in the front yard. They were talking about how many parents will “manage” their kids playing, for instance on a playground. According to the article, kids aren’t just out there being kids while parents sit by on surrounding benches and watch from a distance. Many parents are right up there in the thick of it, virtually showing their kids how to play.

    I stopped by a playground yesterday to push Ava on the swing and aside from one dad pushing his boys on a swing (which I wouldn’t consider managing your kids playtime), I didn’t notice any parents showing their kids how to play. I saw one dad on a bench, reading a book, and another mom standing on the outskirts of the playground observing.

    So I don’t know where they gathered their information for the article, but from what I saw yesterday, some parents are still letting their kids play on their own (while watching from a distance). :)

    I’m sorry that you feel the need to leave the blog (and I don’t even know if you’ll read this), but I understand you must do what is best for you. I hope you are feeling better soon. Take care.
    (P.S. Sorry, but there’s no way to block you from the blog that I know of.)

  18. Wow! What a thread! I won’t comment on all of the mess but would rather comment abt the topic at hand.

    I think that helmets are very important for children to wear and think that a part of the reason we didn’t as kids was for one…cars weren’t going *as* fast and maybe ppl weren’t as preoccupied while driving as they seem to be now. Two….there wasn’t as much research done and wasn’t the great ole internet to let our parents know abt the ways they *could* protect their children. I had a friend in high school that was driving into the sun, 25 mph, in her neighborhood. Her neighbor’s child (5-6 if I remember correctly) was on his bike in the *street*. She couldn’t see him for the sun was blinding her and she hit him. He had serious head trauma even though he was wearing the helmet. So, helmet’s aside, watchful parents weren’t around. Our son wears a little helmet while he’s on the back of our bikes and I wouldn’t take it off of him. However, when he learns to ride a trike, I don’t think I will make him wear one unless he likes it so much that he won’t take it off. ;)

    However, like I said….I will post on the topic at hand….sorry I had to include something on the helmet thing just bc of that story.

    I’m glad that Amy brought this topic up as I have been feeling guilty lately bc I don’t “manage” my sons playtime. This made me feel better bc it’s nice to see someone say that we don’t “have” to.

    We have these few Fisher Price vid’s that have a mom’s “playgroup” at the end where they show you games to play w/ your children. I thought that they were silly and I just couldn’t do it. I felt like a bad mom bc I wasn’t able to get myself to play those silly games. My point w/ that is that there is so much propaganda out there (going back to Amy’s HBO blog) that says you have to manage your child’s playtime or they will be “stupid”. If you don’t get them Baby Einstein such and such, if you don’t get on the floor to teach them what their toy cars do they will be years behind their counterparts!!! OMGosh what we will do then??? Oh wait, my son learns how his little cars “go” bc he sees the “real” ones when we drive to the store or go on a walk. By slinging him from 2mo to 9mo when he began to walk he observed what I did and learned that way. I didn’t have to get on the floor and act like a monkey all day for him to be “smart”. I think that parents think they need to manage their kids bc we manage everything else in our world. We can’t just let nature take its course and guide these little people in *their* adventure. We have to have the smartest, the quickest, the most well behaved child at all times or we aren’t doing our job as a parent. It then becomes less abt them and more abt us and how we “look” to others.

    As for coddling our children….I think that we do. I read a book called the Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff and she talks abt this Indian tribe trusting their children. They trust that their children have instincts to protect themselves w/in the ttribe’s boundaries and I believe in that. We have let our child tell us what things need to be babyproofed in our home (aka boundaries). We didn’t bolt everything down, plug everything up, put plastic or rubber on the walls, etc. but we make proper adjustments when he shows us he needs them. He has fallen in the tub but since we were there w/ him he didn’t get seriously hurt, he has rolled off of the bed and crying ensued. He didn’t have anything but a little scare and that becomes a learning lesson on compassion and sympathy. I do think that we rob our children of developing strength, the ability to cope (when we give them antibiotics or drugs for every little bump, bruise or cold), and the ability to learn human emotion when we “protect” them from every little thing that might cause any “harm”. Again, this is where watchful parenting comes into play. If you are able to observe your child you will be able to help prevent the major spills that can cause major harm. However, what do we teach our children when we make everything so nice and cush for them? We teach them that we will pad their grades, pay their way for them when they are in their 20′s and beyond and then take care of their children when they decide that they still want to do their own thing. Look at how many grandparents are parenting their children now.

    Hmmm…..

    Sorry for the long post but this is something that I have a lot of emotion about. Our children deserve to learn and grow emotionally and physically and like Amy’s quote said…”that which doesn’t kill us will only make us stronger….”

  19. While I am definitely in favor of helmets, I do feel that parents seem to be over cushioning thier kids from life. I include myself in that. I am waaay overprotective and have to force myself to let go sometimes.I partly blame the media on it. THey have this tendencty to waaaaay over hype things which terrify me and many other parents. I would like to get a hold of an article that gives suggestions for letting go without panicking about it.

  20. Ah yes, don’t get me started on the media. LOL.
    I was actually thinking about the media and all of their scare tactics while driving the other day. Maybe that will be a blog entry for another day. ;)

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