Blogs > Liberty and Power > "A Nation of Wimps"

Aug 8, 2005 1:03 pm

"A Nation of Wimps"

Julian Sanchez over at Hit & Run has picked up on a piece in Psychology Today that I read awhile back and had thought about blogging on, but never got to. The article is called "A Nation of Wimps" and explores the multiplicity of ways in which parents of young people today are so over-involved and over-protective that kids are simply not used to failing and coping with that failure. I can't really capture all the nuance of the piece, but I heartily recommend it for anyone who deals with adolescents and college-aged students. You will find much in this piece that explains the behavior of your students, and especially some of the changes that those of us teaching for a decade or more have seen. It certainly helps to understand the heightened demand for counseling services and mental health medication by this generation of students.

One of the more interesting observations in the piece is the role played by cell phones (and I would add Instant Messenger and text messaging) in keeping a sort of digital umbilical cord between students and parents. As the author says:

Think of the cell phone as the eternal umbilicus. One of the ways we grow up is by internalizing an image of Mom and Dad and the values and advice they imparted over the early years. Then, whenever we find ourselves faced with uncertainty or difficulty, we call on that internalized image. We become, in a way, all the wise adults we've had the privilege to know. "But cell phones keep kids from figuring out what to do," says Anderegg. "They've never internalized any images; all they've internalized is 'call Mom or Dad.'"

I would further add that it also provides an excuse for first-year students to not have to get out and make new friends and new connections on campus. Between the cell and IM, they are still in touch with their friends from home and in touch with them through the same media as they were when they were geographically closer. The effects of this technology on their ability to adjust and deal with the realities of college life, especially on a residential campus, are just beginning to be felt. (Add to this the problem that the vast majority of incoming college students have never had to share a bedroom before college, and you can only imagine how hard it is for many students to adjust to life in a college residence hall.)

The Psychology Today piece is long, but well worth the effort. Share it with your friends, especially those who are parents.

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More Comments:

Chris Rasmussen - 12/11/2004

Steve, I think another one of these "umbilical cord" examples that I notice is the propensity of students - particullarly freshman undergraduates - who drive home to their parents homes each weekend. So, if you send your child off to school close by; be prepared to see them knocking on the door every Friday night.

Sheldon Richman - 12/11/2004

Thanks, Steve. I'm a big cell-phone fan because I like being in close touch with my kids. Everything has its tradeoffs. I guess we have to teach our children that the cell phone shouldn't take the place of their minds.