Researchers have begun to explore an idea generations of humans have known through experience: resilience is a key component of a good character and, therefore, a good life. Yet as “Free-Range Parenting” author Lenore Skenazy has documented in detail, as children’s lives have grown increasingly safe and comfortable, they’ve also grown more emotionally fragile.
On the CiRCE Instiute’s podcast “The Commons,” host Brian Phillips recently discussed the changes in kids’ resilience and self-reliance with Dr. Keith McCurdy, a family counselor with more than 25 years of experience including in school settings.
McCurdy observed the decline in maturity over the past 50 years, noting that student-teacher ratios in 1950s were one teacher per 28 students, while today the ratios are one teacher plus another school employee per 15 students, all while academic achievement has declined. Since the 1980s, the number of children on psychiatric medications increased 1,000 percent — from one in 400 children to one in 40 today. In response, schools have shifted focus from learning to behavior management.
“What that points to, really, is a change in our children and a change in our parenting,” McCurdy says.
While people in his grandparents’ generation were mostly concerned about how their children would contribute to society, he said, “The main focus of today’s parents is, they want their children to be happy and successful, so we’ve really shifted to a focus of valuing achievement over character, or happy and successful, versus mature and good citizens. So we’ve shifted from the top-down how we parent, because our target has changed.”
When parents focus on keeping their children happy instead of helping them develop maturity, they never develop the ability to overcome adversity, big and small. Thus all the comfort and advantages in life parents sacrifice to provide many children end up unable to develop into adulthood, besides being more likely to make people around them miserable. Instead of a “can-do” attitude, they have a “don’t wanna” attitude, McCurdy joked. Hence schools focused on behavior management rather than education.
“A kid that has a perspective that struggle, difficulty, failure is a normal part of the unfolding of life…they expect that life should be hard at times, it should be bumpy at times, but they also know that work ethic pays off, so a perspective like that a child begins having is what I call having a sturdy kid,” McCurdy explains.
He goes on to offer parents strategies for helping their children develop into strong, capable adults. Those include creating a family culture and identity, having kids contribute to the family as early as toddlerhood, connect cause and effect when directing kids’ behavior, and limiting screem time.
“When families look at those four things, they completely change the experience they have with their children in a short amount of time,” McCurdy says.
Listen to the whole thing — it’s worth your time.