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Children Of "Helicopter Parents" Growing Into Fragile Adults

Today's generation of university students are the children of so-called "helicopter parents," particularly coddled and worried about in the US. And they can't seem to cope in the face of adulthood.

An innocent hug?
An innocent hug?
João Pereira Coutinho

SAO PAULO — Is it OK to use the expression "to violate the law" during university law studies? Or could the word "violate" be considered offensive by students both male and female, perhaps invoking traumatic memories that should remain locked away in the dungeons of their conscience?

Most readers will think I've gone mad by asking this question. If only that were true! But, no, this isn't a hypotethical scenario. This actually happened — at Harvard. Students who were "uncomfortable" with or indeed "distressed" by the term asked their professors to stop using it.

A story entitled, "The Coddling of the American Mind," was published in the September issue of The Atlantic, and according to the article's authors Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, this hypersensitivity to everyday language isn't limited to "violations" of the law.

According to the reporters, cases of "microaggressions" — words, concepts or mere allusions that threaten the students' "emotional well-being" — are growing in the United States. Students believe they have a right to "emotional well-being" at universities, which must be "safe places" where what they don't like should never be heard.

Its for exactly this reason that university professors are advised to alert students before they teach something that might be potentially offensive to some. These alerts are called "trigger warnings."

One of the examples highlighted in The Atlantic explains that where F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is concerned, a professor must warn his class that "misogyny" and "physical abuse" are part of the story. Should the professor fail to issue such a warning, a sensitive student might just pass out in the middle of the lecture, which could mean the end of the professor's career.

How on earth did we get here?

The blames seems to lie with the parents of today's students, who educated their children with an obsession for safety that didn't exist among previous generations. A recent book, entitled How to Raise an Adult, was written by Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former student at Stanford University and Harvard. Her conclusion is chilling: Parents used to prepare their children for real life, but today they prefer to shield them from the reality they are bound to face in way or another.

No freedom

It starts early in childhood, when parents are so cowed by the dangers of pedophiles, kidnappers, passing traffic (and Martians?) that they keep their children at home and so strictly limited in movement that they have virtually no autonomy. Among other things, this has led to the childhood obesity epidemic. Sedentary lifestyles have become much more dangerous for this generation of kids than the typical kinds of accidents that might occur when children are allowed to be children.

But this obsession with safety of the so-called "helicopter parents" (generally those born between 1946 and 1964, with a tendency to hover over their offspring) continues beyond childhood — and even apparently to their university days.

The result for these kids who are now in university is that many feel adrift and suffer from insomnia, depression, anxiety or indecision. They have an almost psychotic fear of failure. And when a decision is inevitable, many turn to the same solution: a quick call to mom and dad so they can decide for them.

Lythcott-Haims believes "modern" education has turned today's young "adults" into "existentially impotent" people. Parents, in their anxiety to protect and control everything, have encouraged in their children a victim mentality, turning them fragile and frightened people who simply don't know how to cope in the world that exists beyond their own bubbles.

Nobody should be surprised that since they've been treated like small children all their lives that today's university students see "microaggression" in every sentence, class or professor. Everything's a threat for anybody who's been constantly protected from any potential discomfort. A book, a sentence, a word, a concept, and of course, a stereotype.

In her book, Lythcott-Haims laments that today's sons and daughters don't behave like their predecessors did, that they lack this sort of existential rebellion against their progenitors' authority, a crucial condition for them to build their own identity and one day fly with their own wings.

Instead, the wings no longer exist, destroyed in the suffocating parental love that keeps their children locked up in a golden cage.

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For years, Singapore has topped education rankings and inspired other school systems. Among the keys to its success is a playful approach to education and highly paid teachers. But many worry about the pressure the system places on children.

Students at Sri Mariamman Hindu temple in Singapore

Yann Rousseau

SINGAPORE — Every year in mid-October, social networks are set ablaze in Singapore. Upset parents attack the Ministry of Education on Facebook, Twitter and other forums, accusing it of having organized tests that were too complicated for their children. They say their children came home from the math section of the PSLE – the Primary School Leaving Examination – in tears. The results come in late November.

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