As if we parents needed one more thing to worry about doing wrong.
In the past year or so, there has been an explosion of media coverage of college students who are non-resilient, who need “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” and all sorts of other help and props in order to function.
And more recently, the pointy finger of blame is once again trained on the parents of these kids.
And there has been some research to back up that finger. Basically, the narrative goes that, because kids these days are raised with so many fail-safes in place, they are not allowed to fail. Therefore, they do not learn important coping skills. And so, when they are out on their own for the first time, as undergrads or younglings in the working world, they fall apart the first time they fail, or the first time the pressure becomes too great.
Having returned to academia, part-time, this fall, I can vouch that this is true of some of the student population. However, these students are in the minority.
First, I want to address the pointy blamey thing. As a parent, I understand the temptation to insert fail-safes for our children – to make sure they land on something soft when they walk for the first time, to check in frequently with their teachers and follow the online gradebooks like a new, hot mini-series. To ask all cars to kindly stay off the roads for a few days while my son learns to drive.
When our kids were little, we were very fortunate to have as neighbors a lovely couple with three beautiful, intelligent, well-spoken teenage girls, who have ultimately become highly successful adults. I asked their father one day, “What’s your secret?” He replied, “Do you really want to know the truth? We step back and let them fail.”
And that has been the core of our own parenting philosophy.
But that’s also VERY difficult to do.
Especially in a world where crazy people can walk into churches, onto military bases, and into schools and commit massive acts of evil and carnage.
So please, before you point the finger of blame at parents for overprotecting our children, please remember that we are raising kids in an age where intruder drills are a regular occurrence on school calendars.
It’s only natural for us to be a bit more protective. We arm our children with cell phones so we can have constant contact, and I know many parents who regularly use tracking apps to know where their children are at all times. I don’t do it, but I’m not judging those who do. I don’t have their kids, their schedules, or their lives; and I like to remember that we all have different wiring and tendencies to various levels of anxiety.
So do back off on the finger-pointing please. We’re doing the best we can here.
And the kids. They ARE more anxious these days. I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to determine why. In addition to the potential for terrorist attacks, our national government is currently enduring a stress-test of major proportions, and expectations and definitions of success for this generation of students are sky high. Students are constantly under pressure to prove themselves in academics and in a plethora of extra-curricular activities. (And please don’t point fingers at all parents there either. While there are some parents who over-schedule their children, some children over-schedule themselves, while others would sign up for nothing if left to their own devices. I know because I have one of each.)
As for the college students, the so-called “snowflakes”, what they want, more than anything, is for someone, anyone, to listen.
They are hungry to be heard. They are desperate for a real conversation.
The generation raised on social media is dying to have a chat with you. And the topic doesn’t necessarily have to be profound.
Recently, I finished giving a test to a lab class. We still had a few minutes left in the class, so I told the students that anyone who wanted to stay and review material for the upcoming one-on-one portion of the test was welcome to do so, but I also said they were free to go.
No one left.
But when I asked where they wanted to start in reviewing the test material, no one said anything. I asked, “So, why did you stay?”
“We just want to talk.”
And so I sat down and I listened. And they told me about themselves. About their personal lives, their challenges, what they dreamed of for their futures, what they ate for dinner last night, something funny their pet did, and on and on and on . . .
And so I think the so-called “Snowflake” problem, the prevalence of non-resilient students, may be a bit of a myth. Yes, all universities have students who need special assistance, and we give them that. Because it’s the right thing to do. Both for the well-being of the student in question and for the health and safety of everyone on campus. I in no way intend to downplay the importance of helping these students. And by the way, they’re not snowflakes either. Many of them display great bravery, ingenuity, discipline, and patience in overcoming whatever it was that caused the university to give them extra attention in the first place.
But I think the more pervasive issue is less one of so-called “snowflakes”, and more one of students who have been raised in a loud, overly anxious world, with skewed ideas of what “success” means. These students have been described as sensitive, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. They are incredibly sensitive to one another’s feelings, and are a very caring generation of students. They may very well indeed need to develop a bit of grit, but that will come – with every challenge and every failure.
When they are ready to talk, they will. And we’d better be ready to listen. And to help them learn and grow.
(This is intended as an opinion piece – and not as an expert opinion on, well, anything, actually.)