Children Don't Need Perfect Parents

WhatHappenedToAmericanChildhood

What Happened to American Childhood? by Kate Julian
​The Atlantic, April 17, 2020

Kate Julian's latest piece in The Atlantic is required reading for parents and educators alike, building on and essentially replacing Jean Twenge's widely-read article published three years ago in the same publication ("Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?"). In it, Julian explores the increased anxiety of our age and the fact that, more and more clearly to researchers and psychologists, anxiety is the gateway to other mental health problems. Contagious but treatable, anxiety often starts in early childhood and can be tackled with treatments including cognitive behavioral therapy. Overall, Julian explores our proclivity for "insulat[ing] our children from distress and discomfort entirely," quoting therapist and author Lynn Lyons: "The more fearful parents become, the more they continue to do the things that are inadvertently contributing to these problems." Key to the article is the research and teaching of Yale professor Eli Leibowitz who clarifies that parents are not causing children's anxiety; they are accommodating it. Julian also quotes authors William Stixrud, a clinical neuropsychologist, and Ned Johnson (who owns a tutoring business): "Children don't need perfect parents, but they do benefit greatly from parents who can serve as a non-anxious presence." Julian cites how often parents opt for short-term gain and long-term pain (instead of their opposites) because they are overtaxed, short on time, and under-supported by our society. Advice from the piece includes giving children (of all ages) "experience tolerating discomfort" and "a sense of personal competence." Familiar and new at once, Julian's article will no doubt be widely-consumed and widely-discussed in the months ahead. 


Submitted By: Meghan Tally, Windward School, Los Angeles, CA

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