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Author who says Americans are too sensitive to speak at CWRU

September 19, 2018

Author who says Americans are too sensitive to speak at CWRU

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Author and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt believes that by coddling our children Americans have created a generation of children who are easily frightened and subject to depression and anxiety.

“Good intentions can have unintended consequences,” said Haidt, a professor at New York University and author of “The Coddling of the American Mind.”

“Society changed in the 1980s and 1990s, we became very fearful and overprotective,” said Haidt, who will lecture at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Silver Hall in the Milton and Tamar Maltz Performing Arts Center at the Temple-Tifereth Israel, 1855 Ansel Road, Cleveland. The lecture, presented by Case Western Reserve University, is free and open to the public. 

“Consider this, if you ask a person over 40 at what age he was allowed to walk on his own a block or so from his home to go to the store, the answer is probably about eight years old. Ask that of young people today and the answer is about 12.”

He said since the 1980s, Americans have believed that any child left unsupervised outside the home is at risk of abduction. Parents can’t be totally blamed, since television and the movies make kidnapping seem like an everyday occurrence. But Haidt said that is not the case.

“The FBI reports that there are 100 children abducted by strangers every year out of a population of 300 million,” he said. “That’s as close to zero as you can get. We cause more harm by not letting our kids go out.”

Haidt noted such overprotection denied children the ability to become independent and capable of self-supervising. He said it is one reason anxiety and depression have risen so sharply starting in 2010.He cites three national studies that show depression and anxiety are “way up” since then.

“We see the same trend in hospital admissions for self-harm and suicides,” he said. “The number of girls hurting themselves raised sharply in 2013. The number of boys who committed suicide went from 11.9 per 100,000 in 2000 to 14.8 per 100,000 in 2015-16. For girls, the suicide rate went from 2.9 per 100,000 in 2000 to 5, that’s a 70 percent increase for girls.”

Haidt says young people now are frightened by words alone.

“When I was young, it would be common to see a swastika drawn on a bathroom stall wall,” he said. “I’m Jewish and I was not disturbed by it. I just ignored it and went on with my day. Today, a swastika could close a campus.”

The internet has contributed greatly to national insecurity.

He said any forum where people interact with strangers who can remain anonymous can create anxiety.

“Trolls are offensive,” he said. “We teach our children that the world is full of generally good people but there are a small number of people that we must learn to ignore. And we resist a recent trend to say words alone are violent.”

He said he has met with officials of both Facebook and Twitter and is pleased that both agencies seem dedicated to make the online experience safer for young people.

“Facebook opened up to teens in 2006,” he said. “In 2007, the iPhone came out and by 2010-11, more than half the teens in the country had one. We cannot say for sure what is causing the rise in depression and suicide among young people, but most likely it is the rise of social media and the result of overprotection.”

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