Sanitized Childhood

The Aquila Report posted an excellent article yesterday from Psychology Today claiming that we are raising a nation of wimps. There were so many good points in this piece (which I highly recommend you read) that I may write several articles in reflection. One of the major themes is over-parenting. This is the age of the helicopter parent. The article references how instead of a bunch of kids going nuts on the concrete playground these days, you see parents peppered amongst the recycled tire mulch. No one dares take a dive playing superhero because mommy and daddy are there to make sure all the equipment is used safely and properly.

I remember in college I took a course called Childhood Psychology as an elective. I was mortified by the child-centered philosophy that was taught. As we read a book that had a title something like You and Your Child’s Self Esteem, at 19 years old I could sense that this mentality would raise a generation of narcissistic brats. It was like brain washing for parents and educators. All of the sudden, we were told that we don’t even talk right and we may be ruining a child’s psyche with our language. Instead of “I’m proud of you,” we were told to say, “You must really be proud of yourself…” Instead of, “No, that is wrong,” we should say, “Do you think that is the best decision?” My husband is supposed to talk like this as a teacher. We live in an age where teachers are not allowed to give failing grades and every child gets a trophy. And so the article warns:

Behold the wholly sanitized childhood, without skinned knees or the occasional C in history. "Kids need to feel badly sometimes," says child psychologist David Elkind, professor at Tufts University. "We learn through experience and we learn through bad experiences. Through failure we learn how to cope." With few challenges all their own, kids are unable to forge their creative adaptations to the normal vicissitudes of life. That not only makes them risk-averse, it makes them psychologically fragile, riddled with anxiety. In the process they're robbed of identity, meaning and a sense of accomplishment, to say nothing of a shot at real happiness. Forget, too, about perseverance, not simply a moral virtue but a necessary life skill. These turn out to be the spreading psychic fault lines of 21st-century youth. Whether we want to or not, we're on our way to creating a nation of wimps.

This really got me thinking about the spiritual implications of the sanitized childhood. In trying to protect them from failure, we are also robbing our children of experiencing the kind of brokenness that reaches out for help. If we are pumping their heads with the hot air of self-esteem, we are distracting them from the spiritual reality that they need a Savior. So not only are we raising a nation of wimps, but we are deluding them with a false security.

I whole-heartedly concur with the psychologist, kids do need to feel badly sometimes. Maybe it is the selfish adult that really doesn’t want to feel bad. It hurts to watch our kids suffer. Sure, there is much we are responsible to protect them from, but it seems that we are now shielding our kids from real life. If we are hovering over every interaction, ready to rescue our children from the dangers of rejection and failure, we are really sending the wrong message about what’s worth fighting for.

Perseverance isn’t only a necessary life skill, it is a requirement of faith. We need to be raising up warriors, not wimps. Warriors take a stand for others at the cost of themselves. Warriors expect rejection from the world, but fight anyway for the name of Christ. Their methods may even make them appear to be wimps, as they take the seat of least honor and turn the other cheek to much scorn. But they rely on a real Savior who is strengthening them from the inside.

Warriors take risks because although they may fall, their Savior doesn’t fail. We are not our children’s savior. And if we are busy trying to sanitize their lives, they just may think they are too clean to need one.