MENU

Reason.com

Free Minds & Free Markets

The Coddling of the American Mind: How Overprotective Parenting Led to Fragility on Campus

Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff explain how "good intentions and bad ideas" have made young people super-fragile—and how to make things better.

In 2015, psychology professor Jonathan Haidt and free-speech activist Greg Lukianoff published "The Coddling of the American Mind" in The Atlantic. It argued that speech codes, trigger warnings, and safe spaces on college campuses are "disastrous for education—and mental health." It quickly became the most-read article in the history of the magazine.

Now they've expanded it into a new book with the same title.

Lukianoff, a lawyer by training, heads FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which fights for free speech on campus. Haidt teaches at New York University and is a co-founder of Let Grow, the free-range parenting advocacy organization, and Heterodox Academy, which promotes intellectual diversity among faculty.

Reason's Nick Gillespie sat down with them to talk about why they believe that, as their book's subtitle puts it, "good intentions and bad ideas" about the supposed fragility of young people is "setting up a generation for failure."

Edited by Alexis Garcia. Intro by Todd Krainin. Camera by Jim Epstein and Kevin Alexander.

Photo Credits: Gage Skidmore/Flickr, picture-alliance/dpa/NEWSCOM

Subscribe to our YouTube channel

Like us on Facebook

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes

Subscribe to it via FeedPress.

Subscribe to it via Google Play Music.

Photo Credit: Paul Kuroda/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Jerryskids||

    FFS, these people aren't fragile little snowflakes, they're cry-bullies. They aren't emotionally weak and easily offended and threatened and traumatized by anybody that says anything they don't like, it's an affectation they use as a weapon. It's identity politics and victimology they use to claim nobody has the right to say anything they disagree with. They need to learn how to toughen up the same way - and for the same reason - a two-year old throwing a temper tantrum needs to learn to toughen up: The world doesn't owe you anything and you're not always going to get what you want. Now here's a thump upside the head because it's not what you want but it is what you need.

  • Juice||

    They are all, in some way, Eric Cartman.

  • Quo Usque Tandem||

    "... it's an affectation they use as a weapon. It's identity politics and victimology they use to claim nobody has the right to say anything they disagree with."

    Exactly. They've been taught throughout their lives that they should be free from offense, and they just use it as a cudgel. The victim claim is bullshit.

  • D-Pizzle||

    "...a two-year old throwing a temper tantrum needs to learn to toughen up..."

    The problem is, often the temper tantrum gets the two-year old precisely what they want, exactly the same as campus "cry-bullies." BTW, I'm swiping "cry-bullies." It is both succinct and apt.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Send R Lee Ermey in there.

  • ||

    RIP

  • Cynical Asshole||

    I always figured he's make a good therapist.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    There's also the issue of journalism finding any protest irresistible.

    "Hey look! Young people gathering, and they've got cardboard signs!"

    *stampede*

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

  • Cynical Asshole||

    I had to do a double take on the URL when I first saw that headline because I thought surely this is a story from The Onion.

  • Qsl||

    As most people over 30 have given up creating anything new culturally and instead function as time capsules of bygone days, it's not surprising the media focuses on youth cultures, for better or worse.

    And much from the Millennials seems to be reactionary to the excesses from the Boomers or Gen X. If the only avenue to rebel is The New Puritanism, well, who could have seen that coming.

    And while it is easy to focus blame on the kids, the adult enablers are remarkably free from criticism. It's not like the speech codes, etc. don't have the same feel as the jingoism from Bush's America. Welcome to the backlash.

    Of course the new Red Scare coming from the right isn't helping much either, and most of this will just end up as an embarrassment to each, like bell bottoms and jackets festooned with flair.

    This too shall pass.

  • Just Say'n||

    Something tells me that if a bunch of conservative college students were behaving like Nazis on college campuses there wouldn't be so much of an effort to explain away their bad behavior

  • ||

    Conservatives are mocked for merely having the temerity to defend themselves.

    "See! They're just as bad these snowflakes!'

  • vek||

    Yeah, always thought that thing was a bit silly. There are a few snow flakey right wingers to be sure, but overwhelmingly the right wingers have a different "vibe" to them when they bitch about things. It's not such a cowardly, woe is me, type thing going on. It's often more an angry "I'll kill you" sort of a thing. LOL That is surely getting angry, but is a whole different thing from wanting your comfort blanket, and as such is a lot less wimpy.

  • Homple||

    I blame Fred McFeely Rogers and "Free to Be You and Me".

  • ||

    I blame Fred McFeely Rogers and "Free to Be You and Me".

    Free to Be...You and Me was created by Marlo "Ms. Phil Donahue" Thomas and narrated by Alan Alda. Any project with that much estrogen is going to cause problems.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The Lefties try and equate there is "blame on both sides".

    This is years of Socialist propaganda that has dragged in Boomers who are not prepared to be targets too.

    There is no equivalent organized Conservative warriors that run around trying to suppress free speech, commit violence, etc.

    As the authors say, its a design of progressivism that problem will be created and then require more government to solve them.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    They then say there are "no villains" but Newt Gingrich is a 'causal villain'. Because when Republican took over Congress in 1995, the implemented changes that cause SJWs, and various nutjobs to hate conservatives.

  • BYODB||

    The fact of the matter is that conservative students are learning that having principles isn't worth much when the end result is losing to the louder group. Violence, at the moment, appears to get results. Why would conservatives not engage in it might be the better question when it's already proven that violence gets you your way. Morals? Scruples? What are those worth when you're lined up against the wall?

  • vek||

    That's the thing, maintaining the moral high ground only has value TO A POINT.

    In the USA I think we may be VERY close to the point where we may just have to toss the moral high ground out the window, and play dirty in order to stop the left from truly driving us off the cliff. The Nazis were a reactionary force against the communists. If they hadn't come around, Germany almost certainly would have fallen to the communists. That might have ended up even worse for the world than the Nazis, we'll never know.

    But either way, I think we may need our own brown shirts in the USA soon... I just hope the guys curb stomping commies in the states have better political values behind them! So far 99% of the right wing groups heading this direction do, so that's at least a good sign.

  • TxJack 112||

    Because eventually, violence has to end and if you have no plan and no principles, you lose. This mentality is why groups like Antifa will lose and crumble. Like Occupy Wall Street, pointless and childish anger at the "establishment" cannot last. At some point, the members of the group grow up and are forced to move on. Like the anti war hippies in the 1960s and early 70s eventually these kids will be forced by time to move on. There is nothing more pathetic and ridiculed than a 60 yr old radical clinging to the past.

  • Brandybuck||

    These fragile kids give me hope that I will never get pushed out of my job to make way for someone younger. But the young kids just can't cope with a real job so my old fart job is safe!

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Brandybuck, doing the jobs Millennials won't do.

  • Longtobefree||

    1. Eliminate federal college loan guarantees.
    2. Eliminate federal college grants.
    3. Make the selective service gender neutral.
    4. Re-institute the draft for one year for all as they leave high school. (drop out or graduate)
    5. Require an honorable discharge for college admission.
    6. Done.

    (Yes, I know all about needing qualified soldiers. But a full year of 'basic' training would assure that those who are not ready for a military career would be ready for an actual learning experience in college. The loan and grant savings would just about pay for the wages of the new recruits.)

  • Unicorn Abattoir||

    1. Eliminate federal college loan guarantees.
    2. Eliminate federal college grants.
    3. Make the selective service gender neutral.
    4. Re-institute the draft for one year for all as they leave high school. (drop out or graduate)
    5. Require an honorable discharge for college admission.
    6. Done.

    Nobody should be forced into service. In addition, all you'll do is create a backlog of COs and wealthy little Fauntleroys with heel spurs.

  • David Emami||

    As I recall, every time someone has proposed reinstating the draft (usually for "fairness" reasons), the first people who shout "no" are the military brass. They don't want a bunch of sullen conscripts.

  • vek||

    I can't imagine having a bunch of uninterested, and unqualified people in the army would make them stoked.

    Aside from the obvious violation of freedom, some of the pieces I have read about compulsory military service over the years make strong arguments from a practical perspective. I do think it might force a lot of snowflakes to buck up, which that argument gets made. It could instill discipline in a lot of sketchy people too. It makes people realize guns aren't the devil. However the think one of the best arguments is that it makes most people WAY less militaristic. The draft is what killed Vietnam to a large degree.

    If we had the draft, how many people that were in favor invading Iraq would have had a different opinion knowing their soft, sensitive son Johnny who wants to become a painter might get drafted? Or worse yet, little Jane could get her head blown off by an Arab half way around the world before she even gets a chance to go to veterinary school?

  • vek||

    Not saying we should bring it back, but if it ever did there would be worse things in the world practically speaking. If me getting forced to go into the military for a year or two had kept our nation out of all these nonsense wars, saved us trillions, and thousands of lives, so help me I think it would have been worth it. I thought about signing up just because military shit is kinda cool... The main reason I couldn't do it was because of our foreign policy which I didn't believe in. If we weren't killing people for no reason everywhere, being drafted wouldn't be all that bad in the first place.

  • Whorton||

    6. Eliminate academic tenure.

  • Colossal Douchebag||

    Excellent! More advice on how I should raise my child!

    Go fuck yourself.

  • JFree||

    This ain't on the kids and it's stupid as hell to pretend they are to blame. This is how boomers and GenX raised their kids to be. And I'm gonna pound my hobbyhorse here - it's all about the freaking cars/roads.

    Kids of all generations have always been eager for independence since they took their first steps. The joy of a kid in doing that hasn't changed at all. In the past, those steps then resulted in gradual stretching and pushing of those bounds. So eventually they are playing on their own in the neighborhood outside parental supervision and that's when they start doing the stuff (like eating bugs, falling out of trees, getting into arguments/agreements with other kids, etc) that they can learn from and that ultimately turns them into well-adjusted adults.

    But in a post-1970's world where cars own the roads and women now work, there was an actual need - at the neighborhood level - to make sure that those kids could expand their bounds without getting killed/maimed in the process. We chose to do nothing. And the result starting in the 80's was that parents had to stunt and coddle and reinfantilize kids and drive them everywhere. And now we are surprised they have grown up stunted and coddled and reinfantilized.

  • ||

    Don't blame boomers. Boomers are the grandparents of the fragile generation.

  • Qsl||

    Hey man, I was completely negligent in my child rearing and at least had the decency to be sober for most of it, so you leave me out of this.

    While helicopter parenting bears the brunt of the blame, I still hold the kids to account for at least not doing anything interesting with the cards they were dealt. If you want your legacy to be a support character from an Orwell novel, have at it. It's not like future generations will be mining the remains of hipsterdom for cultural artifacts.

    And much like the (fuck) continued war in Afghanistan was a chance to exorcise the ghost of Viet Nam, let's not forget where this bubble children really got its legs: 9/11. The collective ass of the nation puckered tight enough to form diamonds.

    It seems every generation is a poison pit of those that came before. I'd be happy just to not add to the level of neurosis and let the kids work it out for themselves.

  • JFree||

    My guess is that helicopter parenting was an overreaction to latchkey kids of the 70's and the problems of that.

    Since we kinda refuse to actually discuss/deal with any obvious problems structurally, it ends up on the next half-gen of parents to react and overreact in response. The group of new parents - looking now at the snowflakes and safe spaces of those a few years behind them - are completely on their own to figure out how to do a better job with their own kids. The only certainty is that the neighborhood itself will not be allowed to change to make things change in a better direction.

  • Qsl||

    Neighborhoods are digital now, and good, bad, or indifferent; it is one of the few places kids can exercise some autonomy away from prying eyes. I don't see how hanging out at malls was somehow preferable.

    And between HOAs, the TSA, and narcing as a national sport, the adults haven't been doing such a great job at structural changes to their safe spaces either.

    Neighborhoods will return when sanity returns. If adults won't even stick up for themselves, how can you expect the kids to?

    Good observation about latchkey kids (although I saw it manifested as never tolerating multiple divorces and a push to keep at least one parent home, working only part-time. Your mileage may vary).

  • JFree||

    I don't see how hanging out at malls was somehow preferable.

    It wasn't. That's just evidence that there was nothing to do in the neighborhood itself. So kids did nothing at the mall instead.

    It is the reaction by the adults that was fucked up. Instead of realizing that there was now a permanent need for kids to fill up time doing something nearby that is meaningful, we substituted overscheduling and oversupervising meaningless shit.

    Not saying the right solution would have been easy at all. Over time, we eliminated grandparents/elderly from many of our neighborhoods, unionized unskilled jobs around the schools/parks/etc (or had illegals do it) or eliminated nearby after-school jobs altogether with new bedroom communities, eliminated/bureaucratized community centers, etc. A lot of macro-level stuff that just renders kids as useless as tits on a bull in our society if they're not doing the only 'job' that we coerce kids into doing today (which is going to school).

  • Qsl||

    There's something to be said about Jared Diamond's observations about how kids are raised (essentially) useless in the west, without clear demarcations of adulthood or things to do.

    But there is also something to be said for research that points out "adult" decision-making doesn't happen until around mid-20s.

    With declining birthrates and more resources intently devoted to fewer heads, overscheduling and focus on competing in a world market seems a likely outcome (it would be interesting to see how those socialist utopias address this).

    But I really do trust in kids ability to create their own spaces. I just wish they were less aggrieved about it.

  • Linux||

    I don't for a second believe that these students legitimately feel the way they say they do. Saying that they are emotionally distressed is an effective tool to get what they want. If it didn't get a result they would stop doing it. I get that parents making the mistake of coddling their children but it's inexcusable for supposed educators and people in positions of authority to coddle adults.

  • the Aspen beat||

    I think you have it exactly backwards. It's not that protecting them as children made them fragile. It's that spoiling them made them demanding. They learned that they can always have their way by pouting, crying and whining.

  • Mark22||

    Reason's Nick Gillespie sat down with them to talk about why they believe that, as their book's subtitle puts it, "good intentions and bad ideas" about the supposed fragility of young people is "setting up a generation for failure."

    "Good intentions"? Turning kids into little obedient statists has been the objective of our early childhood policies and educational system.

  • vek||

    I'm so glad that as an older millennial I juuust barely missed out on most of this stupid shit. I think the break point is kids a couple years younger than me, like maybe 3-4. It seems like everyone that age and younger is a total pussy. Not 100% obviously, but the percentages skyrocket.

    Perhaps this is because I didn't get trophies for losing, was able to ride my bike around everywhere still, hurt myself running around with friends, do stupid shit, etc.

    Thankfully there is push back on all the things wrong with these people. Everything from the whiny SJW stuff, to free range parenting coming back, etc. Gen Z is even politically more right wing/libertarian leaning. I switch back and forth on whether the future is completely fucked or there is some hope... I can't say it WILL all work out okay, but there are enough bright signs that it might at least end up alright.

  • TxJack 112||

    You cannot make sweeping statements about parents as you cannot make sweeping statements about kids. However, the parents of these specific kids are to blame because they have failed in the one basic duty of every parent, to raise your children to become productive and independent members of society. The problem with overprotective parents is they raise kids unequipped and incapable of managing conflict, stress and unexpected circumstances. Unfortunately, that is exactly what makes up a majority of the real world and life. These kids think they will never run into anyone who will upset them or intentionally make statements to offend them, but when they do they are helpless because they do not know how to react. Antifa is another symptom of this issue. You have kids who unable to understand why they cannot have the world exactly as they wish, so they engage in mayhem attacking everyone they see as the cause. This is who they mean when the say they are fighting "fascism". For them fascist are anyone who has the ability to tell them "no" since their parents never could.

  • texexpatriate||

    Good intentions, poor parenting, and the failure of the public education system. That's what's responsible. Want to correct it? Keep one parent in the home, supplement the kids' education if you cannot home school them or send them to one, give them chores and responsibilities, and stop coddling them. Be a good idea to allow only an hour or two a day on smartphones.

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online