This presentation begins with the question, “Why are so many kids today so fragile?” I begin with a review of evidence that American kids are indeed more fragile – about 400% (4X) more likely to be anxious or depressed, and much more likely to fall apart in response to stress – compared with American kids from the same demographic 40 or 50 years ago. I define fragility as sensitivity to volatility. If that definition is valid, then one reason that so many kids today are so fragile might be because parents shield them from volatility and uncertainty. The remedy, then, is to expose kids to more volatility, within constraints: you don’t want your child to be run over by a truck or abducted by strangers. (Becoming UnFragile is NOT the same thing as being resilient, as I explain.)
In this presentation, I suggest that many American parents today are confused about the role of the parent in the modern world. Many parents today seem to think that their job is to ensure their child’s success, to be the relentless advocate of their child’s welfare. If their daughter doesn’t get a good mark on her paper, or if their son isn’t invited to the birthday party of a classmate, then such a parent may pick up the telephone to complain to the teacher or to the principal. Such parents misunderstand their role. They undermine their own son or daughter by taking such actions. Students must come to see failure and disappointment as an opportunity for growth. But if the parent intervenes whenever the student experiences failure or disappointment, with the parent acting as the prosecuting attorney and the child as victim, then the opportunity for growth is lost – regardless of the outcome of the parent’s intervention. So the bulk this talk is devoted to new research about what works to help kids to become UnFragile and how that’s different from robustness and resilience.