Coddling Kids

entltdJamie Moyer, former major league pitcher-cum-Philadelphia Phillies television broadcaster, recently criticized what he considers the coddling of young pitchers in baseball’s minor leagues. Moyer takes issue with the practice of pulling young starting pitchers in favor of bullpen relief at the firstsign of trouble in later innings. Moyer’s point was that by denying young pitchers the opportunity to learn to deal with adversity, they unwittingly learn to depend on others to bail them out of trouble rather than gutting it out themselves.  

Minor league pitchers aren’t alone in being shortchanged by this penchant to shield young people from adversity. I once heard a counselor advising a young man to avoid situations that made him uncomfortable. I thought not only is that a tall order but also astonishingly bad advice to give someone on the cusp of manhood.

This modern phenomenon has produced a generation of young adults utterly unprepared to cope with the real world. Parents, teachers, and authority figures are co-conspirators in this heartbreak. At the first sign of trouble, be it poor grades, bad behavior, or lack of motivation, adults turn to a throng of child psychologists, counselors, and therapists for help and advice. Too often the prescription for these childhood maladies is a buffet of psychoparmaceutical “ mother’s little helpers” marketed by drug companies. A pill for every ill. 

The upshot is that every disquieting mood, feeling, thought, or impulse is deemed a psychological disorder (think attention deficit disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and a laundry list of others). Being human is becoming a pathology and free will a fiction. In less enlightened times, these “disorders” were known by different names. Oppositional Defiant Disorder? Our elders called it willful disobedience. Treatment consisted of a teacher’s admonition to behave or be unceremoniously marched to the principal’s office. 

An acquaintance tells of his behavioral problems as a youngster which a psychologist attributed to depression. His mother countered that he should be depressed considering the mess he was making of his life. She wasn’t a PhD, but knew what she was talking about. 

Today, we wrap children in cotton wool, medicate them through their formative years, insulate them from every peril, and then launch them into the real world. We then wring our hands over why so many abuse drugs and alcohol, why Social Security  disability claims continue to explode, and why after spending thousands on the best colleges (and cream-puff degrees) twenty-somethings are unemployed and living at home. Like Moyer’s s young pitchers, these naifs have never learned to gut it out for themselves.

Growing up is hard. To paraphrase Aeschylus, we come to wisdom (i.e.maturity) against our will. We do children no favor by shielding them from this inconvenient truth.

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