(The following excerpt from Shielding Children From Hard Truths Hurts Rather Than Helps by Richard E. Cytowic, M.D., recently appeared on psychology today.com. To view it in its entirety click on the link below.)
Well–meaning parents sometimes try to shield their kids from unpleasant facts. They assume that the tough details of reality will upset the children and inflict grave harm. But evidence to the contrary shows how mistaken they are. Efforts to sugarcoat reality or shield children from harsh truths unintentionally hamper their ability to learn from misfortune and develop the resilience that makes negotiating adult life easier.
I must disagree with the well–meaning mother who penned an op–ed in this morning’s Washington Post. She advocated, “Sparing kids from catastrophe for as long as possible.” The kid in question was her 8–year–old daughter. The unpleasant facts from which she wished to spare her included the disappearance of Malaysian flight 370 and the presumed deaths of all 239 passengers on board, the invasion of Crimea by Vladimir Putin, the shooting deaths of protestors, the car and suicide bombings in the Middle East. The litany of horrors she wished to hide from her daughter was endless.
The Mother’s Side Effect
I felt sorry for the mother. I felt sad for the child because Mom’s good intentions were robbing her of exactly the kinds of lessons that would help her grow up.
The Hull Truth
We learn resilience by facing adversity and getting past it.
Hide and Seek
The impulse to protect kids from unpleasant facts is similar to the self–esteem fad currently practiced by educators. The idea rests on the assumption, not backed by any evidence, that high self–esteem must lead to high academic achievement.
The approach has not worked, which is what one would expect of a policy based on no evidence. Well–intentioned as it may have been, the gambit has failed to boost student achievement. In fact, it did precisely the opposite by undercutting the way the brain learns from mistakes and revises its expectations.
The trophies for everyone approach motivates students to amass more unearned rewards, instilled a sense of entitlement, and gave them an inflated sense of their abilities. Imagine handing a fisherman a fish. You might think you are doing him a favor, but you are robbing him of the pleasure of achievement, of catching it himself.