Let children play and self-organize
By Alberto Mingardi
Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff have an op-ed in The New York Times. Their book The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure Hardcover. The article is in itself a wonderful advertisement for the book.
Haidt and Lukianoff argued that the “over-protection” of kids is on the long run diminishing not only their exposure to dangerous situations, but their ability to cope with dissent and its challenges.
Here are a few highlights:
The constant presence of adults is intended to keep children safe, but what are its likely effects? How might kids deprived of opportunities for free play, risk-taking and self-governance differ from previous generations when they leave the nest? We would expect two main areas of difficulty.
The first is that when these kids become adults, they are likely to be less resilient. Like the immune system, children are “antifragile,” as Nassim Taleb, a professor of risk engineering at New York University put it in his book by the same name. The immune system requires repeated exposure to dirt and germs in order to develop its protective abilities. Children who don’t get enough exposure are more susceptible to autoimmune diseases later on.
By the same logic, if we “protect” kids from the small risks and harms of free play, we stunt their ability to handle challenges and recover from failures. When such children arrive at college, we would expect them to perceive more aspects of their new environment as threatening compared with previous generations. We would expect to see more students experiencing anxiety and depression, which is precisely what is happening, according to national surveys and surveys of student counseling centers.
… The second predictable consequence of play deprivation is a reduction in conflict management and negotiation skills. If there is always an adult who takes over, this is likely to create a condition sociologists call “moral dependence.” Instead of learning to resolve conflicts quickly and privately, kids who learn to “tell an adult” are rewarded for making the case to authority figures that they have been mistreated.
Haidt and Lukianoff quote Austrian economist Steve Horwitz’s paper “Cooperation over Coercion: The Importance of Unsupervised Childhood Play for Democracy and Liberalism” published in Cosmos and Taxis.