Protecting young people from emotional harm is a noble aim, but have we gone a bit overboard?
Maybe you’ve heard that phrase “killing them with kindness”? According to some, that may be what our culture is doing to today’s college students, at least psychologically.
Peter Gray, a research professor at Boston College, sees what he calls “declining student resilience.” At one major university, “emergency calls to counseling had more than doubled over the past five years. Students are increasingly seeking help for, and apparently having emotional crises over, problems of everyday life.”
Gray said that one student felt traumatized because her roommate had called her a nasty name. Two others sought counseling because they’d seen a mouse in their off-campus apartment. They called the police, who, he says, “kindly arrived and set a mousetrap for them.” The Atlantic calls this kind of thing “the coddling of the American mind.”
Many of these emotionally stunted students can’t handle a bad grade, and their professors live in fear of negative student reviews or lawsuits. Or as one director of counseling said, “There has been … a decrease in the ability of many young people to manage the everyday bumps in the road of life.”
What’s going on? Dan Jones, the past president of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, points at parents, saying, “[Students] haven’t developed skills in how to soothe themselves, because their parents have solved all their problems and removed the obstacles. They don’t seem to have as much grit as previous generations.”
In other words, there’s been way too much helicopter parenting!
Cameron Cole, a youth pastor in Alabama, knows that overly protecting our kids isn’t biblical. Pain, after all, is part of spiritual growth. “On Jesus’s way to redeeming the world he encountered betrayal, injustice, torture, violence, condemnation, imprisonment, and alienation,” Cole writes. “How deluded I am when I think an alternate path exists for my child’s ‘hoped for’ service to God’s kingdom. He will not wear the crown … unless he bears a cross.”
Too many kids take the easy path, which is the only path they’ve ever known. They’re afraid to fail so they avoid risk at all costs. But our faith teaches us risky obedience to God, knowing He’s in control.
I’m reminded of this point every time I speak with my friend Naghmeh Abedini, the wife of imprisoned pastor Saeed. Jesus said, “I’m with you always.” And let’s not forget, “Nothing shall be impossible.” So let’s share this bracing perspective with our sons and daughters, and live by it.
And let’s not forget that college students in former generations followed this God of the impossible. In 1886, Dwight L. Moody presided over a meeting of 251 college students in Massachusetts. They came from all over the country, and eventually an interest grew in foreign missions. As ChristianHistory.net reports, one of the students, Robert Wilder, organized a meeting for all of those interested in missions, and 21 young people showed up. He later wrote, “Seldom have I seen an audience under the sway of God’s Spirit as it was that night. The delegates withdrew to their rooms or went out under the great trees to wait on God for guidance.”
When the conference was over, 100 students had committed themselves to become overseas missionaries. It was the start of a movement that saw tens of thousands of people carry the gospel around the globe. Is such a passion still conceivable for us?
Yes! But the key is what I learned in my years of teaching teens and college students: Remove the bubble wrap. And like Moody, encourage them toward a God-sized vision for their lives. Help them see their giftedness and how it relates to the needs in their world, so that they can pursue their role in God’s restoration of all things under the lordship of Christ.
And as their leaders, parents, and mentors we need to give them permission to try ... and room to fail.
John Stonestreet is President of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and BreakPoint co-host.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by BreakPoint.