The root causes of stress have changed throughout history as we have evolved, but many of the physical and mental outcomes have remained the same. We no longer worry about our direct survival in the face of a physical threat from a predator or the lack of our basic needs being met, as our concept of personal and societal danger has altered and has become more emotionally based. The threats we face today stem more from our own assumptions and fear-based responses to perceived pressures. Within our own culture, what is considered ‘traumatic’ will be largely influenced by comparisons with how our peers define ‘trauma.’ What is considered a ‘bad’ experience in one part of the globe will not be given the same level of importance in another culture. For example, across Asia children are pushed to succeed in academia at all ages, whereas Dutch parents consider comfort and wellbeing more important and do not believe in pushing their children academically. In Japan, children are left to navigate busy streets and subways on their own, whereas this would be considered seriously neglectful in Western societies.
In past generations, and throughout the animal kingdom generally, parenting meant ensuring your offspring were nourished and kept physically safe until they were old enough to be sent out into the world where they would either flourish, or not. It was a simple task: meet the basic needs of the child until the child could meet their own needs and hopefully, improve upon those of their parents.
We are the first generation to involve ourselves fully in every aspect of our children’s lives, for much longer than is necessary. ‘Helicopter parenting’ evolved partly because of perceived threats pushed by social media and press headlines which make fear-based parenting the norm in Western societies, and partly because of the collective emphasis on achievement. This over-involvement has created a new society of anxious young adults who are finding themselves lacking the resilience and self-discipline their grandparents possessed. External support is often sought by worried parents to plug the ‘gaps’ in their children’s emotional armoury. However, allowing children to discover the world for themselves would give them the tools to develop their own ability to evaluate situations and take responsibility for their actions, thereby giving them control over their own minds, bodies and personal decisions. This strategy inevitably means allowing children to make mistakes and to experience the consequences of those mistakes from an early age, but it also generates self-reliance which in turn, allows them to confidently leave the nest.
Expectations around what life ‘owes’ us have increased as generations have progressed and this can compound an already stressful existence where we are relying on others to ‘fix’ every part of ourselves and our lives.
Perhaps we need to reconsider how we raise our future generations and aim to instil a sense of autonomy and self-responsibility from a young age to allow children to forge their own way through life’s ups and downs. Japan and Norway already have a culture of encouraging children to be self-sufficient and to do activities alone from the youngest age.
Encouraging group loyalty and cooperation as is promoted in collectivist societies is undoubtedly a value to be embraced, but at the same time, as clinical psychologist Wendy Mogel says ‘We are supposed to be raising our children to leave us.’
“What is unique to us is the desire to be happy all the time and experience no discomfort and achieve,” says Mogel. “These are competing values.”
Anxiety breeds anxiety, so perhaps it’s time to BE the change we wish our children to emulate.
‘Slow down and everything you are chasing will come around and catch you.’
John De Paola
For more information on SEN provision, please contact: