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Let Your Children Fail (And Other Ideas on Happiness)

Last week, we posted a video of the Lunchbox/Soapbox talk given by Catherine Deveny at the Wheeler Centre in December. In her speech, Deveny decries ‘helicopter parenting’, and instead advocates (albeit with her tongue in her cheek) a 1970′s parenting style, one of “benevolent neglect, quality boredom, and independence as a result of parental indifference.”

I want my kids to be brave, resilient, optimistic and independent.

I love the Jung quote: ‘The heaviest burden a child carries is the unlived life of their parents.’ For many children these days, their burden will be that their parents had no life.

There has never been more time, energy and thought spent on the raising of babies, toddlers and children, and it’s detrimental, counterproductive and narcissistic. It’s suffocating our children and oppressing parents, particularly women.”

Her criticisms of over-parenting touched a nerve, but Catherine certainly isn’t alone in pointing to the ways over-parenting might damage the resilience and independence of children. Two years ago Lori Gottlieb, a writer and clinical psychologist, published an article where she described seeing more and more people in their ‘20s and early ‘30s with depression and anxiety. Yet unexpectedly, all of them had happy childhoods and were often so close with their parents that they were funding the therapy itself, along with their rent, holidays and car insurance. She suggested that these unhappy people had been the product of over-parenting, and a change in our conception of happiness which locates no virtue in mistakes, struggle or intermittent misery. Recent studies suggest that protecting children from negative experiences can be counter-productive, creating indecisive adults with no resilience, one of the qualities we ultimately need to live happy, meaningful lives.

This, at least, is the belief of Martin Seligman, the founder of positive psychology. In 2008 he partnered with Geelong Grammar to create a world-first comprehensive positive education program, aimed at combating skyrocketing levels of anxiety and depression in adolescents. The program teaches children skills to foster positive emotions, relationships, and most importantly, resilience. The hope is that by equipping kids with the skills to bounce back and adapt to challenges, we will have fewer young adults sitting in confusion on a therapist’s couch in ten years time.

Seligman will be speaking about positivity and well-being at the Sydney Opera House on February 17th. Find more information here.