Agency, control and trust (and kids)
Parents who grew up like this might never have known anything different. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
Here are some of the biggest trends in hiring right now:
Potential employees want to feel trusted.
They want flexibility, responsibility, and agency.
They want control of their destinies, and big picture leadership.
In fact, one study shows that if you want to get many times more applicants, simply add the word "remote" to your job ads.
Well, what if I told you that these same kinds of dynamics—agency, control, trust—could affect whether your kids wind up being happy and healthy, and leading fulfilled lives?
That's the conclusion of a new report in the peer-reviewed Journal of Pediatrics, for which a team of three professors of neuroscience and psychology at leading U.S. universities reviewed literally hundreds of previous studies.
Their goal: to determine whether there's a causal relationship between two things:
the unprecedented levels of depression, anxiety, and even suicide facing young people today, and
the degree to which well-meaning parents have reduced the opportunities kids have "to play, roam, and engage in other activities independent of direct oversight and control by adults."
According to the researchers, the sheer weight of the evidence suggests that over-structuring of children's time, and the curtailment of their freedom to engage in adventurous and even risky play, is in fact one of the factors
leading to the mental health crisis.
The key point is that while many studies show that both of these things happened at the same time, this report basically says that if you take hundreds of studies together, it's difficult to argue that one isn't at least partly the cause of the other.
"Most of the studies are necessarily correlational and cannot, by themselves, prove causal direction," as the authors put it. "The power of the argument lies in the converging findings from such a large variety of studies."
There is so much more to this roughly 5,700-word report than we could cover here, but I spoke this month with one of the authors, Peter Gray, a research professor who first joined the psychology department at Boston College in 1972, and who emphasized a point I'd never thought of before.
In short, it's that while Generation X parents like myself might understand first-hand that the way we raise kids today is different from 20 or 30 years ago (walking to school alone vs. being accompanied everywhere; play dates overseen by parents vs. "come home when the street lights turn on"), younger parents might never have experienced that difference as children, themselves.
But as Dr. Gray put it:
There are young parents I've talked to who grew up, and they had a world not that different from now.
I remember one parent I was talking to and I said, you know, that cartoon Peanuts? The kids are outdoors? You never see any adults around? That was reality ... And she was kind of shocked by that. ...
But throughout the world and throughout time, this was pretty much normal childhood: Children had a lot of independence, beginning rather young. This is how they grow up. This is how they acquired skills. ...
There's always room for argument, but this paper brings together a lot of converging evidence. Not only do we have the correlation over time that as children have become less free to act independently, mental health has declined among them, but also correlations within children.
Those children who have more freedom are mentally healthier.
Of course, Gray and his coauthors, David F. Lancy of the department of anthropology at Utah State University and David F. Bjorklund of the department of psychology at Florida Atlantic University, aren't the first to make this argument; frankly it's not the first time that they've made it themselves.
But, to my mind it's a striking report—and of a piece with many others we've covered here, often involving things that parents find hard to do:
Studies suggesting that children who play outdoors or have more than one recess period at school fare better academically.
Studies showing that children whose parents allow them to see their failures demonstrate resilience more consistently.
Studies showing that praising kids for their effort, rather than their innate abilities ("you did a great job figuring that out!" vs. "you're so smart!") makes it more likely that they'll grow up to enjoy learning and to excel.
Worth noting, of course: Even if you're convinced by these kinds of studies, there are personal and practical reasons why you might not be able simply to give your kids loads more autonomy than their peers.
To put it bluntly, being the only parent in your town who sends your kids to walk half a mile to elementary school by themselves is probably a good way to get a visit from social services—even if it was the norm a few decades ago.
Probably better to start to try to make some of those changes on a societal level, first.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one in the comments. But we also have something else today: a poll!
I included a note in the “7 things” yesterday about single Americans who say they could never date someone with differing political views. It generated some good comments. So, I’d like to ask how it works in your relationships. (Anonymous poll.)
7 other things worth knowing today
A 31-year-old woman used her $1,200 stimulus check to start a ‘cash stuffing’ business. It’s on track to bring in $1 million this year. (CNBC)
Patriotism, religious faith, having children and other priorities that helped define the national character for generations are receding in importance to Americans, a new Wall Street Journal-NORC poll finds. Some 38% of respondents said patriotism was very important to them, and 39% said religion was very important. That was down sharply from when the Journal first asked the question in 1998, when 70% deemed patriotism to be very important, and 62% said so of religion. (WSJ)
An Atlanta high school student decided during the pandemic to devote herself obsessively to figuring out how to get accepted to college. She applied to 70 schools and wound up with 54 admissions offers and a total of $1.3 million in scholarship offers. She chose Duke University. (Washington Post)
Here's a wild story documenting the drama over fake military veterans who went to Ukraine to enlist in the International Foreign Legion. One example: an American who allegedly claimed untruthfully to have served in the U.S. Marine Corps, but who actually had no military experience and worked as a server at Longhorn Steakhouse. (NYT)
A heavily armed assailant shot and killed 6 people at a Nashville school yesterday, including 3 children, and was killed by police. The killer, who had been a former student of the private Christian campus, was identified as Audrey Hale, 28, police said. (NBC News)
The Louvre Museum in Paris was closed to the public on Monday when its workers took part in the wave of French protest strikes against the government's unpopular pension reform plans. Dozens of Louvre employees blocked the entrance, prompting the museum to announce it would be temporarily closed. (Yahoo News)
I have to say this is pretty daring: Two Cuban migrants landed at Key West International Airport on a motorized hang glider over the weekend. They were taken into U.S. Border Patrol custody. A man on a golf course nearby filmed their approach. (ABC News, Instagram)