Why Are Kids and Teens More Fragile These Days?


(Permission to use this photo from Dr. Leonard Sax.  Photo credit: Clay Blackmore)

I attended Dr. Leonard Sax’s thought-provoking, inspiring and insightful parent education evening hosted by the West Vancouver School District Parent Advisory Council at the Kay Meek Theatre.  It was a sold-out audience and Dr. Sax (Psychologist, Physician, and Author of Girls on the Edge, Boys Adrift and Why Gender Matters) highlighted some extremely important issues that are of increasing concern, especially on the North American continent.  He also presented recent data right here from British Columbia, which was most appreciated and very compelling.

The Reality of Cutting

NSSI – Non-Suicidal Self Injury.  Self-harm was once  a rare occurrence, but it has become an alarmingly increasingly used method of alleviating anxiety, particularly with girls.  Cutting with razor blades or any sharp object is the usual method.  The wrist is a common place, but more discrete places such as the inner upper thigh are popular because, there, the cuts are less visible.  Contrary to the mistaken belief that youth cut for attention, the opposite is usually true.  The youth usually don’t want their cutting to be public knowledge.  Dr. Sax explained that cutting is very addictive and his patients describe it as a coping mechanism which “melts” the anxiety away.  Boys may engage in self-harm as well, but it is much more prevalent in girls.  Thirty years ago, the self-harm prevalence rate was less than 1%.  Today it is >20% of girls and 4-8% of boys.  Girls are internalizing more, thus Anxiety and Depression are on the dramatic increase.  Boys externalize more – ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder and Conduct Disorder are on the rise.  For more information read Why girls are cutting more.

What is Going On with Our Boys and Girls?

According to Dr. Sax’s evidence-based presentation:

  • Parents today are more careful to protect kids’ unpleasant thoughts and feelings
  • Parents today, especially affluent parents, are more likely to complain to schools about their child’s letter grade(s) on a report card or project
  • Parents are more likely to complain about their child not being invited to a birthday party, even though a group of kids from the class may not have been invited, and to defend their kids in all kinds of other situations  (Act as their child’s Defense Attorney or Prosecuting Attorney)
  • Video games are taking up a lot of time and many games are teaching “moral inversion”.  For example, Grand Theft Auto IV where one shoots police officers to obtain stronger weapons, have paid sex with a prostitute but then shoots the prostitute, watches the blood gushing out of her head and then reclaims one’s money
  • Approximately 1/8 boys are addicted to video games vs. less than 1/100 girls
  • > Six hours of week of video games correlates negatively with academic achievement
  • Social media such as Facebook and Instagram are taking over – girls post 500% more than boys!  For girls, social media is about performing.  The more time a girl spends on Facebook and the more Facebook friends she has, the more likely she is to become depressed (Kathy Charles, Napier University).  Girls today have much higher rates of anxiety, eating disorders, alcohol abuse and NSSI.
  • Suicide rates at universities across North America have dramatically increased  See The Broken Generation – Macleans magazine)
  • Having cell phones (with no adult supervision) at such young ages is creating many increased risks such as provocative photos going viral in the community
  • The brains of boys and girls are different but we tend to down-play this (For more information on this topic, Dr. Sax has written a book called Why Gender Matters)
  • Kids are more “peer-oriented” (Dr. Gordon Neufeld) and surface-oriented, therefore they don’t care as much about their parents’ opinion
  • The North American culture has become toxic with disrespect (his next book, coming out next year, will focus on the collapse of North American parenting)

The Meaning of Robust vs. Anti-Fragile

According to Dr. Sax, to be robust is to fail and then try the same thing again, which is not necessarily positive.  Whereas, to be anti-fragile is to try something, fail, try something different and fail again.  It is the ability to move from one failure to another.  The willingness to fail is the key to success.

Success means moving from one failure to the next with no loss of enthusiasm

(There is no consensus regarding the source of this aphorism. Although it is often attributed to Winston Churchill, scholars of Churchill’s life insist that he never said it. It may have originated with Abraham Lincoln.)

The Definition of Anti-Fragile

Antifragility means transforming:

1)  Fear into prudence

2)  Pain into information

3)  Mistakes into initiation

4)  Desire into undertaking     (from Taleb, Antifragile, p. 157)

As you can see, there was a lot of very useful and powerful information presented by Dr. Leonard Sax.  Next week I will summarize his points on what we can do to reverse the high-risk trajectory of fragility.

My two sentence take-away is that the Adlerian Parenting Framework including Betty Lou Bettner’s 4C’s of Connection, Capability, feeling Counted and Courageous (Reference: Bettner, B.L. & Lew, A. (1989). Raising Kids Who Can. Newton Ctr MA: Connexionx Press) fits well with Dr. Sax’s advice.  In essence, having strong family connections, believing in your child’s capabilities, allowing them to experience failure and develop their courage, setting limits, giving them a voice that counts while remaining an Alpha parent, particularly regarding supervision of all screens, (including phones) are all contributing factors in raising resilient children and teens.  More on this next week!

I would love to hear your comments on this topic in the comment box below.



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