A recent article in The Wall Street Journal, “The Over-Protected American Child”
reported on a probable link between the two. The writer likened the over-protected child to being “wrapped in bubble wrap”. Since bubble wrap has been a constant presence in my life since Hurricane Harvey, I felt a stir of interest in the headline.
When Harvey filled our house with seven feet of Buffalo Bayou ten months ago, friends and family used bubble wrap to protect many of our things for storage during the months we were in a temporary apartment. Every time I opened online purchases replacing items lost in the flood, bubble wrap was the standard packaging. When it was time to pack up for our final move to our new mid-rise apartment, I used up four huge rolls of orange bubble wrap to protect fragile items. After unpacking, I enjoyed seeing all of our beautiful china and decorative items freed at last from the bubble wrap.
The WSJ article implies that America’s healthy children will also become more beautiful when they are freed to become emotionally strong rather than living an over-protected, “bubble-wrapped” existence. Efforts to protect our children have resulted in a generation of children wearing helmets on playgrounds and college students who retreat to safe spaces when they hear a comment with which they disagree.
Educators and psychologists have long known that the rise of anxiety among America’s children is linked to the underdevelopment of two key executive functioning skills - resilience (in the face of disappointment) and emotional regulation (such as impulse control). When children learn to share, lose a game, accept disappointment, wait for what they want, risk new experiences, do their own homework and projects, and to manage their emotions, they develop self-confidence. Without these coping skills, over-protected children will be anxious, indecisive, and concerned that they do not measure up to others. These children will not develop the ability to tolerate being alone, having to find their own entertainment, having to wait to be heard, or think about the feelings of others.
Long before this over-protecting trend took to the extreme, my favorite book on the subject was The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, by Wendy Mogel. Another excellent book by Ellen Galinsky is Mind in the Making, The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs. The most recent book on my shelf on this topic is Grit, by Angela Duckworth. If you find yourself reaching for the bubble wrap, try reaching for one of these books instead.