Of course we want to keep children safe. But exposure to normal stresses and strains is vital for their future wellbeing
We talk incessantly about how to make children more “resilient”, but whatever we’re doing, it’s not working. Rates of anxiety disorders and depression are rising rapidly among teenagers, and in the US universities can’t hire therapists fast enough to keep up with the demand. What are we doing wrong?
Nassim Taleb invented the word “antifragile” and used it in his book by the same name to describe a small but very important class of systems that gain from shocks, challenges, and disorder. Bones and the banking system are two examples; both get weaker – and more prone to catastrophic failure – if they go for a long time without any stressors and then face a major challenge. The immune system is an even better example: it requires exposure to certain kinds of germs and potential allergens in childhood in order to develop to its full capacity. Parents who treat their children as if they are fragile (for example, by keeping them away from dirt and potential allergens, such as peanuts) are depriving their children’s immature immune systems of the learning experiences those systems need to develop their maximum protective capacity.
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