A recent column I read ties creating helplessness to protecting children. This claim, by Tim Elmore, is that the Tylenol Murders of 1982 supposedly created a climate of 'over-protectiveness' that led to parents checking over children's candies on Halloween.
"That led to an obsession with their children's safety in every aspect of their lives," Elmore says. "Instead of letting them go outside to play, parents filled their kid's spare time with organized activities, did their homework for them, resolved their conflicts at school with both friends and teachers, and handed out trophies for just showing up.
"These well-intentioned messages of 'you're special' have come back to haunt us, We are consumed with protecting them instead of preparing them for the future. We haven't let them fall, fail and fear."
The tough guy approach which Mr. Elmore seems to advocate, letting your children "fall, fail and fear," as a way of dealing with the an over-reaction of a protectiveness borne by events in 1982 seems to ignores the reality that urban legends (such as razor blades in apples and LSD in cookies) drove parents to view all homemade and unwrapped candies suspiciously as far back as the 50s. if not before. It also ignores great movements in society, too complex to get into here, that have been creating a more child-centric landscape. Moreover his view that protecting children is debilitating can only be based on a misinterpretation of what effective, caring parents and teachers do
Empathy toward children that has been misunderstood might make too many parents, more likely driven by their own egos than the real needs of their children, want to rescue their children in debilitating ways. However protecting children is never over-protecting. Making a child feel special for nothing specific might be hurtful but any parent (or teacher) not willing to help their child discover what is special about them would be a pretty piss poor parent or teacher indeed.
Learning to fall, fear and fail is not the antidote to being helpless, but learning how to do things differently is! The simple fact is that consequences do not teach: they only reinforce learning that parents and teachers must provide. Neither let kids fail nor rescue them from their mistakes. Rather, help them be resilient in the face of struggles, help them learn and apply creative solutions, help them understand that struggle is a part of success and that failure is only failure if you quit. That is what is at the heart of my book: The Missing Link.