Why ‘cotton wool’ children face risk of mental problems
Evening Standard (UK) 2 August 08
Children do not learn how to cope with life’s setbacks because a ‘cotton wool’ culture stops them experiencing hardships, an education expert claimed yesterday. Sandy MacLean says there is a link between a rise in mental health problems and a culture of entitlement which promotes the belief that success and celebrity do not need effort and hard work. She said youngsters must experience adversity so they develop resilience, but are increasingly protected from life’s hard knocks. Miss MacLean, an adviser to teachers and lecturers on mental health problems among students, blamed a tendency to treat young people like infants who cannot handle responsibility. But this only encourages them to behave like infants, she said.
Society has become too focused on the feelings of the individual, meaning young people ‘think that they are the centre of the world and blow out of proportion any setbacks or challenges in life’, she added. ‘Young people are not fragile – they can be likened to springs or balls,’ she said. ‘People can bounce back psychologically after being knocked out of shape, just like in nature.’
Miss MacLean said mental illness is on the increase, with 11 per 08cent of the UK’s 16 to 24-year-olds having a major depressive disorder. One in ten children between the ages of five and 16 is said to have a ‘clinically recognisable’ mental disorder. And there is evidence from the Institute of Psychiatry that the number of teenagers with emotional and behavioural problems doubled between 1974 and 1999.
Miss MacLean told the Times Educational Supplement that part of the problem is a culture of entitlement which vaunts instant success, increases self-obsession and undermines resilience. She also called for a fundamental change in attitudes towards feelings of negativity. ‘People are frightened of negative emotions,’ she said. ‘This encourages them to try to suppress their emotions. Paradoxically, research shows this causes more of the negative sensations they didn’t want. ‘People think bad feelings don’t have a purpose, that feelings such as guilt, shame and frustration are only negative – but research shows such sensations can galvanise us to do things differently. We need them to succeed.’