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Growing kids’ true grit


Growing kids’ true grit

Jane Stephens is concerned that parents aren’t allowing children to stumble and fall in life, so they can learn how to pick themselves up again.

The kids are anxious, worried, stressed out. Teachers say so. So does a Senate Committee. TikTok is full of it.

How did it come to this: a whole generation where grit and resilience are the exception rather than the rule?

Where anxiety is a label worn on the outside – a visible Band-aid and permanent sick note to society that excuses the wearer from almost everything? It is not a problem so much as a pandemic of pain. And for the older generations, it is hard to fathom.

The 2023 Beyond Blue survey of teachers found two-in-three teachers thought their students were mentally unhealthy. A recent massive, government-funded survey of primary schoolers revealed that their mental health is three-times worse than recognised by health authorities. Doctors – loathe to load kids up on drugs – prescribed 40 per cent more medications for anxious and depressed Aussie kids in 2022 than in 2021.

There is even a group called ‘school refusers’ now. In the UK, the chief medical officer has even written to parents, urging them to pack off a nervous kid, because staying home just makes their pickle worse.

But telling a sooky kid to toughen up, or coming down firmly and fairly on a naughty one, is just not allowed these days. Parenting paralysis is real and wobbly kids are the result.

Growing up is tough. Resilience is only developed through stumbles and falls. You don’t stop a toddler from trying to learn to walk because they fall over a lot. You don’t stop a baby from learning to feed themselves because they make a mess. It is urgent that we try to right the trajectory.

We want confident young men and women, and I would rather see money poured into prevention and early intervention now than our justice, health and welfare systems later.

More adulting, more supporting kids to solve their own problems and risk failure, more calmly guiding them to change the narrative on distorted thinking – these are what regular grown-ups can do.

Kids are strong and benefit from wrestling with their problems rather than being constantly distracted or placated. It is like exercise for our emotions: doing is the only way to get match fit.

Life might not be easy but, luckily, humans are built for struggle.


Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer.

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