Special Reports

SPECIAL REPORT: Are American parents today raising wimps?

El Paso psychologists, parents weigh in

SPECIAL REPORT Are American parents...

EL PASO, Texas - Are today's parents raising a nation of wimps? That is the provocative question posed by a study published in 2004 that is still raising eyebrows today.

The author suggests that parents are so afraid of letting their kids fail, that they are preventing them from learning basic skills to cope with everyday life.

The study, called A Nation of Wimps, was written by Hara Estroff Marano, Editor at Large of Psychology Today. In the study, Marano said, "...parents are taking pains to remove failure from the equation," ultimately making kids "risk-averse, ... psychologically fragile, riddled with anxiety," therefore, "creating a nation of wimps."


El Paso therapists and psychologists offered their opinions on the study to ABC-7.

"Overprotection tends to cut off a children's wings for a normal development," said Anastacia Martinez. She agrees with the article's assessment.

Martinez offered a theoretical assumption made by a child whose parent may be overprotective of a child's actions. "If I can't go out and play without my mother worrying about every little thing that I do, it means I'm not capable of playing by myself, with my friends," she said. "It gives a message as a child that 'I'm not as good as the next kid.'"

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University of Texas at El Paso psychology professor Dr. April Thomas was doubtful about the study's assessment.

"I don't know it's true that kids today are experiencing a greater fear of failure than a past generation," she said. "I think that the article may be based more on anecdotal evidence than on what the research is telling us."

Dr. Thomas said that, despite the commentary in the article, recent research is showing that binge drinking among college students is on the decline and that there is no evidence that depression among young adults is increasing.

"They're doing very well considering the world has become more harsh for them," she said. "I think that we have better measurement today than we ever had in the past, and so, it could be simply that we're better able to detect these things than past generations have been able to."

Martinez and Thomas agree that parents need to set boundaries.

"We can allow for them to make some mistakes within the safety nets of the home and the safety net in the community," Martinez said.

Thomas advised parents to take an authoritative approach to child-rearing. "You are firm and have some control in your child's life, but you're also responsive and warm and caring."


One El Paso mother talked about how she is raising her two young boys, inviting ABC-7 into her home for a glimpse at her and her husband's parenting style.

"I don't hover. I watch from the sidelines cautiously," said Missy Saldaña. "I know that they're going to get scrapes. But they're going to heal. They're going to break bones. But bones heal."

Missy and husband Freddy helped Ozzy, 8, and Quentin, 5, into Godzilla and Stay Puft Marshmallow Man costumes so they could stage a battle in their backyard.

LINK: Smith College professor Rachel Simmons talk about allowing children to fail

"We want our kids to get outside and get dirty," she said, smiling as her sons wrestled each other to the ground in comic book fashion, complete with dramatic falls and sound effects. It's the kind of activity her parents would have encouraged when she was growing up.

"My parents raised us to be adventureous. They encouraged us to talk to strangers," she said. "We skated without helmets (and) we rode our without knee pads. We have our childhood scars to prove that we were out there getting dirty and having fun."

Missy, who is a high school teacher, said she sometimes finds herself studying her students and identifying traits she'd like her own children to have -- or not have -- and trying to parent in a way to bring about desired results.

"It's up to us to not coddle them and not to shelter them and protect them. They have to learn that if you mess up, they have to deal with their mistakes," she said. "They are going to have little challenges, but that's what makes them who they are."

She hopes her approach works in the end, knowing only time will tell.

"It terrifies the crap out of me and I hope I'm doing it right," she said.

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