Marano blames this on parental "hyperconcern."

John Portman, Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, suggests that American parents "expect their children to be perfect--the smartest, fastest, most charming people in the universe. And if they can't get their children to prove it on their own, they'll turn to doctors to make their kids into the people the parents want to believe their kids are." Inevitably, what the parents are actually doing is "showing kids how to work the system for their own benefit."

By the time these kids get to college, some parents are just getting warmed up. "Talk to a college president or administrator," Marano advises, "and you're almost certainly bound to hear tales of the parents who call at 2 a.m. to protest Brandon's C in economics because it's going to damage his shot at grad school."

The article goes on to cite the experience of psychologist Robert Epstein of the University of California San Diego. When Epstein announced to his class that he "expected them to work hard and would hold them to high standards," he received an outraged response from a parent--using his official judicial stationery--accusing the professor of mistreating the young.

Epstein, himself a former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, later filed a complaint with the California Commission on Judicial Misconduct, and the judge was censured by that body for abusing his office. Nevertheless, this is just one more incident in what is becoming a normal experience on too many campuses.

How special are today's students? Well, according to their report cards and diplomas, they are very special. The problem of "grade inflation" now means that, in terms of an actual measure of academic excellence, grades are now virtually useless. On some campuses, the average grade is approaching an A. Lawrence Summers, Harvard University's embattled president, discovered when he assumed the university's presidency in 2001 that 94 percent of the college's graduates were receiving graduating honors. Peter Stearns of George Mason University argues that grade inflation "is the institutional response to parental anxiety about school demands on children." As Marano expands, "It is a pure index of emotional over-investment in a child's success."

In an interesting twist, Marano focuses on one particular technology that betrays the inability of today's children to establish their own identity and responsible decision-making--the cell phone. "Even in college--or perhaps especially at college--students are typically in contact with their parents several times a day, reporting every flicker of experience," Marano observes.

When parents play along with this dependency, they "infantalize" their children, "keeping them in a permanent state of dependency." Life is lived in an endless present tense, with no need to frame long-term decisions, make plans, or engage in sustained inter-personal conversations.

Who is at fault here? Marano presents this situation as rooted in bad parenting and the unwillingness of parents to allow their children to fail. Undoubtedly, this is part of the problem. Today's parents often see their children as little trophies to be polished. Many see life as a competitive game, and they are determined to do whatever it takes to get their children on top--even if it means cutting corners, changing the rules, and even writing little Johnny's term papers.

No doubt, Marano was on to something here. As one college student lamented to his counselor, "I wish my parents had some hobby other than me."

David Anderegg, a professor at Bennington College, warns that parents must not try to protect their children from life. "If you have an infant and the baby has gas, burping the baby is being a good parent," she explains. "But when you have a 10-year-old who has metaphoric gas, you don't have to burp him. You have to let him sit with it, try to figure out what to do about it. He then learns to tolerate moderate amounts of difficulty, and it's not the end of the world."