The Anxious Generation: How Timidity Is Holding Our Kids Back
- Thursday, September 13, 2007
Editor's Note: This article is one in a series of adaptations taken from the new release No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps: Raising Secure, Assertive Kids in a Tough World. Throughout the next few months, these articles will explore reasons why children are growing more and more timid - making them more susceptible to bullying - and provide practical advice on how to raise secure and assertive children.
‘‘My marriage is disintegrating, and my wife doesn’t respect me. She says I drain her of energy. Is it too late?’’
‘‘My husband is a nice man, but he’s not a good man. Our home is falling apart.’’
‘‘My daughter was a victim of cyber-bullying. She doesn’t want to go to school anymore.’’
“I don’t push back at work, and it ends up hurting me and my family. But I’m not supposed to push back . . . right?’’
‘‘My mother-in-law steamrolls me and then compliments me on behaving like a ‘nice Christian woman.’ I’m furious, but I don’t know what to do about it.’’
‘‘When I was young, Mom and Dad said to turn my cheek to all the bullying from the other kids. I can’t stand what my schoolmates did to me. I’m so angry that I let it happen, but nothing has changed—I keep letting similar things happen to me now.’’
‘‘When will I feel strong, like a man?’’
Why begin a series of articles about parenting with adult problems and adult complaints collected from years of being in ministry? Because for many their struggle with being timid and passive began during their childhood. They were told as children that nice boys and girls, especially Christian kids, don’t exert their will, don’t stand up and fight, and don’t do conflict. Their lives today are in various states of disarray and even ruin because of what they were taught (both intentionally and unintentionally). They’re soft, compliant, and pleasant instead of assertive, courageous, and virtuous.
Many of these adults, the ones making these statements and asking these questions, are just beginning to see how cautious living— solidified during their upbringing and fortified by messages they continue to receive—is holding them back. They’ve been stunted in marriage, in career, in child-raising; they’ve been stifled in their ability to understand God’s character and receive His love.
Their soul lacks backbone. For many, avoidance of life-affirming risk and terror of rejection makes them appear emotionally stilted and spiritually cold, even though, deep inside, they desperately want to know others and be known by them. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn tapped into this hidden pain when he asked, ‘‘If one is forever cautious, can one remain a human being?’”
In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25), Jesus characterized fearful living as a kind of criminal behavior—as a crime against oneself, against one’s neighbor, and against that person’s ability to draw close to God. Henri Nouwen wrote, “You need a lot of trust to give yourself fully to someone else. . . . Many people . . . simply don’t want to make waves and instead go along with the trend. That is not obedience. That is adaptation.”
Refusing to make waves is not an indicator of a life well lived. Refusing to make waves is the state that precedes drowning.
Passing It On
The problem of timid living is perpetuated with the creation of timid children. Ominous research tells us that today’s kids are more timid, risk-averse, and anxiety-ridden than past generations. Fear, my fellow parents, is our newest baby-sitter, our most prominent child-care consultant. The reasons are many, but one of the most misunderstood and underreported is our nation’s most pervasive preoccupation: overprotective parenting.
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