Aspen: A town of wimps? |

Aspen: A town of wimps?

Katie ReddingPitkin County correspondentVail CO, Colorado

ASPEN, Colorado In 2004, Hara Estroff Marano wrote an article about overparenting called A Nation of Wimps for Psychology Today magazine.To illustrate the article, the editor commissioned a series of photos of children wrapped in caution tape and bubble wrap.Not long after, Marano heard a story from a couple who had been visited by friends.Upon climbing into the taxi at the airport, the couple, traveling with their toddler, asked the driver to stop at Home Depot. There, they purchased all the available bubble wrap and proceeded to wrap all the hotel-room furniture in it.These [pictures] were metaphors! Marano exclaimed in mock horror, telling the story on a recent visit to Aspen.Marano, who will be visiting the Roaring Fork Valley again at the end of September for a fundraiser for the Aspen Youth Center, went on to write a book titled A Nation of Wimps: the High Cost of Invasive Parenting.She argues it is the first book to connect the dots between overparenting and its effect on the lives of young adults. The book details how overparenting has created a generation of children who cannot solve problems or overcome adversity.Were raising a nation of wimps, states the press release for her book. An entire generation of children is getting older, but not growing up.If a kid forgets a paper at home, most parents run it up to school, she said on her recent visit. If a kid earns a C grade, the parent calls the teacher to ask that the grade be changed. As a result, she said, kids have been overscheduled, overmanaged and shielded from what life feels like.Im not interested in how this is different from my childhood, she said. Im interested in how these kids are going to function in our economy and democracy.Marano said she first came upon the subject when she was putting out a newsletter for Psychology Today in 2002. She caught wind of a high incidence of depression at some colleges, and, thinking the trend must be a Northeastern, elite, high-pressure college phenomenon, she made some inquiries.What she found surprised her. After putting out a query to college mental health counselors, she received hundreds of emails in which these counselors detailed the high rates of depression at their campuses.Two years later, she asked the counselors if the trend still existed, and they wrote back to tell her it was getting worse. In roughly 400 interviews, she said, everyone told her more or less the same story the kids had no coping skills.So she went out to examine the phenomenon. What she found were parents more involved with their children than ever before. More than ever, she said, middle- and upper-class parents believe that the minimum criteria for maintaining middle-class status is a college education and they are determined to help their children get one.She went on to argue that parents have become so involved with their children that their identities have fused.What you have is parents saying, We got into Harvard, said Marano.At the same time, she found Harvard studies proving that parents who overmanaged their children were very likely to wind up with overanxious and fragile children.Even children genetically predisposed [to anxiety] didnt grow up to be anxious if parents allowed them to make mistakes, she said.But not all kids who are overparented are likely to wind up with clinical anxiety, she said. Some will merely grow up to be overly compliant and likely to avoid risk and seek certainty.As an example, she detailed a recent dinner with undergraduates at the University of Notre Dame. She asked the students if what she was hearing from their professors was true. Were the classrooms really without lively debate and discussion?One of them looks me straight in the eye and says, You know, we didnt get here by rocking the boat, she said.Marano paused. If speaking up in the protected space of the classroom is rocking the boat, how do you maintain a democracy? she asked.And Marano contended that employers are increasingly uninterested in hiring overmanaged children. Recently, she sat next to the vice president of a major investment bank on a plane ride. The woman told her she was consistently choosing the children of first-generation immigrants over the fancy kids. That was the first time Marano heard someone make that statement, she said, but since then, shes heard it several times.We have this kind of major social experiment, said Marano.If there is good news in her book, it is that the parenting solution is simple: Let kids play freely without monitoring them, she said.Unmanaged play helps children build critical circuitry in their brains that ultimately helps them deal with things like uncertainty.Adults think play is expendable, she said. [But] play is the future with sneakers on.kredding@aspentimes.comSchedule of eventsMonday, Sept. 29th: Marano will be providing a teacher workshop inCarbondale for the valley’s teachers from 4-5:30pm. Then she will provide aparent keynote at 6:30pm at the Roaring Fork High School. This event isbeing sponsored by the Roaring Fork Family Resource Center. The event isfree to the public, but donations to support the Aspen Youth Center arewelcome.Tuesday, Sept. 30th: Marano will provide a parent keynote at 6 p.m. at theAspen District Theatre. Tickets are $15 and will be available through theWheeler Opera House.Wed. Oct 1st: Marano will be giving a lunch presentation for high schoolstudents in Aspen. She will also be giving a teacher workshop from3:30-4:30 p.m at Aspen Middle School. The event is free to the public, butdonations to suport the Aspen Yough Center are welcome. There will be anevening reception for sponsors at a private home in Aspen from 6-8 p.m.Sponsors are needed at a variety of levels. One package includes twotickets to the keynote and two tickets to the private reception for $250.For more information & tickets call Sarah at the Aspen Youth Center 544-4133or Or visit the website

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