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Coddled kids end-up incapable, anxious, and depressed: Halifax psychologist


A well-known Maritime psychologist says hyper-vigilant parents are projecting their worries onto their children, leading to new generations with serious mental health issues.

"Children are not fragile," said Dr. Simon Sherry.

"They are not tiny, little snowflakes that are going to melt. They're not candles that can be easily blown out in the wind. They're tough, and they're resourceful and they're resilient, and they need opportunities at independence to learn how to be strong adults," he said.

"But, (what) we've created now is a generation of kids where adolescence is the new childhood, where they're coddled and they're over parented and they're over protected."

Sherry, a clinical psychologist at CRUX Psychology and professor in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Dalhousie University, recently published an article in The Conversation, outlining the connection between parental safety concerns and youth mental illness.

He argues parents are trying to protect their children from harm, but, by overemphasizing the importance of safety, they are actually unintentionally encouraging thought patterns and behavioral problems similar to those experienced by someone who is depressed and anxious.

"We're now immediately and acutely available of dangerous events that happen in our world," Sherry told CTV News Wednesday.

"Someone gets, for example, stabbed at a Starbucks in Vancouver, and that's creating fear in me, and other parents here in Nova Scotia," he said.

“Children become afraid of the world and avoid normal parts of life that are needed for them to learn and grow,” said Sherry in a news release.

“This ultimately leads them to feel incapable, anxious, and depressed.”

He says data from Statistics Canada shows the mental health of Canadian youth is worsening at an alarming rate.

In 2003, 24 per cent of Canadians aged 15-30 reported their mental health was fair to poor.

In 2019, that number rose to 40 per cent, and by 2020 it had risen to 58 per cent.

Now, nearly 1 in 4 hospitalizations of Canadian children and youth are due to mental health conditions.

But, not everyone agrees negative news is to blame.

"When I grew up, a day didn't go by when we didn't sit around the television at dinner time and watch the news," said former Olympic Snowboarder Kimiko Willgress who now lives in Halifax with her husband and three children aged four, eight and 10.

"It's only natural that information is more at our fingertips. If we can prevent something from happening before it happens, then, why not? If we can heal something. It's just the nature of the world these days," said Willgress.

She's also become a significant social media influencer, with 36,000 Instagram followers.

Although her husband and the kids are often featured in her posted videos, Willgress says she's anything but a “helicopter parent.”

"I'm all about them finding their own independence, and building confidence in themselves and knowing what's right and wrong," she said.

"If anything, social media for me, personally, has been an extremely positive community to have as a mother, because parenting is hard. It's so hard," she said with a laugh.

"I think it all comes down to is how you're influenced by things and the human that you're talking about," Willgress said.

"Whether it's a parent or not a parent, certain people are hyper focussed on the dangers of the world, and certain people aren't."

For his part, Sherry warns young people will face years of hardship if trends aren't reversed.

“The original intent of safety culture was to protect children. Bike helmets and seat belts are a good idea," said Sherry.

"There is nothing wrong with wanting to keep kids safe, but we must recognize there are unintended consequences in our current approach of excessive caution and vigilance. Instead, we must teach our youth to face anxiety, take risks, and overcome fears.

"We need to get control of this societal problem before it causes further damage for future generations.” Top Stories

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