Trudi Jane Wyatt, MA, RP, CCC
Registered Psychotherapist

Psychotherapy for individual male and female adults in Ontario, Canada. *New initial consults starting July 9, 2018.

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416-901-0994 (no text)
130 Adelaide Street West PATH Toronto
By appointment only

How Can They Value Freedom if They Can’t Cope / Think / Decide?

There is a lot of criticism of young people today for preferring psychological security to liberty. In his October 14, 2017 New York Times article entitled, “Why are Millennials Wary of Freedom?”, Psychology professor Clay Routledge suggests that it isn’t necessarily political ideology that is at the heart of this preference; rather, he proposes that fear is, and he outlines 2 factors that lead to this fear.

Factor 1: Parents Shielding Kids

The first is parents today: He proposes that parents are shielding kids from such stressors and uncertainties as having to solve everyday problems, which is leading to a phenomenon of lower self-confidence amongst young people.

Corroborating this association, I am reminded of the work of Psychologists Edwin Locke and Ellen Kenner (2011), who suggest that knowing you can rely on your own power to think (e.g., making firm decisions in your life vs. drifting aimlessly, considering both long-term and short-term consequences of actions, etc.) promotes the development of genuine self-esteem.

Factor 2: Culture of Victimhood at Post-Secondary Institutions

The second factor that Prof. Routledge outlines is colleges’ and universities’ promotion of a “culture of victimhood” by protecting students from any behaviour that might lead to emotional distress. In turn, lack of exposure to experiences like discomfort, ostracism, failure, or uncertainty–once part of everyday life, and unavoidable threats associated with living in society (vs. on an island alone)–is leaving today’s young people thoroughly unprepared to grapple with reality. In turn, “despite growing up in a physically safer and kinder society than past generations did, young Americans today report higher levels of anxiety.”

Analysis

This outcome (higher anxiety) makes sense from a cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) perspective, which suggests that knowing one can cope with “what if” feared situations can be a helpful way to alleviate general anxiety; if you don’t know, it makes sense that you might be anxious.

And, this outcome is consistent with what I see in my practice: Many extremely bright, honest, and good-natured millennials present with anxiety associated with the fact that they just honestly don’t know how to make decisions. I can see they genuinely want to be able to, they just (in many cases, not all) haven’t been taught how.

The corollaries of this increased anxiety are at odds with freedom and democracy. As Prof. Routledge explains, anxiety can lead to lack of openness to new ideas, increased intolerance, and clinging to the world with which one is familiar; which, can lead to putting a premium on psychological security over liberty.

Recommendation

Prof. Routledge suggests that rather than criticize today’s young people, let’s liberate them by setting them free to make mistakes, feel emotional pain, etc., and in turn, to learn to self-regulate the normal human experiences of fear and distress.

 

For help with coping with fear and distress, learning how to think, and developing decision-making skills, please feel free to contact me to set up an initial appointment, or a no-charge preliminary brief telephone consultation.

Note that this post is not psychotherapy / counselling; please contact me or another professional if you require these services. If you need urgent support, consider Toronto Distress Centres at 416.408.4357. If you need immediate help, call 911 or go to your local Emergency Room. Note this post is for information only, does not imply that a professional relationship has been established with readers, is not advice, and does not imply intent to provide professional services to readers. Intended audience: Current adult residents of the Canadian province of Ontario only.

Trudi Jane Wyatt © 2018