Summary and book reviews of A Nation of Wimps by Hara Estroff Marano

A Nation of Wimps

The High Cost of Invasive Parenting

By Hara Estroff Marano

A Nation of Wimps
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2008,
    320 pages.

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Wake up, America: We’re raising a nation of wimps.

Hara Marano, editor-at-large and the former editor-in-chief of Psychology Today, has been watching a disturbing trend: kids are growing up to be wimps. They can’t make their own decisions, cope with anxiety, or handle difficult emotions without going off the deep end. Teens lack leadership skills. College students engage in deadly binge drinking. Graduates can’t even negotiate their own salaries without bringing mom or dad in for a consult. Why? Because hothouse parents raise teacup children—brittle and breakable, instead of strong and resilient. This crisis threatens to destroy the fabric of our society, to undermine both our democracy and economy. Without future leaders or daring innovators, where will we go? So what can be done?

kids would play in the street until their mothers hailed them for supper, and unless a child was called into the principal’s office, parents and teachers met only at organized conferences. Nowadays, parents are involved in every aspect of their children’s lives—even going so far as using technology to monitor what their kids eat for lunch at school and accompanying their grown children on job interviews. What is going on?

Hothouse parenting has hit the mainstream—with disastrous effects. Parents are going to ludicrous lengths to take the lumps and bumps out of life for their children, but the net effect of parental hyperconcern and scrutiny is to make kids more fragile. When the real world isn’t the discomfort-free zone kids are accustomed to, they break down in myriad ways. Why is it that those who want only the best for their kids wind up bringing out the worst in them? There is a mental health crisis on college campuses these days, with alarming numbers of students engaging in self-destructive behaviors like binge drinking and cutting or disconnecting through depression.

A Nation of Wimps is the first book to connect the dots between overparenting and the social crisis of the young. Psychology expert Hara Marano reveals how parental overinvolvement hinders a child’s development socially, emotionally, and neurologically. Children become overreactive to stress because they were never free to discover what makes them happy in the first place.

Through countless hours of painstaking research and interviews, Hara Marano focuses on the whys and how of this crisis and then turns to what we can do about it in this thought-provoking and groundbreaking book.

ONE
Welcome to the Hothouse

I've just been in the emergency room for two and a half hours," Sarah announced, pushing on as we passed on the street, "and I've got to see my daughter." I had seen Sarah, the daughter of a neighbor, grow up, a few years ahead of my two children, and nowadays run into her only when she comes to visit her parents with her own family. Her right foot was freshly cradled in the clunky contraption doctors call a walking boot but is more accurately a limping boot.

"How old is your daughter now?" I asked.

"Almost four," she said. "And," she added, her voice suddenly shaky with panic, "I've never been separated from her this long before. And she's never been away from me."


***

There was a time when two and a half hours away from one's four-year-old would not have been seen as a separation. It would have been sought after and thought of as a respite, a reprieve, a welcome break for both mother and child. It would have been seen as a small but ...

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Parents of babies, toddlers, school age children and teenagers will find much in this book to provoke, irritate, and clarify the tough and often perplexing work of raising and educating 21st century kids. Marano, even when she fails to persuade, makes us think hard about what parents should expect from their children and what kids need to become strong, happy, and healthy young adults ... The saddest sections of the book are also the most persuasive and concern the exuberant, brave, elastic and exploratory ways children learn, and the increasingly rigorous and unforgiving expectations that burden school-age children. Marano explains why boredom, failure and fidgeting are healthy and often necessary; and that kids need to fail in order to learn or to succeed. She points out the dangerous lack of physical activity or expression in many American schools and the frightening pathologizing of perfectly normal childhood behaviors.   (Reviewed by Jo Perry).

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Publishers Weekly

Marano's dire warning to back off will hit a raw nerve with many parents, but her message may come not a moment too soon for their kids.

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Competitive college admissions are one of the reasons regularly cited in Wimps for parental over involvement and the increasingly heavy academic pressures placed on children and teens. With this in mind, the March 31, 2008 article in The New York Times undoubtedly sent a cold shiver down many a parent's back but, arguably, unnecessarily so ....

This year, many top colleges are reporting record lows in acceptance rates. For example, Harvard accepted only 7% of the more than 27,000 applicants (about 2,000 students), in the process rejecting many of the 3,300 applicants who ranked first in their high school class and many with perfect scores on one or more SAT papers (2,500 scored a perfect 800 in the SAT critical reading test...

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