Parents who deny their children independence are creating a generation incapable of dealing with failure, a leading neuroscientist has warned. A trend over the past two decades towards ‘wrapping children in cotton wool’ is leaving them struggling to cope with setbacks in their teenage years and adult life.
Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, an expert in cognitive neuroscience at University College London, said it was important for children to embrace a degree of risk and learn from mistakes. But she warned youngsters nowadays were ‘not allowed to be independent’ as they were when she was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. Professor Blakemore, an expert in the teenage brain, said risk-taking was an ‘important developmental behaviour’ for teenagers as they began to negotiate independence. ‘Adolescents, after puberty, need to become independent of their parents and their families and they need to go out and affiliate with their peer group and they need to explore their environment and take risks,’ she said
‘My view is that children almost need to practice risk-taking to know exactly how to deal with situations when they fail and when things go wrong. There’s been a tendency over the last 20 years, certainly compared with when I was a kid, to not allow children to have independence. ‘Children are not allowed to be independent like they were when I was growing up, and are slightly wrapped in cotton wool.
‘When they suddenly do have independence as an adolescent, how are they expected to exert their independence if they’ve never had any practice? My view is that risk-taking and failing and things going wrong are really important skills for a child and an adolescent to learn… if you don’t allow an adolescent to fail or take risks then what kind of adult will they be when they go out and live on their own and have to deal with their own lives?’e
Professor Blakemore, the daughter of Sir Colin Blakemore, himself a renowned neuroscientist, stressed it was still important to educate youngsters about risk and ‘try to constrain risk-taking because it can end up being dangerous’. She has outlined her findings at recent conferences of head teachers including the annual Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference.
Researchers at University College London, pictured, said it was important to educate children about risk Her warning is the latest in a series that children nowadays are being so cosseted they are failing to build resilience.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan recently announced funding for projects aimed at building pupils’ ‘grit’ as part of a move to place character-building on a par with academic subjects.