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Chaim Y. Botwinick

The Great Coddling of Our Youth: At What Cost? At What Price?

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Did you ever wonder why and how so many of our youth today are so quick to give up on challenging assignments or on simple non-complex tasks or challenges. And  why are so many of our youth complacent about going the “extra mile” in order to succeed.

As we know, many of our youth today are quick to push-back if a request or an assignment is too demanding; or if it involves a challenging effort or expectations. Many don’t even have the motivation or will to try to work hard in order to reach personal or academic goals.

There is a name for this attitude and demeanor….. . its called coddling.

According to definition, coddling is defined as treating a person in an indulgent and overprotective manner or treating someone too kindly or protecting them too much. It can also be defined as a social condition which leads to over-protection which can actually paralyze a person’s ability or capacity to succeed.

In an effort not to over-generalize about the challenges engendered in describing today’s youth, I want to be extremely careful, circumspect and up front to clearly point out that one size does not fit all. There are always many who do not fit the profile as presented. But as a society and as a community – whether it be in our  Jewish day schools, yeshivot or at home – we are seeing and experiencing greater and more frequent coddling of our youth as never before in history.

The opinion, positions and descriptions respectfully presented in this blog are based upon my 30 plus years of experience in the field as an educator, head of school, principal, consultant, and leadership coach for Jewish educators. I do not take this important topic lightly nor do I present this perspective with a cavalier perspective or attitude regarding today’s youth. But rather a straight-up, albeit painful  uncensored and unfiltered honest perspective and challenge, in search for answers, direction and resolution.

Not unlike our greater society, our Jewish community is beginning to experience an entire generation of Jewish youth who are experiencing the culmination of years of coddling. I see this in the classroom, in our schools and communities. I also continuously hear from parents, colleagues and other teachers and educators who have reached frustration levels and a tolerance saturation point of historic significance. Many even attribute their willingness to retire early from their teaching professions or no longer willing to pursue their teaching careers due in large measure to the impact of coddling behavior on their students. This of course has a ripple effect in the classroom and throughout the school. It also influences how school policies are determined and the manner in which a school’s administration relates to its students and parent body.

Coddling attitudes, behaviors  and characteristics do not happen in a vacuum. More often then not they are manifested when our youth are confronting with important and serious decision making challenges or when making life changing choices. They are also the result of poor parenting and an increased inability for parents to know how to respond to their children’s behaviors and attitudes (more on this later).

Recently, I have witnessed how an over abundance of student coddling can lead to  arrogance, disrespect (derech eretz) towards authority and/or a lack of modesty and humility. This is having a very negative affect and impact on our schools and classrooms, in addition to student academic expectations and requirements.

I am not a psychologist or a mental health practitioner, but, as an experienced educator, I know these behaviors when I see them; and, coddling is a large factor in determining these specific less then desirable behaviors and serves as a powerful indisputable trigger for harmful and potentially destructive behaviors.

So, what does all this suggest? and what should be the response of our Jewish educational leadership?

We all know that our youth today, whether they attend a Jewish day school, yeshiva or Gan, irrespective of religious hashkafa, are not perfect nor do they all play by the same rules. Its just the nature of our youth and society.

Every generation has experienced a variety of challenges facing their youth and the manner in which we as a community respond to these challenges. It tests our community’s resolve as well as the resolve of its institutions. Having said that, maybe, just maybe, if we identify the causes for coddling, we may have a far better chance at controlling or curtailing it in a planful and strategic manner.

Throughout history, the ebb and flow of emerging student emotional trends, lifestyles and behaviors molds and shapes their attitudes as well as current and decision-making.

Today’s  student entitlement mindset is exacerbated by a continuous erosion of moral principles, equivalency and values. This cannot be more evident, over-stated or underscored then on today’s college and university campuses where we see and experience a level of group-think arrogance and self-empowerment….motivated by the need to be relevant as a collective. Whether or not these student behaviors or attitudes are impacted or affected by social media (e.g Tiktok) is a topic which deserve serious review and investigation.

A growing number of youth attending our Jewish day schools and yeshivot are currently suffering from the almost same coddling malady. This may be the result of  years and years of coddling, ensuring that our students are contentiously safe, secure and unruffled. Again, this points directly to the critical role of our parents, many of whom have themselves been coddled by their parents since birth. As they say, the apple does not fall far from the tree.

I fully understand and appreciate that after reading the first several introductory paragraphs of this blog that you (the reader) may feel somewhat exacerbated by these uncontrollable and undeniable realities. The natural tendency when reading these blogs is to opine that many of these positions, statements or perceptions are grossly exaggerated….especially since not all youth are alike..

This later point may be true but the reality still remains that if we do not confront these realities directly, our community and its schools and  institutions are heading towards a very deep and slippery slope.

As students refuse to cope with their challenges and as schools and parents continue to coddle them, we will be left with a generation of youth who are helpless, meek, and totally dependent upon society for their future success, welfare and well being. Not a very healthy picture.

In an excellent article by Barbara Bensoussan entitled “Are We Coddling Too Much? published in the Health section of Jewish Action Magazine (Winter, 2020), she posits that “modern parents have become much more protective of children on every level. The results are that children are emerging less to cope with life’s stresses.” She also references Dr. David Rosemarin (Parenting the Anxious Child) who claims that “not very long ago, 50 percent of people lived in dire poverty. It was normal for life to be imperfect, for people to struggle. Today, we have become so accustomed to comfort that we are hypersensitive to anything that isn’t just right in our lives. 

Friends, to put the blame for these student attitudes and behaviors on the exclusive shoulders of our parents would not be totally fair. But, in an environment where parents are the first responders to a child’s physical, social, emotional and  psychological well-being, it behooves parents to play a more central and assertive role.

The Parent/School Partnership;

In order to respond to many of the challenges just presented, I would like to suggest the creation of parent/school strategic partnerships which would provide parents and educators with venues for shared learning, growth, problem solving and improvement…..all focusing on the social, emotional an academic condition of our students.

Not unlike other parent education programs, schools would offer a series of workshops, seminars and counseling sessions on parenting skills. These sessions would be open to parents ranging from those who are aspiring to have children and grow families to those parents with children currently attending our day schools and yeshivot.

As envisioned, schools can incentivize parent participation by offering special scholarship assistance to families. Alternatively, they can make attendance mandatory. Although the later would be difficult to enforce, schools should engage communal and Rabbinic leadership in these efforts. It must become a communal priority; and we must create a communal climate and environment which demands a sense of urgency.

The challenge of coddling and its negative impact on our students is just one of many student challenges our schools are facing.

Potential topics for consideration may include:

  • how parents can help their children create exemplary middos and derech erettz.
  • resilience in our children from a Jewish values perspective;
  • encouraging children to taking responsibility and ownership of personal challenges;
  • being in control of critical life-changing choices;
  • HaShem helps those who help themselves;
  • how parents can uncoddle their relationship with their children (if its not too late);
  • the dramatic negative impact of coddling on a student’s emotional, social, and academic development.

In addition to these parent education and counseling sessions, schools may also consider offering advisory courses and electives to their students.

They may include topics such as:

  • Responsible Decision-Making
  • Taking Responsibility and Ownership for Actions
  • Procrastination
  • Resilience
  • Leadership and Accountability
  • Making Critical Life Choices
  • Think Ahead with your Head
  • No Pain, No Gain
  • Emuna and Bitachon – ingredients for success.
  • Yes, I Can Do It.
  • Self-Empowerment

At the end of the day, there is just so much a Jewish educational community can do in order to respond to these student behavioral concerns.

In the final analysis, to be successful, it is imperative that we provide our youth with greater self-confidence, grit, resilience and a “can-do” attitude.

The student coddling phenomenon (or crisis), is one that will not disappear by itself. In fact, if unattended, it can get worse.

At best, we can only try to educate our parents, school leadership and faculty as to how we can work together in partnership in order to curtail or reduce the frequency of coddling.

Finally, we will need to teach and guide our students as to how to be more mature. less needy resilient and responsible.

If we don’t, nobody will.

About the Author
Dr. Chaim Botwinick is a senior executive coach and an organizational consultant . He served as president and CEO of the central agency for Jewish education in Baltimore and in Miami; in addition to head of school and principal for several Jewish day schools and yeshivot. He has published and lectured extensively on topics relating to education, resource development, strategic planing and leadership development. Dr. Botwinick is Author of “Think Excellence: Harnessing Your Power to Succeed Beyond Greatness”, Brown Books, 2011
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