Ben Shapiro and Abigail Shrier

Ben Shapiro published an excellent interview with Abigail Shrier on 5 May 2024, the centre of which was a discussion of her new book, Bad Therapy: Why the Kids Aren’t Growing Up.

Shapiro noted that there has been an uptick in suicidal ideation rates among children, and that some relate it to the use of social media.

Shrier said that it plays a role, and it is bad for young people. Certainly, social media should not be available during school hours. But it is not a sufficient explanation for the problem. For example, small children are not on social media but are suffering mental health problems. From the other side, Israel has fewer issues, because it has not been taken over by the therapy explosion.

Today, rather than say a child is shy, people are saying that they have social anxiety; and children who don’t sit still are diagnosed as with ADHD. It is all medicalised, so that character and discipline problems are not considered. Normal behaviours are diagnosed as problems, and then they are accommodated e.g. nervous children are given more time for tests. The short term problem thus becomes chronic. It is true that exposure / cognitive behavioural therapy can help if there is a genuine problem. But “preventive mental health care” is being administered to  children who didn’t have a problem. However, if children are constantly focussed on their emotions, they can develop problems.

Shapiro observed that some parents are outsourcing their problems to therapists, and they medicalise parenting. He made the important point that children can be really stupid when they’re little. I would add that they can also show astonishing intelligence, and that both real stupidity and real intelligence can co-exist in the one child.

Shrier said that it is a problem that parents are asking for their children’s input on their parenting. The therapists undermine the confidence of parents, telling them that they will traumatise their children by disciplining them.

Shapiro noted that these “experts” have an interest in maximizing their own importance.

The significant problem of “rumination” was raised by Shrier, saying that adolescent mental health has been in decline since the 1950s, and social media made it worse. We are seeing more “rumination,” the number one symptom of depression, more rehashing of bad feelings, and focussing on our pain. The willingness to constantly talk about their problems is bad. “If you focus on your feelings too much, you will become dysregulated. … These kids are walking around focussed on their feelings, and their feelings are constantly out of whack.” This is significant, partly because we all have a tendency to ruminate, and understanding that it is an incipient symptom of depression we can see that it is the germ of an illness, so should be nipped in the bud.

As he often does, Shapiro notes that a lack of purpose is the result of the breakdown of community and religion.

Again, importantly, Shrier said that children need to be engaged in something bigger than themselves, with some amount of independence. Parents should exercise authority and say, no, you are not a girl, you’re a boy. Somebody has to be the authority in the home, and be able to say to a child “shake it off, you’re fine.” We should show the mental health benefits of toughening up kids so that they are less fragile, and see that not every mean comment is bullying. Bigger religious families provide more structure, and help mental health by expecting children to cope with what they can manage, rather than dealing with every little problem.

Returning to suicidal ideation and gender issues, Shapiro said that perhaps the child had problems before she came across gender. Bullying has never been rare in schools than now – that does not cause the problems. People being mean to you does not make you suicidal. Shrier agreed: the idea is laughable that there is more bullying of LGBTQ. It is the opposite, but children are tyrannising each other with their feelings. The bullying of Jewish children has made them stronger. “Experts” have made child-raising such a huge job.

Returning to what he said about the stupidity of childhood, Shapiro asked, why we should empathise with craziness. Shrier added that neither do you need to validate all your child’s feelings. You should educate their feelings. Sometimes they have to be told that what they say made them angry is not a good enough reason.

Another important matter Shapiro raised is how children would rather have negative attention than no attention. If you give it to them, you are rewarding them. I would add that this is true of many adults, too.

Shrier said that rule-based parenting always produces the happiest children. We now have hysterical “surveillance” parenting. They need to be given independence and challenging tasks. They are losing their sense that they can do something to improve their lives. Further, suicidality is not higher among gender-troubled children, once you control for co-morbidities. Part of the reason they are attracted to the idea they might be trans-gender that they have mental health issues. Gender is not driving the misery, so transition is no cure.

The most important change would be in schools. They are giving mental health questionnaires sometimes up to weekly, asking them whether they are considering suicide. Mental health is being valorised in school, and they are obsessing over children’s bad feelings. The conversation always turns to negative feelings, because if they’re happy there’s nothing to teach. It gets them to ruminate, and blames the parents because it was their job to keep the children safe. It leads to children who are more dysregulated. Research into some of these programmes concluded that the teenagers who went through the programmes came out more depressed and more alienated from their parents.

In a point the value of which one can hardly overstate, Shapiro said that to always ask children about suicide and gender dysphoria implants the ideas in their heads, for suicide is “contagious.” If you keep talking such ideas into people it will have an impact on them. Shrier added that teens are identified by their diagnoses, and feel limited by them. They believe that their mental health is no good because it is constantly suggested to children that they might be depressed. They present a dark world to children, where others are constantly harming themselves. Emotional problems can be magnified by fixating on them. I would add that this is vital.

I will skip over what they say about the value of siblings. In conclusion, Shrier said that the secret is that growing up and taking responsibility, and helping others, helps you overcome your own problems. Shapiro added that the more responsibility you give to young people, the happier they are. It gives them meaning in their life. In Israel, you go into military service, and they are happier because you are expected to contribute to the community and the nation. Then you get a job and have a family.

Just about Shrier’s final word was that we should place the emphasis not on making children happy but strong, then they will be happy. I think this was a very worthwhile interview. Well done to both Shapiro and Shrier.

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