The Coddling Of The American Mind

The Coddling Of The American Mind
Photo by Aaron Burden / Unsplash

Author: Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt

Personal Rating: 3/5

Here are my book notes. Most of these are direct quotes from the book.

Prepare the child for the road, not the road for the child.
Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own thoughts, unguarded. But once mastered, no one can help you as much, not even your father or your mother.
The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.
Nothing is miserable unless you think it so; and on the other hand, nothing brings happiness unless you are content with it.
Education should not be intended to make people comfortable; it is meant to make them think.

The 3 Great Untruths

  • The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.
  • The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings.
  • The Untruth of Us Versus Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people

There is great value in viewpoint diversity. Students should not be coddled and protected from different points of view.

Problems of Progress

Overprotection is one part of a larger trend that we call problems of progress.

This term refers to bad consequences produced by otherwise good social changes. It’s great that our economic system produces an abundance of food at low prices, but the flip side is an epidemic of obesity.

It’s great that we can connect and communicate.   with people instantly and for free, but this hyperconnection may be damaging the mental health of young people.

It’s great that we have refrigerators, antidepressants, air conditioning, hot and cold running water, and the ability to escape from most of the physical hardships that were woven into the daily lives of our ancestors back to the dawn of our species.

Comfort and physical safety are boons to humanity, but they bring some costs, too.

We adapt to our new and improved circumstances and then lower the bar for what we count as intolerable levels of discomfort and risk.

Growing Children

Thanks to hygiene, antibiotics, and too little outdoor play, children don’t get exposed to microbes as they once did. This may lead them to develop immune systems that overreact to substances that aren’t actually threatening — causing allergies. In the same way, by shielding children from every possible risk, we may lead them to react with exaggerated fear to situations that aren’t risky at all and isolate them from the adult skills that they will one day have to master.

Teaching kids that failures, insults, and painful experiences will do lasting damage is harmful in and of itself. Human beings need physical and mental challenges and stressors or we deteriorate.


Many of the important systems in our economic and political life are like our immune systems: they require stressors and challenges in order to learn, adapt, and grow. Systems that are antifragile become rigid, weak, and inefficient when nothing challenges them or pushes them to respond vigorously.

Muscles, bones, and children are antifragile.

If we protect children from various classes of potentially upsetting experiences, we make it far more likely that those children will be unable to cope with such events when they leave our protective umbrella.

The modern obsession with protecting young people from “feeling unsafe” is, we believe, one of the several causes of the rapid rise in rates of adolescent depression, anxiety, and suicide.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Avoiding triggers is a symptom of PTSD, not a treatment for it.

Trigger warnings are counter-therapeutic because they encourage avoidance of reminders and trauma, and avoidance maintains PTSD. Severe emotional reactions triggered by course material are a signal that students need to prioritize their mental health and obtain evidence-based, cognitive-behavioral therapies that will help them overcome PTSD. These therapies involve gradual, systematic exposure to traumatic memories until their capacity to trigger distress diminishes.

CBT therapists treat trauma patients by exposing them to the things they find upsetting, activating their fear, and helping them habituate to the stimuli.


A culture that allows the concept of “safety” to creep so far that it equates emotional discomfort with physical danger is a culture that encourages people to systematically protect one another from the very experiences embedded in daily life that they need in order to become strong and healthy.

Safetyism refers to a culture or belief system in which safety has become a sacred value, which means that people become unwilling to make trade-offs demanded by other practical and moral concerns.

“Safety” trumps everything else, no matter how unlikely or trivial the potential danger.

When children are raised in a culture of safetyism, which teaches them to stay “emotionally safe” while protecting them from every imaginable danger, it may set up a feedback loop: kids become more fragile and less resilient, which signals to adults that they need more protection, which them makes them even more fragile and less resilient.

In a culture of safetyism, intent no longer matters; only perceived impact does, and thanks to the concept of creep, just about anything can be perceived as having a harmful — even violent — impact on vulnerable groups.


Those born in and after 1995 are called iGen or Internet Generation.

iGens suffer from far higher rates of anxiety and depression than did Millenials at the same age — and higher rates of suicide.

Members of iGen are “obsessed with safety”.  Their focus on “emotional safety” leads many of them to believe that, “one should be safe not just from car accidents and sexual assaults but from people who disagree with you”.

Feelings Are Not Reliable

Feelings are always compelling, but not always reliable.

Often they distort reality, deprive us of insight, and needlessly damage our relationships.

You should learn how to question your feelings.

Feelings themselves are real, and sometimes they alert us to truths that our conscious mind has not noticed, but sometimes they lead us astray.

CBT Detailed

Cognitive behavioral therapy was developed in the 1960s by Aaron Beck.

His patients tended to get themselves caught in a feedback loop in which irrational negative beliefs caused powerful negative feelings, which in turn seemed to drive patients’ reasoning, motivating them to find evidence to support their negative beliefs.

The “cognitive triad” of depression:

  • I am no good
  • My world is bleak
  • My future is hopeless

Schemas refer to the patterns of thoughts and behaviors, built up over time, that people use to process information quickly and effortlessly as they interact with the world.

If you can get people to examine these beliefs and consider counterevidence, it gives them at least some moments of relief from negative emotions. Gradually, they become more open to questioning their negative beliefs.

It’s possible to train people so that they can question their automatic thoughts on their own, every day. With repetition, over a period of weeks or months, people can change their schemas and create different, more helpful habitual beliefs.

These are the cognitive distortions related to negative thinking:

  • Emotional Reasoning → Letting your feelings guide your interpretation of reality
  • Catastrophising → Focusing on the worst possible outcome and seeing it as most likely
  • Overgeneralizing → Perceiving a global pattern of negatives on the basis of a single incident
  • Dichotomous Thinking → black-and-white thinking
  • Mind Reading → Assuming that you know what people think without having sufficient evidence of their thoughts
  • Labeling → Assigning global negative traits to yourself or others
  • Negative Filtering → You focus almost exclusively on the negatives and seldom notice the positives
  • Discounting positives: Claiming that the positive things you or others do are trivial so that you can maintain a negative judgment
  • Blaming → Focusing on the other person as the source of your negative feelings; you refuse to take responsibility for changing yourself.

Give People The Benefit of Doubt

It is not a good idea to start by assuming the worst about people and reading their actions as uncharitably as possible.

It is unjust to treat people as if they are bigots when they harbor no ill will.

In our identitarian age, the bar for offense has been lowered considerably, which makes the democratic debate more difficult — citizens are more likely to withhold their true opinions if they fear being labeled as bigoted or insensitive.

Us vs Them

The human mind evolved for living in tribes that engaged in frequent conflict; our modern-day minds really divide the world into “us” and “them”, even on trivial or arbitrary criteria.

Identity politics takes many forms. Some forms, such as that practiced by MLK can be called common-humanity identity politics because its practitioners humanize their opponents and appeal to their humanity while also applying political pressure in other ways.

Common-enemy identity politics, on the other hand, tries to unite a coalition using the psychology embedded in the Bedouin proverb “I against my brothers. I and my brothers against my cousins. I and my brothers and my cousins against the world.”

Common-enemy identity politics, when combined with microaggression theory, produces a call-out culture in which almost anything one says or does could result in public shaming. This can engender a sense of “walking on eggshells”, and it teaches students habits of self-censorship.  Call-out cultures are detrimental to students’ education and bad for their mental health.

Safety Culture in College

I need to be safe ideologically. I need to be safe emotionally. I just need to feel good all the time, and if someone says something that I don’t like, there’s a problem for everybody else, including the university administrators.

A good rebuttal:

I don’t want you to be safe ideologically. I don’t want you to be safe emotionally. I want you to be strong. That’s different. I am not going to pave the jungle for you. Put on some boots, and learn how to deal with adversity. I am not going to take all the weights out of the gym; that’s the whole point of the gym. Life is a gym.

Filter Bubble

Search engines and YouTube algorithms are designed to give you more of what you seem to be interested in, leading conservatives and progressives into disconnected moral matrices backed up by mutually contradictory informational worlds.

Both the physical and electronic isolation from people we disagree with allow the forces of confirmation bias, groupthink, and tribalism to push us still further apart.

Americans are now motivated to leave their couches to take part in political action not by love for their party’s candidates but by hatred of the other party’s candidate. Negative partisanship means that American politics is driven less by hope and more by the “us vs them” mentality.

They must be stopped, at all costs.

Americans are now easily exploitable, and a large network of profit-driven media sites, political entrepreneurs, and foreign intelligence agencies are taking advantage of this vulnerability.

Anxiety & Depression

18-year-olds now act live 15-year-olds used to, and 13-year-olds like 10-year-olds. Teens are physically safer than ever, yet they are more mentally vulnerable.

If depression becomes part of your identity, then over time you will develop corresponding schemas about yourself and your prospects. These schemas will make it harder for you to marshal the energy and focus to take on challenges that, if you were to master them, would weaken the grip of depression.

Lowering the bar in applying mental health labels may increase the number of people who suffer.

The rapid spread of smartphones and social media into the lives of teenagers, beginning around 2007, is the main cause of the mental health crisis that began around 2011.

When kids use screens for 2 hours of their leisure time per day or less, there is no elevated risk of depression.

But above 2 hours per day, the risks grow larger with each additional hour of screen time.

Conversely, kids who spend more time off screens, especially if they are engaged in nonscreen social activities, are at lower risk for depression and suicidal thinking.

Why Is It Mostly Girls Who Suffer?

Social media presents “curated” versions of lives, and girls may be more adversely affected than boys by the gap between appearance and reality.

Because of social media curation, girls are bombarded with images of girls and women whose beauty is artificially enhanced, making girls ever more insecure about their own appearance.

Platforms such as Snapchat and Instagram provide “filters” that girls use to enhance the selfies they pose for and edit, so even their friends now seem to be more beautiful.

These filters make noses smaller, lips bigger, and skin smoother.

Social network sites benefit their users when they are used to making meaningful social connections and harm their users through pitfalls such as isolation and social comparison when they are not.

There is enough evidence to support placing time limits on device use while limiting or prohibiting the use of platforms that amplify social comparison rather than social connection.


People’s ordinary, everyday, intuitive notions of justice include two major types:

  1. Distributive justice → the perception that people are getting what is deserved
  2. Procedural justice → the perception that the process by which things are distributed and rules are enforced is fair and trustworthy

The most common way that people think about distributive justice is captured by equity theory, which states that things are perceived to be fair when the ratio of outcomes to inputs is equal for all participants.

Procedural justice is about how decisions are made and also about how people are treated along the way, as procedures unfold.

Wiser Kids

This time-intensive, labor-intensive strategy involves overprotecting, overscheduling, and overparenting children in hopes of giving them an edge in a competitive society that has forgotten the importance of play and the value of unsupervised experience.

You cannot teach antifragility directly, but you can give your children the gift of experience — the thousands of experiences they need to become more resilient, autonomous adults.

Productive Disagreement

  1. Frame it as a debate, rather than a conflict
  2. Argue as if you are right, but listen as if you are wrong (and be willing to change your mind)
  3. Make the most respectful interpretation of the other person’s perspective
  4. Acknowledge where you agree with your critics and what you have learned from them

Draw A Larger Circle Around the Community

The more you separate people and point out differences among them, the more divided and less trusting they will become.

Conversely, the more you emphasize common goals or interests, shared fate, and common humanity, the more they will see one another as fellow human beings, treat one another well, and come to appreciate one another’s contributions to the community.