Jonathan Haidt: Raising Anti-Fragile Kids - Joe Rogan


5 years ago



Jonathan Haidt

2 appearances

Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist, professor, and author. His latest book, "The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness," will be available March


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Let's start with what should we be doing with kids to make them tougher so that, you know, as they live in the world's safer and safer, cars are safer, the death rate for kids has been plummeting for all causes other than suicide, which is going up. So as kids live in a safer and safer world, they also have the internet, which is going to expose them to virtual insults forever and ever. So how are we going to raise kids to be maximally effective in this new 21st century world, which is physically very safe, but virtually unsafe? Okay, how are we going to do that? And I think the key idea that we need to put on the table here and that I think everybody who works with kids needs to keep in mind every day is anti-fragility. I know you've talked about that on the show before, but I'll just, I should, I can just give a very brief, you know, explanation of it because it's such an important concept. So anti-fragility, a lot of listeners will know is a word coined by Nassim Taleb, the guy who wrote the Black Swan, because there are certain systems and he was, I think he was motivated by the collapse of the banking system. So he had predicted the collapse because he said, the banking system is really convoluted and it's never been tested. A system needs to be tested, challenged, shocked in order to then develop defenses against it. And our system has not been tested. So if anything goes wrong, it's all going down. All right. Yeah, you referenced him quite a few times. Yes, that's right. The concept events are fragile. That's right. It's a key idea in our book. And I find, as I talk about this around the country, once you explain this to people who work with kids, like everybody gets it right away. All right. So Taleb says, there's no word for this property. He says, we know that some things are fragile. And so if you have a glass, you know, if you have a wine glass on the table and you knock it over, it breaks. Okay. It doesn't get better in any way. And so, you know, you don't give kids a wine glass, you give them a plastic sippy cup because plastic is resilient. But if a kid knocks over a sippy cup, it doesn't get better in any way. And Taleb wanted to know, what's the word for things that do get better when you knock them over? And the classic example is the immune system. So the immune system is an incomplete system. It's a miracle of evolution that we have this system for making antibodies. But it doesn't know exactly what to be reactive to. That has to be set by childhood experience. And so if you keep your kids in a bubble and you use bacterial wipes and you don't let them be exposed to bacteria, you're crippling the system. The system has to get knocked over. It has to get challenged, threatened. It has to learn how to expand its abilities. And so this is why peanut allergies are going up. Yeah, that was a really shocking part of your book. That's right. It's stunning how fast this happened. Please explain that to people, the whole peanut allergy thing. Yeah. And so, you know, the allergies used to be really rare. And most of us, you know, older folk, we brought peanut butter sandwiches to school. And when my son Max started preschool in 2008, you know, they went on and on about no nuts, nothing that touched a nut, nothing that looks like a nut, nothing that has the word nut. I mean, it was crazy how defensive they were about nuts. And as we write in the book, I thought back on that and I said, wait a second, like, why, you know, we're freaking out about nuts. And the more we freak out about it, the higher the allergy rate goes. And it turns out there was a study done and published in 2015 where the researchers noticed that the allergy to nuts is only going up in countries that tell pregnant women to avoid nuts. And they thought, well, maybe that's why. And so they did a controlled experiment. They got about 600 women who had given birth recently and whose kids were at higher risk of an allergy because they had eczema or some other, you know, immune system sort of issue. So about 300 of them are told standard advice, your kids at risk of the peanut allergy. So you should not eat peanuts while you're lactating and keep peanuts away from your kid. And the other half were told, here is an Israeli snack food. It's a puffed corn with a peanut powder dusting on the outside. Give it to your kids starting at three or four months whenever they're ready to eat. And so and they monitor them. They made sure that they weren't, you know, fatal reactions or or strong reactions. And then at the age of five, they gave them all a very thorough immunological test. And of the ones who followed the standard advice, 17 percent had a peanut allergy. They would have to watch out for peanuts for the rest of their lives. That's such a high number. Because these were because these were kids were already predisposed. Yeah. And but the half that were predisposed, but given peanut powder, three percent, just three percent had a peanut allergy at age five. In other words, we could almost wipe out peanut allergies by giving peanut powder to kids. And it just a few months ago in science, the front page article was on doing that. And so, again, good intentions and bad ideas. We're trying to protect our kids. So keep them away from peanuts. But that's exactly the wrong advice because kids are anti fragile. And so we're doing the same thing. Most of them. The real issue is the people that have an actual severe allergy. That's your child. Yeah. Yes. And the other thing that was about was that exposure therapies are being tested and they are the most effective. So even with people with extreme allergies. Yes. You just have to start slow. So you just give them a very small amount. Very small, exactly. Yeah. Because I was on a plane once and they informed us that they didn't want us to even eat peanuts on the plane because there was someone on the plane that was so allergic that if you eat peanuts and you chew it and it's in the air, it could adversely affect that person. Yeah. And that could well be true. So I have no objection to that. The reason we got to that point is because we started banning peanuts long ago. So this is one of these, well, I'm not sure if it's a problem of progress, but as we, no, it's not necessarily, but it's an example of anti fragility. Right. Okay. So now let's bring this to the playground. All right. So, you know, when you and I were kids, you know, boys and girls have different social interaction, but boys tease each other, right? Insult each other. You throw around insults, right? Yeah. And that's part of developing to be a boy. Now, if it turns into bullying, like a bunch of kids or one, you know, after one kid, day after day, okay, that's terrible. We have to do something about that. I'm not saying bullying is okay, but as we've cracked down on bullying and as we've gotten more and more sensitive about harm in general, we're cracking down on any kind of teasing, cruelty, exclusion. So my kids go to New York City public schools, which are generally pretty good. But on the playground, you know, there's a monitor and the playground monitor, you know, if there's conflict, he comes and checks it out. If a kid is crying, he checks it out. You know, seems like a good thing to do, but it's like treating kids like they're allergic to peanuts. Kids have to have thousands and thousands of conflicts. They have to be exposed to insults and exclusion and teasing. And if you can imagine, if you could keep your daughter in a protective tank where nobody would tease her or insult or hurt her feelings for 18 years, would you do it? Absolutely not. Yeah. It's important that they do experience some assholes. They just have to know. But on the flip side, there are certain people that are damaged for the rest of their life by bullies. And some, like I have a friend and his brother used to beat him up when they lived together. And it still fucks with him to this day and he's in his fifties. Yeah. Like I think he has a certain level of depression that's directly correlated. That's right. I mean, I can't say about your friend, but the research shows, the research does show that bullying can leave permanent scars. So there are a couple of things we have to keep our eye on. Kids are anti-fragile, yes. But two things. One is they need challenges that are graded to their level of ability. So if they're overwhelmed and if the suffering goes on day after day. So if kids are bathed, if their brain is bathed in cortisol. So cortisol is a normal stress hormone. You have to experience stress. You have to have cortisol and then it drops, goes up and down, up and down. But kids who are raised either in an environment where they're bullied or they're abused at home, they don't have a secure attachment relationship, then they get brain damage. Then you're hurting kids if it's chronic. So I'm in no way saying bullying is okay. I know that. You got to keep the line. But again, you have to look at each institution. So each school is not thinking, hmm, how can we carefully draw the line between bullying and valuable sorts of conflict? No, they're thinking, if we do this, will we get sued? And if we're not really careful at bullying, we're going to get sued. And so let's overreact. Let's go this way. Yeah. Yeah, that's unfortunate, really. But how do you decide how much bullying is except like it's almost like snake venom, like giving them a little bit so they develop a tolerance? Yeah. Well, so there's, so we did some research on bullying. We didn't put it in the book because while we suspect that anti-bullying policies that go too far and that ban conflict, well, we suspect that those are harmful. We couldn't prove that. So we didn't put this in the book. But the traditional definitions of bullying are actually pretty reasonable. I hope I can remember it exactly. It's like there's a power differential and it's chronic. It goes on for multiple days. And originally there was actually a threat of violence. There had to be at least a threat of violence. I think that was the original definition. And then that was expanded gradually. So that doesn't have to be necessarily a threat of violence. But it has expanded so far that like my kids use the term, if one kid is mean to another, they'll call that bullying. And that's too far. So I think you have to keep your eye on the key feature. It's too far of a kid is mean? Yeah. Like how so? So like on the playground for my daughter, the girls would form these clubs. And so my daughter was in the Kitty Cat Club. Like that's what three girls called themselves. And they'd be in a corner and they'd say, oh, you can't join us. You're not in the Kitty Cat Club. That's mean. That's exclusion. Right. We can't have that. Right. So the... So you'd have to like allow everyone in your group because you don't want to be a bully. That's right. That's why you're saying it goes too far. I don't know they called that bullying, but her teacher had a conversation with them. Now, she didn't... I don't think she exactly ordered them, never exclude. So I mean, it'd be okay if you use it as a grounds for discussion, but some schools have even tried to discourage the existence of best friends because if you have best friends, you're excluding others. That's hilarious. It is hilarious. But again, if you fail to understand that kids are anti-fragile and you think, oh my, you know, there's a rise of anxiety and depression and girls are cutting themselves at such high rates, you know, we've got to relieve them of stress. Like no, that's not the right way to go about it.