“Anxiety and aggressiveness.” As I showed last time, those were the two words various researchers used time and again to describe the effects of heightened levels of cortisol brought on by extended time in daycare for very young children. (See here, here and here.) Importantly, what those two words also describe is the behavior of many of our young and not-so-young adults, i.e., the ones most likely to have spent much of their early lives in daycare. Is that some inexplicable coincidence or is there a connection between the often-remarked-on emotional frailty of those people and their time in daycare? Does single-mother upbringing contribute too?
Not long ago, I wrote about a survey that found that, beginning with the Baby Boom, the level of anxiety and unhappiness increases with each successive generation. That is, boomers are fairly content, Gen X is less so, Millennials still less and Gen Z is the least content of all. Amazingly, that’s true despite the fact that those younger generations live in a place and time that’s historically safe, healthy and prosperous – more so on all counts than did their elders. What’s not to like? According to them, pretty much everything. The question then is why they see the brimming glass as not just half-empty, but bone-dry?
I can’t help but notice that the rise of those behaviors and the widespread use of daycare (and single-mother care) for even very young children have arrived hand in hand. After all, what else explains the weird combination of hypersensitivity and the almost rabid attacks on anyone who refuses to don the latest fashion in dogma? The terms “anxiety” and “aggressiveness” that describe kids in daycare and the adults they become also neatly capture those behaviors that we’ve seen increasing over the years.
Consider: These are the generations that have brought us such bizarre notions as “microaggressions” that have existed forever but only recently become earth-shattering. Then there are “trigger warnings,” those newly-needed alerts that shield the otherwise unwary from the threat of certain words or even – gasp! – actions. (Look out! This movie shows a character smoking a cigarette!)
And don’t forget; words now constitute violence. University professors everywhere verbally tiptoe around their students for fear of uttering a sound deemed (by someone, anyone) unconducive to the maximal contentment of the youngsters. Countless young people accept, apparently without question, the patently untrue claim that climate change poses “an existential threat to the human race” when reputable publications on the subject demonstrate otherwise. And yet one of the significant and growing problems in Great Britain is young people’s terror of exactly that. It’s even acquired a name – Climate Derangement Syndrome. Anxiety? In spades.
Aggressiveness? Yes, that too. For today’s youth and young adults, it’s not enough to simply feel offended by every real or imagined slight, the offending party must pay – a lot. That too has a name – cancel culture – that’s spilled off the campuses and into every facet of everyday life. Did a linguistics professor utter a Chinese word that, to those desperately seeking offense, could conceivably sound like the English N word? He did, so off with his head. Was a U.S. senator from Minnesota photographed clowning around with an unsuspecting woman way back in his stand-up comedy days? Yes, so he’s no longer fit to serve the people who elected him. Did the New York Times timidly assert that free speech is a good thing? It did and was pilloried as “appalling” and “the worst day in the history of the New York Times” for such an unconscionable act. Needless to say, “the board should retract and resign.”
Everywhere, the mere accusation of sexual misconduct = conclusive proof of guilt. Due process of law is nothing but a scam by the powerful. Lawyers who represent certain probably guilty clients (Harvey Weinstein) are morally wrong for doing so and younger lawyers in the firm should be given hefty severance packages when they indignantly quit. Who could possibly work at such a place?
The list of people, institutions and core democratic principles savagely attacked is endless and no infraction is too trivial to merit any but the most draconian consequences. Next up? The guillotine. Aggressiveness? Indeed.
In days gone by, the natural skepticism of young adults would have prompted them to ridicule this nonsense, but now they wholeheartedly embrace it. Why? I suspect it’s because they’re primed by their early-life experiences to do exactly that.
In addition to daycare, another such experience is single-mother upbringing. Of course daycare attendance and single-mother care aren’t exactly unrelated phenomena. For obvious reasons, single mothers utilize daycare more than do other parents. But exclusively maternal care, whether or not it’s supplemented by daycare, has its problems too.
For one thing, Homo sapiens has, for about 500,000 years, recruited both sexes to raise its young and the two tend to parent differently. That means human children need the synergy of male and female parenting behaviors and suffer when they don’t get it. Male parenting tends to be more outwardly, socially oriented than the female variety. It teaches about others and the child’s impact on their environment. Fathers impart empathy to their children. (See, Dr. Anna Machin, The Life of Dad.) A child without a father is a child who’s more likely to be insensitive to the humanity of others, a core feature of cancel culture.
Plus, when researchers look at the five personality traits evidenced by individuals across cultures, women consistently score higher on “neuroticism” than do men, which, practically speaking, means they’re more anxious. That may come from an awareness of their own physical vulnerability, that of their children or both. But whatever the source, when a child is brought up exclusively by their mother or a combination of her and daycare, it’s not a stretch to conclude that their level of anxiety increases.
Needless to say, this is all speculation on my part, but I think it’s informed speculation. Plus, I don’t pretend that daycare or single-mother care is the sole reason for the dysfunctional behavior that’s become so well-known. Obviously, the matter is complex, but something must explain why young people who, in times past, would have been arrogantly confident of their indestructibility are now terrified of the slightest, or even non-existent, “threats.” And if it’s not those two phenomena that just so happen to have arisen along with the anxiety and aggressiveness of young adults, what does?