The snowflake generation

Psychologists have sounded the alarm. The percentage of children and teenagers who lack the capacity to cope with everyday challenges has been on the rise in recent years. What has caused this surge in the number of oversensitive individuals? How can one support children to improve their mental resilience and ability to cope in life?

Anna Daria Nowicka

Helicopter parents are to blame for raising the snowflake generation

Psychologists and sociologists are warning about the deteriorating mental condition of children and adolescents. This phenomenon is evident from both official statistics and the feedback from teachers, psychologists, doctors and other specialists who work with children. According to the EZOP study conducted in Poland in 2021: “Among children and adolescents aged 7-17 years, every eighth child has experienced mental disorders. It could be extrapolated to over half a million of children and adolescents of that age[1].”

Lockdown, remote learning and online work, as well as overwhelming uncertainty have further aggravated the problems that were already there. The successive economic crises and the pandemic added to the harmful effects of the child-rearing methods adopted by some parents who had good intentions and might have even believed they were supporting their children’s wellbeing.

In each generation, some people are more sensitive and mentally weaker than others. The neuroticism and mental resilience axis is one of the levels of the Big Five personality traits. However, for the past several years, the number of young people who suffer from depression and anxiety disorders, attempt suicide or have difficulty coping in their personal and professional lives has been on the rise.

Helicopter parents are parents who are overprotective and tend to ‘hover’ close by, watching their child’s every step and removing even the most trivial obstacles their child may encounter. I have discussed this problem at length in a separate article entitled What are the effects of overprotective parenting and child rearing by ‘helicopter parents’? The consequences include children’s increased psychological fragility, low self-esteem, and emotional dependence on parents which may continue even into adulthood. “Research shows that overprotective parenting has a negative impact on the development of cognitive and socio-emotional skills. Scientific studies also confirm that adult children of overprotective parents have low self-esteem and a lowered sense of self-worth, and they lack the confidence and mental resilience necessary to overcome challenges in life.”[2]

The snowflake generation is a term that has made it into everyday parlance and is even defined in the prestigious Collins English Dictionary[3]. It refers to the people who became adults in or after 2010 and are viewed as being less resilient and more prone to taking offence than previous generations. A snowflake is delicate and melts down in your hand. I want to make it clear that not every person from this generation has low mental resilience. My only intention is to point to a certain growing social trend.

What could be the reasons for overprotective parenting?

Due to low birth rates, parents invest their widely understood resources – not only money, but also time, emotions and commitment – in a statistically smaller number of children. “The total fertility rate in Poland in 2020 declined to 1.378 children per woman and was the lowest since 2016,”[4] which means that parents usually focus all their energy and love on only one or two children. Unfortunately, parents also focus their expectations and fears on the decreasing number of offspring. They worry about their child and expect his or her success to a statistically greater extent than they used to when families had 2 or 3 children on average and hence not enough time to watch their every move. Understandably, many parents today are actually paralyzed by the thought that their child might come to harm or fail to live up to their hopes. This fear further intensifies their desire to protect their child at all costs and eliminate anything that might inconvenience him or her.

Professor Jordan Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist, lecturer, and author of bestselling books including “12 Rules for Life,” emphasizes that treating children as an ‘investment’ or a ‘life project,’ as well as overprotecting them from the stress and problems that naturally come in life, makes them even more sensitive, scared and lacking in self-confidence.

Professor Peterson also points to the fact that, statistically, women today have children at a much older age than in previous generations. People in their 30s and 40s are usually more aware of risks and dangers than people in their 20s. Many parents who raise children at an older age naturally perceive more dangerous situations and try to prevent them. In Poland in 2019, the average age of women having their first child was 27.6 years and was close to the European Union average.[5]

It is common knowledge that a body part will grow weaker if it is not forced to make an effort. This is what happens, for instance, with a broken leg in a plaster cast. It is also plain to see that a plant that has been supported from the start will not develop a sufficiently strong stem and will not be able to stand upright once the support is removed. The same mechanism applies to mental development.

Psychologists emphasize that going through difficult situations allows you to develop effective coping strategies, learn more about yourself, gain confidence in your own competence, and build a sense of agency (i.e. the feeling of control over your life). It is difficult to build psychological resilience without proper mental training.

My clients often say that at first they did not believe they would be able to overcome some personal or professional challenge. However, they were usually able to find the strength to take action and do the things that seemed insurmountable. It is precisely such experiences that allow you to move to a higher level of personal development, build a stable self-esteem, and strengthen your mental resilience. Working through crises in a constructive way can even result in the so-called post-crisis growth.

Consequently, it is essential for parents to strike a healthy balance between supporting and protecting their children, and allowing them to gain their own experience and confront difficult situations. To make mistakes and draw lessons from them. To fall and stand back on their own feet. It is a great opportunity for the children to strengthen their mental resilience. You will find more tips regarding this issue in my article Seven skills parents should teach their children for them to be happy.

  1. “A comprehensive study of the mental health of society and its determinants – EZOP II” coordinated by the Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology in Warsaw
  2. Unique, special, too delicate. What is the snowflake generation like?,unikalni-delikatni-wyjatkowi-jakie-jest-pokolenie-platkow-sniegu
  4. Data from the Central Statistical Office “Poland in figures 2021”
  5. Motherhood in the 30s,,pierwsze-dziecko-wiek-kobiet-polska-europa-dane-eurostatu.html