The snowflake factory

If today’s students believe that hearing a dissenting opinion can kill them, it’s because we taught them to think like that, writes Claire Fox in The Spectator

Another week, another spate of barmy campus bans and ‘safe space’ shenanigans by a new breed of hyper–sensitive censorious youth. At Oxford University, law students are now officially notified when the content of a lecture might upset them. In Cambridge, there were calls for an Africa-themed end-of-term dinner to be cancelled just in case it caused offence to someone somewhere. It all seems beyond parody. ‘What is wrong with these thin-skinned little emperors?’ we cry. But while we can harrumph and sneer at Generation Snowflake’s antics, we miss a crucial point: we created them.

First, it is important to note that young people who cry offence are not feigning hurt — generational fragility is a real phenomenon. Speaking at numerous school and university events in recent years, I’ve noticed an increasingly aggrieved response from my young audience to any argument I put forward that they don’t like. They are genuinely distressed by ideas that run contrary to their worldview. Even making a general case for free speech can lead to gasps of disbelief. But why do they take everything so personally? The short answer is: because we socialised them that way.

Why are we surprised that teenagers demand safe spaces? Historically, adolescents might have been risk-takers and adventure-seekers, but today we rear children to perceive the world as an endlessly scary place. NGOs and charities, in particular, promote panic, arguing that what used to be called puppy fat is childhood obesity and will lead to premature death, while those sugary drinks the young love to swig are ‘kids’ crack cocaine’. Reared on a diet of disaster hyperbole, it’s no wonder children grow up scared of their own shadows.

Today, parents go to ludicrous lengths to eliminate all risk from their children’s lives. Inevitably this narrows their horizons and teaches them to be less daring. Health-and-safety mania means the young are denied resilience-building freedoms that past generations enjoyed, such as playing outdoors, climbing trees and walking to school unaided. Modern mollycoddling means that pupils have been prevented from engaging in activities such as leapfrog, marbles and conkers. Three in ten schools have banned the playground game British bulldog. Last week, a headmistress in Dundee suggested changing the colour of her school’s red uniform because ‘some research indicates that it can increase heart and breathing rates’. In March, there were moves to ban tackling in school rugby matches due to the perils of this ‘high-impact collision sport’.

Read the full article here.