America's Youth Drowning In Happiness

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When it comes to our children's happiness, less is more.

That's the surprising perspective of one Chicago psychologist concerned about the rising rates of youth depression and anxiety.

"Millions of well-intentioned parents have made life harder for their children by shielding the kids from every kind of unhappiness," according to Aaron Cooper, Ph.D., co-author of a new book on the dangers when parents make happiness the most important thing. "These parents try to soften every edge in their children's lives, and it's crippling the kids emotionally."

"Without plenty of practice coping with ordinary sadness, upset, disappointment, and hurt, kids don't develop resilience," Cooper explained. "And without resilience, they're vulnerable to all kinds of problems."

Cooper calls it the misguided happiness creed, the "I just want my kids to be happy" mentality, which he believes contributes to anxiety and depression for many youngsters.

Based on recent estimates, depression affects over one million children and 3.5 million adolescents at any one time in this country. Research also reveals that the onset of depression is occurring earlier than in years past.

"Kids know how much their parents want them to be happy," Cooper said, "and so when they're sad or upset for whatever reason, they feel guilty thinking they're letting their parents down. Many hide their distress at home, which compounds the problem and they end up feeling worse."

Cooper cites a 2006 study commissioned by Family Circle magazine in which 27 percent of surveyed kids reported being "unhappy or just okay." On a national level, that represents ten million children.

During thirty years of counseling families, Cooper frequently heard parents say that their children's happiness was their fondest wish. Wondering whether the youngsters were actually absorbing that message, he and educator Eric Keitel, M.Ed., asked a group of 100 middle school students what they thought was most important to their parents, that they be happy, smart, successful, or good. Seventy-five percent of the kids selected "happy."