“Want to know why the rising generation of kids doesn’t want to have children of their own? It’s because we made parenting look so damn miserable. It’s because we listened to all the experts and convinced ourselves we couldn’t possible appeal to life experience, judgement, knowledge gleaned over decades–tens of thousands of hours with our kids—or what our parents had done, and figure this thing out for ourselves. It’s because forty-year-old parents—accomplished, brilliant, and blessed with a spouse—treat the raising of kids like a calculus problem that was put to them in the dead of night, gun to the head: Get this right or I pull this trigger.” (Bad Therapy, page 190)

It’s a well-known fact that fertility rates are on a steady decline in the United States, with many Millennials and those in Gen Z expressing no desire for kids at all. There are plenty of cited reasons for this—the economy, state of the world, personal preferences—but I’m inclined to think that there are reasons that go even deeper than that.

If you were to get into the mind of many young people today contemplating children, you’d often hear these internalized fears: “The stakes are too high. I don’t want to mess children up. I don’t think I’d even like having children, anyways.” How do I know this? As someone who is on the Millennial/Gen Z cuff herself, I have battled these very thoughts, and know many of my peers do, as well.

In a way, Abigail Shrier’s new book “Bad Therapy: Why the Kids Aren’t Growing Up” (2024) gives a response to these fears. Recently, Shrier became a PC Contributor with the interview appearing at the bottom of the page here. In true investigative form, Shrier in Bad Therapy takes a deep dive into the mental health crisis of America’s youth and subsequent rise in therapy. Her conclusion: Most kids don’t need therapy, and it’s actually doing more harm to them than good.

This idea flies in the face of many assumptions we’ve told ourselves—surely everyone needs a little therapy? Yet Shrier builds the case that this is the very thinking that has led to misdiagnosed, overmedicated, and socially/emotionally underdeveloped children who have been fed into a broken system. Shrier explains that a system is clearly broken when the cure (therapy) is more accessible than ever, yet the sickness (mental health issues) continues to increase at alarming rates (pages 20 – 21). She argues that just like physicians, therapists and shrinks are at risk of iatrogenesis—when a healer harms a patient in the course of treatment.

Throughout the course of the book, Shrier explains that this looks like forcing a child to ruminate on bad feelings and experiences, finding childhood trauma where there is none, receiving a diagnosis that often serves more as a limiting handicap, taking psychotropic drugs that inhibit their personal ability to regulate emotions and behaviors . . . and the list goes on and on. In other words, therapy is far from a “completely safe” practice that should only be reserved for the most ill when all other options have been exhausted.

As a whole, Shrier says that most children are not even near this level of illness—in fact, they’re not ill at all. She claims a lot of what we are seeing today is “deeply connected to the values and worldview we’ve given our kids, the ways they’ve raised them, and the influences around them” (page 29). Therapists can hardly take all the blame—according to Shrier, it really begins with the parents.

In the book, Shrier makes it a point to call out gentle parenting (the promoted and accepted parenting-style today) that puts feelings above everything else—even the authority of the parent. We just want our kids to be happy no matter the cost. But Shrier explains that there is a cost, and when parents pass their kids off to a therapist and forget their role and responsibility to personally guide, discipline, and protect their children, everybody suffers for it. Here, Shrier discusses this in our recent interview:

 

 

Parents need to shape the worldview of their children—pass down values and beliefs that will give them a healthy framework and view of themselves. As Shrier says, human beings are historically resilient, not traumatized by challenges we face. We must expect resiliency from our children, hold them to a higher standard than most mental health experts allow, focus on their strengths over their weaknesses, and give them the guidance and structure they need to flourish. After all, the real world children-into-adults experience once outside the home won’t cater to their every need; quite frequently, the exact opposite.

While parenting must take various forms depending on each child’s needs, one thing remains consistent: a parent-led approach proves more effective than almost every therapy-based strategy (page 40). As they say, if parents don’t fill their children’s minds and shape character, others who love them less will.

Born in 1978, Abigail, age 45, comes from a pivotal generation. She is either a late Generation Xer (born 1965 to 1980), an Xennial (born 1977 to 1983, with analog childhood and digital adulthood), or a pre-Millennial (1981 to 1996). During our interview, she clearly indicated that marriage and becoming a parent (mother of three) gave her life much of its meaning.

In light of Bad Therapy, we can add more context to the fears of Millennials and Gen Zs noted above:

  • The stakes are too high. (Too many children are suffering from debilitating mental illnesses and struggling to handle life.)
  • I don’t want to mess up children. (Parenting is too hard and complicated—too many parents end up traumatizing their own children.)
  • I don’t think I’d even like having children. (Parents today seem miserable, battered by their kids, and constantly worried about them. Worse still, many don’t seem to appreciate the gift of children due to their own mistakes.)

We’ve been sold the lies that children are fragile, we are incapable as parents, and we need a professional to step in. It’s no wonder that we have second thoughts about children. We often view the decision to have children through a cost-benefit analysis while forgetting that children are not only the “keystone in any civilization” but one of life’s greatest joys.

Within the Judeo-Christian worldview, outside one’s relationship with God, marriage and parenting are perhaps the central focus of life for most persons as imago Dei—as creatures and creators. The parent-child relationship offers love its strongest source of influence on the world. Every therapist will say the quality of that relationship has a profound influence on every adult’s life and, therefore, on all adult relationships.

Shrier closes her book with an encouraging and apt call to action: “Having kids is the best, most worthy thing you could possibly do. Raise them well. You’re the only one who can” (pg. 250).

No doubt, Shrier’s work has already received strong opposition from those in today’s mental health professions. Such opposition is understandable—Shrier does not paint therapists or their work in a pretty light. Personally, I think there is room to acknowledge that there are many therapists who genuinely care for their patients and sometimes do help them in significant ways (particularly with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, as Shrier mentions) while still acknowledging that the mental health system is inherently broken. The question for parents might be how much does one let them get between you and your child, if at all.

While most people would not consider Bad Therapy a “worldview” book, it’s worldview themes are clear: Our view of the human self and parental authority are key in addressing the mental health of our youth. Central to worldview metaphysics for all, including children, are truth, reality, commons sense, and practical experience. In 250 pages, Shrier gives a clear and calculated warning to parents and parents to-be: Children need more parenting, not more therapists.