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"The Coddling of the American Mind": Are universities overprotecting students?

“The Coddling of the American Mind” authors
"The Coddling of the American Mind": Are universities overprotecting students? 05:09

A new book is challenging colleges to better prepare young people for life after graduation. In "The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure," authors Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt argue campuses are teaching students to think in ways that will increase their likelihood of becoming anxious and easily hurt. 

Haidt and Lukianoff joined "CBS This Morning" to discuss what they call the three "great untruths," how they got into our educational system and the damage they could be doing to students' frame of mind. 

Earlier this year a study published in the journal Pediatrics found that the number of kids and teens hospitalized for suicidal thoughts or attempts more than doubled in the U.S. from 2008 to 2015. Lukianoff partially blames the alarming rise in anxiety and depression among young people on the habits we're teaching them in school. 

"The great untruth of emotional reasoning is the one that sounds the nicest, it sounds the warmest and fuzziest, most romantic, but I learned the hard way through really terrible bouts of depression that sometimes your mind is telling you things that aren't so nice and that you shouldn't be listening to," Lukianoff said. "In doing the research for it, our argument is essentially we have anxious, depressed, and polarized students and we're wondering how we got there. We're teaching them mental habits of anxious, depressed, and polarized people."

The authors say there are three "great untruths."

1.       The untruth of fragility: What doesn't kill you makes you weaker

2.       The untruth of emotional reasoning: Always trust your feelings

3.       The untruth of us versus them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people

Haidt, who also wrote "The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom," said that one of the greatest shared ideas from every culture is that good and evil are merely a construct, a product of our minds. This backs up the third great untruth that life is a battle between good and evil.

"As students are coming into a new situation, should they interpret everything as dangerous, threatening, and aggressive or should they interpret it as a cornucopia full of opportunities? There are going to be little bumps along the way, there's going to be unpleasantness. Should they interpret those as attacks or as faux pas or errors? So how students learn how to frame things will greatly affect whether they thrive or whether they retreat into a shell, in a defensive crouch in college," Haidt said.  

Public backlash over the New Yorker's decision to include Steve Bannon at one of its annual events led the magazine to rescind its invitation to the former White House strategist. Facing similar criticism, the Economist did not back down and decided to allow Bannon to appear at a conference the magazine is holding later this month. Asked to address the controversy, Lukianoff demurred, citing the difference between educational institutions and magazines.

 "Our context is campus. Campuses are completely different institutions than magazines and when a campus makes a decision that you're no longer invited to this campus because we don't like your ideas, that's antithetical to the whole idea of what a university is supposed to be," Lukianoff said. 

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