Last month I diagnosed a 17-year-old patient with “spoiled brat” disorder. I announced this in front of her and her parents at the end of the evaluation. Her parents did not express any disagreement with my diagnosis, while the girl, in a fury, stormed out of the room, slamming the office door behind her.

She is not alone. Many of my teenage patients—boys and girls—refuse to grow up. Boys who refuse to grow up remain fearful, non-productive, dependent on their parents for material and emotional support, and in perpetual need of affirmation. They cannot take risks, which means they cannot learn from failure, which is what allows them to succeed later. They set their sights low and within comfortable reach, supported by enabling parents. Girls, in turn, remain entitled, unrealistic in their expectations, and mired in fantasy. They fail to learn the importance of partnership in their relationships with men, often developing an identification with being a victim. This toxic view is enabled by American society that insists girls can do no wrong but are, rather, wronged themselves every day of their lives. As boys and girls bypass healthy development and fail to grow up, they miss out on the benefits of adulthood: accomplishment, freedom, wisdom.

Parents, institutions, and American culture have conspired to produce this phenomenon of a generation of young Americans who will not grow up. Parents are scared to hold their children accountable, to discipline them, to deprive them of luxuries like smart phones and Uber. They themselves can no longer tolerate being present with the emotional pain of their children, much less tolerate the thought that they are the cause of it. Yet emotional pain is part of growing up, and parents must allow it to happen.

Days before her daughter’s evaluation, the mother of the spoiled brat patient locked herself in the bathroom at a hotel where she and her daughter were staying, after the girl flew into a rage over a petty disagreement and began throwing heavy objects. She stayed in the bathroom all night, afraid her daughter might attack her. She created this little monster, entirely unintentionally. Many parents today are failing at their jobs.

We no longer have institutions that support proper parenting, either. Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, YMCA, government schools, pediatric medicine, public libraries…they have all been corrupted, their foundational values replaced with ideological indoctrination and propaganda. Social media, movies, video games, and advertisements now promote obesity as healthy, pediatric mastectomies as virtuous, and parental disrespect and stupidity as normative. Both Burberry and The Sims recently presented transgenders with surgical scars on their chests as models and characters to represent their products. Would this have even been legally allowed five years ago, much less celebrated? Wherever young people now turn, they are unlikely to receive any messages or teachings on how to grow up and become healthy adults.

You might ask the question, “Why does it matter?” Shouldn’t we allow children to take the time they need to grow into adulthood? Hasn’t every generation faced its unique hurdles in the process of maturation? Weren’t there problems before? Certainly. This is the first time in history, though, that every major influence in society has been directed against healthy development. This is the first time I am aware of that a boy or girl who has made the effort to grow up is placed at a disadvantage by every institution—ostracized or attacked for displaying courage, deference to healthy authority, an acknowledgement of reality. A group of students was threatened with arrest and removed from the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. recently for wearing pro-life hats. Another group wearing hats with rainbow flags was left unmolested. Violence by students against teachers is tolerated at schools throughout the US now, to the point where a teacher who interferes with his own assault by a student will be arrested and charged with assault himself. A high school principal in Virginia denied students their National Merit Scholarship letters this academic year to promote “equity,” preventing them from including the award in their college applications. These students were taught that accomplishment will not be recognized so that mediocrity can be protected.

Woke culture is arresting development at every stage of life. As these young people transition from adolescence into early adulthood, these anti-growth lessons are reinforced at the university and in the workforce. Professors have been fired for refusing to give every student an A grade, even when a student hasn’t earned it. Cities like Los Angeles continue to protect renters from the financial responsibility of paying for their apartments, because going to work is now considered an imposition. Real men are targeted by employers and the courts. Real women are denounced as traitors to the cause by feminists and academics. No wonder young Americans remain lost and confused, unable to chart a path forward. For them, the rational decision is to remain at home, infantilized and dependent.

This problem cannot be solved by the youth. It must be addressed by the adults who created the system that is producing this pandemic of arrested development. If we truly care about the next generation, a good place to start would be to redefine our expectations: Tell young people to grow up, hold them accountable, and insist they tolerate and embrace necessary suffering as a part of growth. Check their narcissism, deprive them of unnecessary luxuries, and make them work for what they have. Spoiled children who refuse to grow up may be annoying. If adults do not change their ways, though, these children will soon find themselves assuming adult responsibilities they lack the capacity to handle, wielding adult influence they have not earned. Children in adult bodies, immature and without wisdom, can end a civilization. That is happening now.

Mark McDonald, M.D.
Psychiatrist and author of United States of Fear: How America Fell Victim to a Mass Delusional Psychosis and Freedom From Fear: A 12 Step Guide to Personal and National Recovery