Precious little snowflakes we call students are taught to be weaklings from a very early age
As a survey reveals most undergraduates would ban 'offensive' speakers from their colleges, Fionola Meredith asks why they are so scared of being challenged.
The snowflake generation, that's what today's students are called. Why? Because they seem to think they'll melt away if they come into contact with anything challenging, disturbing or otherwise strange to them.
Such ideas - or rather the people expressing them - are like salt to the snowflakes, actively threatening to their personal wellbeing. One touch and they turn into a soggy puddle.
The students' answer? Ban the bad people. Deny them a platform. Bar all the doors and refuse to let them in.
Better that then risk the potential annihilation of their oh-so-fragile self-esteem, right?
The first major study of student attitudes to 'offensive' views makes for very depressing reading. Carried out by the Higher Education Policy Institute, an independent think-tank, it found that 76% would ban speakers who had views that offended them, while half (48%) wanted universities to be declared safe spaces where debate can only take place within strict rules. Two-thirds of those questioned, meanwhile, supported the idea that students should be given trigger warnings before sensitive subjects were raised in class, so they can leave if they think they might get upset.
What went wrong when this generation of students were growing up? How did they turn out so needy and pathetic, so conformist and intolerant and quick to take offence?
This unattractive weediness didn't come out of nowhere. The unpalatable truth is that children are now taught that they are weak, fragile creatures, in need of constant protection. It is embedded in the modern education system.
Don't believe me? Look at the evidence, it's all around. Parents and teachers are convinced that children are continually at risk. In some schools here in Northern Ireland kids are actually banned from running in the playground in case they fall over and hurt themselves.
Other schools ban party invitations because it's too emotionally painful for the kids who don't get one. Incredibly, one Belfast primary school headmaster said that for some children not receiving a party invite felt like "the end of their life", and could be tantamount to bullying.
And it gets worse. Last week it was reported that a school in England has banned the blowing of a whistle to signal the end of break-time because it is "too aggressive" and might leave the pupils "afraid of the noise". Instead, staff at St Monica's in Milton Keynes must raise a hand in the air to announce the end of play-time.
It's exactly this kind of ostensibly child-centred but deeply harmful guff that eventually leads to situations like the one at a recent women students' conference, where applause was silenced because it was "triggering anxiety" among delegates. Jazz hands - silently waving your hands in an inanely jolly way - were to be used to express approval instead. God forbid that anyone let off an enthusiastic whistle. That really would be a micro-aggression too far. You could have a mass meltdown on your hands.
As the sociologist Frank Furedi observed, "a preoccupation with children's self-esteem has fostered a preoccupation with attending to children's emotional needs - often at the expense of intellectual ones. The school is gradually being transformed into a clinic." Instead of inspiring children through challenging and stretching them, he writes, "the education system is devoted to making them feel good".
No wonder children reach adulthood convinced that they can't exist without a soft, cosy duvet wrapped permanently around them. They feel entitled to be safe and unchallenged at all times.
That's why they react with outrage on the rare occasions they encounter anything that makes them feel uncomfortable, squealing for mummy or teacher or the vice-chancellor to come running with a sugar-dipped dummy and make it all better. The rise of mandatory classes on sexual consent is another example of this pernicious trend. What business is it of the university authorities to interfere in the private lives of adults? It implies that students are incapable of handling their personal interactions without being told exactly what to do and what not to do, just like children.
Not all young people demand such a diet of infantile pap, of course. Many are horrified by the grossly illiberal turn that student politics is taking, and want nothing to do with it. They are willing to grapple with ideas they find difficult, to debate with people they find repugnant. They know that silencing your opponents is both personally diminishing and democratically dangerous.
As for the others - these howling overgrown babies, so lacking in resilience, courage and intellectual rigour - there is only one answer. Grow up.