I was wrong about trigger warnings, writes Jill Filipovic in The Atlantic. Writing for a feminist blog in 2008, she thought warning readers about topics such as sexual assault might be helpful and could do no harm. Now, she sees the harm, especially to teenage girls who've embraced fragility.
Trigger warnings became pervasive in the next five years, along with complaints about "toxic" or "problematic" people, she writes. On college campuses, "students decried the 'potential trauma' caused by ideas and objected to the presence of some speakers and works of art."
When I posted a link to a funny BuzzFeed photo compilation, a commenter said it needed a trigger warning because the pictures of cats attacking dogs looked like domestic violence.
The number of students seeking mental-health services began increasing steadily, Richard Friedman, who ran Cornell's mental-health center, told her. Students had a "sense of being harmed by things that were unfamiliar and uncomfortable. . . . People were very upset about things that we would never have thought would be dangerous,” such as lecturers who'd said something they disliked.
Filipovic interviewed women around the world who'd suffered real -- not just psychological -- trauma, and began to wonder: "In giving greater weight to claims of individual hurt and victimization, have we inadvertently raised a generation that has fewer tools to manage hardship and transform adversity into agency?"
Teenage girls' mental health is spiraling downward, a trend that began years before Covid lockdowns. From 2007 to 2019, the suicide rate for girls ages 10 to 14 nearly quadrupled, she writes. "A 2021 CDC report found that 57 percent of female high-school students reported 'persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness,' up from 36 percent in 2011."
Some have fallen prey to "a chronic fear of environmental doom that’s often paralyzing and debilitating, and it can sometimes be exacerbated by existing anxiety disorders." In a 2021 survey, 59 percent of young people reported "sadness, anxiety, anger, powerlessness, helplessness and guilt."
Trauma has become a "source of identity" for many, writes New York Times columnist David Brooks.
"People began defining themselves by the way they had been hurt."
He blames a culture that rewards narcissism and public hysteria. "People on all sides genuinely come to believe they are powerless, unwilling to assume any responsibility for their plight."
While Filipovic wants people to build resilience, Brooks dreams of "maturity," which requires "understanding that you’re not the center of the universe."