There are many important anecdotes out there about peanuts. Or rather, I am sure there are, but today we’re only going to focus on one of them. This is the brief story of how parents protecting their kids from peanuts has made peanuts more dangerous.
Here’s what has gone down: from 1997 to 2008, peanut allergies tripled in the U.S., from 1-in-250 to 1-in-70 children. And this is serious because not only do these kids have to miss out on delicious things like peanut butter. Peanut allergies are very serious: it’s one of the top causes of food-related deaths and doesn’t have a known cure. You just have to avoid peanuts.
Given all that, what are we to do? Ban peanuts? Fortunately, this is not the answer.
In fact, studies have indicated that parents keeping their kids away from peanuts has been partly responsible for the increase in kids with peanut allergies. And this overprotection is such a problem that the NIH published official guidance that parents should purposely start to expose their children to peanut-based foods around the age of 4-6 months. As they say in the letter “regular exposure is key to allergy prevention.”
This concept applies well beyond peanuts. Avoidance can sometimes be a strategy, but it will never make you immune to whatever threat you face. The only way to become immune, or to borrow Nassim Taleb’s phrase, “anti-fragile” is to face the adversity.
Exercise works like this – you face adversity and become stronger and more adept in the long run, even though you tire or suffer at first. Parallel to that, learning difficult things causes struggle and then produces a more fit mind at the end.
The hard lesson may sound like a paradox, but it isn’t: if you want to succeed, make life harder, not easier.
Edit: I neglected to link this great clip of Jonathan Haidt discussing this topic with Joe Rogan on his podcast.