Home > musing > In defense of neglectful parenting

In defense of neglectful parenting

As I promised yesterday, I want to respond to this New Yorker article “The Child Trap: the rise of overparenting,” which my friend Chris Wiggins forwarded to me.

The premise of the article is that nowadays we spoil our kids, force them to do a bunch of adult-supervised after-school activities, and generally speaking hover over them, even once they’re adults, and it’s all the fault of technology and (who else?) guilty working mothers. In particular, it makes kids, especially college-age kids, incredibly selfish and emotionally weak.

They interview overparenting skeptics as well, who seem to be focused on the spoiling and indulgent side of overparenting:

As for the steamy devotion shown by later generations of parents, what it has produced are snotty little brats filled with “anger at such abstract enemies as The System,” and intellectual lightweights, certain (because their parents told them so) that their every thought is of great consequence. Epstein says that, when he was teaching, he was often tempted to write on his students’ papers: “D-. Too much love in the home.”

I’m basically in agreement with the article, although I’d go further at some moments and not as far at others.

For example, with spoiling: in my experience, “spoiled kids” is just a phrase people use to describe kids that have acclimated perfectly to their imperfect environments.

So if you train your kids to whine, by saying “no” but then giving in if they whine, then it’s on you, as a parent, to realize you’ve created a perverted environment. Your kid is essentially doing what they’re told. If a 15-year-old kid sitting next to the refrigerator yells for his mom across the living room to get him a glass of juice (I’ve seen this happen) and the mom in question does what she’s been told, then guess what? That kid has learned how to make juice appear.

When you eventually release a spoiled kid in the real world, where there’s nobody to get him juice when he demands it, and when things don’t magically happen because they whine, then all you’ve done is made their entry into that real world harder for them. And in that sense you’ve fucked up.

Because isn’t our main job as parents to make sure they can survive on their own as productive, kind, happy individuals?

On the separate subject of getting your kid to be super gifted through Baby Mozart CD’s and after-school activities (from the article: “You can’t smoke pot or lose your virginity at lacrosse practice.”), it’s an approach to parenting I find toxic, and here’s why.

I think the attention you give to your kids when you force them to practice violin or study for standardized tests is an anxious attention. And just as marriages break down when the majority of interactions between spouses consist of negotiating child pick-ups rather than exchanging ideas and affection, the relationship between parents and kids can similarly suck if you spend more time nagging and worrying about their externally perceived status than enjoying them as people.

And that’s just the day-to-day complaint I have. The larger complaint I have about all this overparenting is that the anxiety we have for our kids’ futures is being projected onto them, and it often translates as a lack of faith in their ability to make it on their own. So rather than preparing them to live independent lives, we’re undermining them from the get-go.

Actually, I’d go one step further. One thing I enjoyed as a latch-key kid of a working mother (who carried no guilt at all) was that, for most things, I was never under scrutiny. What I did with my time after school was up to me, although I wasn’t supposed to watch TV all the time (and I sometimes did anyway, of course – we should all be able to experiment with breaking rules). What I thought about and who I hung out with with were completely up to me – and by the time I was 17 and had my license and a crappy old car, I did some admittedly pretty outrageous things. My parents were so busy they often didn’t even look at my report card in a given year.

In other words, I had a kind of privacy and freedom that I don’t think many kids today can even imagine, although I do my best to provide my kids with a similar environment.

That’s not to say my childhood was perfect, nor were my parents totally neglectful – we had dinner together every night, they gave me a safe environment to roam around in, and I had a bedtime which was enforced. If I hadn’t been doing my homework, I’m pretty sure they would have been on top of me to do it, but I did it on my own. And I was under scrutiny for one thing, namely being mildly overweight, which caused me enough pain then that I understood scrutiny itself to be the source of insecurity.

I can’t help thinking that my childhood would have been a lot worse if my parents had fretted over how I spend my afternoons, even though it’s hard to imagine. It makes me wonder where I’d be now if I hadn’t had those afternoons to spend making unlikely friends, taking on jobs cleaning houses for cash, buying books to read, and generally speaking deciding who I was going to grow up to be.

Categories: musing
  1. Vaag Mosca
    May 6, 2013 at 7:40 am

    . . . not to mention “going to math team after school” . . . . our math teams were blessed to have you there!

  2. May 6, 2013 at 8:47 am

    So beautiful. Thank you. I have to disagree with the source article and its talk about how kids blame “the system.” Yeah, right, over-parenting is the standard route to conformism. But anyway.

    “One thing I enjoyed as a latch-key kid of a working mother (who carried no guilt at all) was that, for most things, I was never under scrutiny. What I did with my time after school was up to me, although I wasn’t supposed to watch TV all the time (and I sometimes did anyway, of course – we should all be able to experiment with breaking rules). What I thought about and who I hung out with with were completely up to me – and by the time I was 17 and had my license and a crappy old car, I did some admittedly pretty outrageous things. My parents were so busy they often didn’t even look at my report card in a given year.”

    (Beautifully described, also I’m jealous. I had about half of that in terms of time without scrutiny.)

    • May 6, 2013 at 8:57 am

      Thanks Nick.

      I do think that over-parenting via anxiety leads to conformity – if you’re busy worried about not living up to external measures of success, you never have the time or space to question those metrics.

      Put it another way: sending our kids to lacrosse practice, where “the grownups are constantly yelling at the kids to do stuff” (my son’s description of his second and final lacrosse practice) and to violin lessons, again highly scripted, makes them perform for other people, not for themselves.

  3. May 6, 2013 at 9:56 am

    This New Yorker article is supposed to be a book review, but it’s more of a book summary. There’s no evaluation here. In this type of nonfiction book, I want to find solid evidence. Is there any?

    The bit about kids blaming “The System” sounds like it could have been extracted from a similar article, in say, 1968. Everybody, in every generation, has encountered some ill-behaved children, some young adults who aren’t very adult. Anecdotes are clues, and they lend color to a story, but I would sure like to see something more than this to support the author’s claims.

    I have no doubt that you’re a great parent. That said, personal experience is just personal experience. If we’re going to talk about what parenting behavior leads to what effects on kids, the basis for discussion ought to be meaningful research.

  4. Steve Stein
    May 6, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” – Socrates (about 2400 years ago)

    • May 6, 2013 at 12:09 pm

      Oh dear! They cross their legs!!!
      :)

    • Dan L
      May 6, 2013 at 1:12 pm

      awesome comment, thank you for that

    • May 6, 2013 at 3:19 pm

      And they made him drink the hemlock for corrupting them!

    • Mark Alexander
      May 8, 2013 at 2:31 pm

      It’s an amusing quote, but Socrates probably never said it: http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview?id=408989

    • May 12, 2013 at 8:53 am

      I see your Greek and raise you Assyrian (5000 BC, beat that!):

      “We have fallen upon evil times, the world has waxed old and wicked. Politics are very corrupt. Children are no longer respectful to their elders. Each man wants to make himself conspicuous and write a book.”

      http://quoteinvestigator.com/2012/10/22/world-end/

  5. JSE
    May 6, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    From the article: “We’ve all been there—that is, in the living room of friends who invited us to dinner without mentioning that this would include a full-evening performance by their four-year-old. He sings, he dances, he eats all the hors d’oeuvres. When you try to speak to his parents, he interrupts. Why should they talk to you, about things he’s not interested in, when you could all be discussing how his hamster died? His parents seem to agree; they ask him to share his feelings about that event. You yawn. Who cares? Dinner is finally served, and the child is sent off to some unfortunate person in the kitchen.”

    No! We have not all been there! I, for one, have never been there.

    Nor do I see the life of my kids or the kids around them as appreciably different from the lives my friends and I led as children. And the articles that say “OMG you’re coddling your kids and denying them the liberty they need to grow into functional adults” are just the flip side of the articles that say “OMG if you let your kid go outside unsupervised they’ll get kidnapped.” Both are designed to generate anxiety, not to inform.

    As Steve Stein points out, overparenting has a source of public anxiety for a long time, and I don’t see that it’s more so now than it was before. See e.g.

    http://quomodocumque.wordpress.com/2007/06/26/the-child-worshipers-i-overscheduled-children/

    http://quomodocumque.wordpress.com/2013/03/15/the-helicopter-was-invented-a-long-time-ago/

    both citing sources from 1963.

    • May 6, 2013 at 12:31 pm

      Hmmm.. I do see them as different. And I have been there. And from the interviews I’ve read with admissions officers at colleges, I do think it’s become appreciably different.

  6. JSE
    May 6, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    Admissions officers see folders. I see actual kids. I DO think that high school kids now have resumes that are more loaded with artificial sweeteners (“volunteer work” done for the sake of college admission, a dozen or more AP credits, etc.) but I think this is a reflection of your favorite (or rather least favorite) phenomenon, people learning to game a high-stakes model, not a reflection of a substantial change in the conditions of childhood.

    I teach these kids, and in every way visible to me, they are exactly as capable of surviving on their own as we were twenty years ago.

    Meanwhile, suicide rates among middle-aged people are much higher than they used to be

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/03/health/suicide-rate-rises-sharply-in-us.html

    while those for teens are holding steady. Maybe we’re the ones who were raised wrong!

    • May 6, 2013 at 12:53 pm

      Look, I don’t want to exaggerate this, but I don’t think there’s nothing going on either. When we went to college, there was no such thing as a cell phone. Nowadays kids talk their parents, a lot. I honestly felt like when I went away to college I was an fully grown adult, and I’m not sure that’s how freshmen in college feel nowadays.

      But of course there has always been spoiling, and there has always been over-involvement with kids – these are not new phenomena. It’s just a question of what is the norm.

      One last thing: you weren’t teaching 20 years ago. Let’s hear from someone who has been teaching for a long time. Or let’s see if there are datasets that can allow us to measure this stuff.

      p.s. It’s fully possible that we were raised wrong. But at least we didn’t have to study for standardized tests!

      • Dan L
        May 6, 2013 at 1:11 pm

        Well, maybe *you* were an adult, but I don’t think that most college freshmen are “fully grown adults.” Not now, not 20 years ago. But that’s what’s great about college. It allows for a transition. You’re right that kids talk to their parents more now, but it was expensive back then! I don’t know if it really reflects on what their home lives were like in high school.

        When I was in college, I knew lots of people who never talked to their parents, and I knew lots of people who talked to them every day. Even those whose parents would tell them what to major in and which courses to take. I’m willing to believe that things might be truly different now, but without data, it’s just speculation, right?

      • May 6, 2013 at 11:22 pm

        Cell phones made a big change in college communities. In about a year, our campus went from almost nobody with phones to nearly everyone. Ever since, many kids live “out of the moment” unaware of others in their physical presence. It was a big change in campus culture.

        There’s little doubt that there’s less outside “free play” than there was 30 years ago. Sending your suburban kid outside to play with other kids is often just not an option – those other kids just aren’t there to play with – they’re in organized sports or other scripted activities. With few other socialization options, parents are increasingly turning to organized extracurriculars.

  7. Dan L
    May 6, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    I don’t know. I had a pretty “free-range” childhood, but I just don’t see how that would work for city kids. Should a pack of elementary school kids be allowed to wander the streets of Manhattan unsupervised? Even ignoring that, I remember just going out into the neighborhood and just running into other kids doing the same. So culture really constrains you, because even if you live out in the suburbs and send your kids out to play, they will only find other kids doing the same if their parents do the same thing. I discovered this phenomenon when I realized that most neighborhood NYC playgrounds (or at least mine) seem to be dominated by toddlers.

    But in general I am hugely skeptical of any reasoning that resembles: “I was raised this way. I like how I came out. That must be a good way to raise children.” (For example, lots of people use this argument when extolling the virtues of stay-at-home motherhood.) I don’t believe that there’s a formula for good parenting. (In particular, no matter what you do, you are going to give your kid *some* kind of psychological “issue” that will follow him or her into adulthood.) I think that people should do what comes naturally and that’s just their style. If they find it natural to be helicopters, then so be it. It’s actually weirder to me to deny these instincts with the thought that, “Oh, I’d better back off on my doting or else little Johnny is going to have a tough time in college.”

    • Savanarola
      May 7, 2013 at 4:16 am

      I would disagree — I think that there are a couple of critical components that must be present for good parenting. One is consequence and consistency: if I say that I’m taking away the blocks if you do that again, I’d better follow through. People who don’t follow through very quickly learn that their kids do not believe a word they say, when it is critical to passing on so many things – and keeping them safe – that they do. The other is to lean towards showing when possible as opposed to telling: LET the kid mess up. Discuss it afterwards. I also firmly, seriously believe that children thrive with structure, but I understand that others do not. Growing up is a process of gaining increasing freedom within structure, to me. It gives you the confidence to test boundaries if you are certain of where they are.

      But I completely agree with you that, no matter what I do, there will be some kind of psychological “issue” and it will be all my fault, as far as the kids are concerned. I’ve learned to embrace this fatality using what I call the “low hanging fruit” theory. Since the kids will wind up in therapy anyway, it’s best to leave some easily identifiable parental sins for them to find, acknowledge, and feel like they’ve made progress before therapy consumes their entire income. Like leaving really obvious Easter eggs in the middle of the lawn for the little kids. “I never got that pony” is a classic example. Now, when I screw up, deny them, or otherwise play the villain I think to myself (and sometimes even say out loud) “Now there’s some low hanging fruit for future therapy. Just another of the services we provide.”

    • May 12, 2013 at 11:26 pm

      What’s wrong with elementary school kids being allowed to wander the streets of Manhattan unsupervised? Manhattan is full of great things for kids to do. There are playgrounds, vest pocket parks, all kinds of street furniture, apartment hallways, sitting areas, Duane Reades, office building lobbies, cheap restaurants and countless other things that kids can amuse themselves with. The crime rate is low, so they’re pretty safe, and there are traffic lights on almost every corner. By the time they hit the double digits they can take a bus or a subway and visit their friends cross town or take advantage of some cultural institution or another. The place is lousy with them.

      If you think about it, they are less unsupervised than you think. There aren’t all that many quiet corners in Manhattan, so there are always doormen, security guards, shopkeepers, bus drivers, commuters and countless pedestrians around.

      I think there are all sorts of parenting styles, but traditionally children have gone out to play with other children. There ability to organize and figure out things to do is pretty amazing, and I’m not the first one to point this out. There are all sorts of great things one can learn playing with other kids on the street.

  8. K.J.
    May 6, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    The parenting books that I’ve read that have really struck a chord with me are the Love and Logic books. The goal is clear: raise a child to be a resilient human being who makes good decisions. I feel like I really know nothing about parenting, so I read the books, try to understand the underlying philosophy, and then see how it works out. So far, I’ve loved it. It’s given me many tools for getting better outcomes than I could have gotten on my own. When it’s bedtime, I give my daughter lots of choices, so that she feels she has control over her situation. The first choice is usually “Do you want to put on your pj’s, or brush your teeth first?” Her answer varies. When she says “I don’t want to go to bed!” I say “Okay, do you want me to pick out your pajamas, or do you want to pick them out?” This is either followed by her saying “I want to brush my teeth first” or “I want to pick them out”. After the series of choices she is in bed and asleep. It’s a good pattern and a good routine, with bonding time aplenty. I like the Love and Logic series because I still have to be the parent and she gets to be the child and doesn’t have to be my friend. I have to look ahead to anticipate what’s going to happen so that I can know what choices I can give my daughter. As time goes on, I expect the things that I give her choices about will change. I’m new to being a parent, so I don’t really know what to expect, but the books help me.

    The parenting style that you describe is called “helicopter parenting” in this series of books.

    I should note that I’ve had people who have heard about Love and Logic, and they’ve taken away completely different lessons from it than I have. There are many trite phrases that get used, and if you focus on them, then you lose the real message.

  9. Christina
    May 6, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    I think parenting has changed, but then so has the world we’re preparing our children for…in a winner-take-all society where the opportunities to live, and routes to, a secure middle class life have narrowed considerably, resume-parenting strikes me as a rational response to the environment. If the potential costs of an adolescent screw up are enormous, are parents ‘spoiling’ their kids if they protect them from catastrophic consequences? And Ms Mathbabe, I would note that the freedom granted to a freaky-smart chick who used at least some of that freedom to turn up at math team (!!! – witness testimony convicts you on this one!) is not necessarily the same freedom that ought to be granted to a ‘normal’ kid who might use their adolescence in much less useful ways. Judging from an ‘n’ of Mathbabe doesn’t seem like the usual sort of analysis we see here. The real question we should ask-and you do, which is part of the reason I’m such a fan, is why our kids face an economic future with such chasms in it that parents have to make these adjustments.

  10. May 6, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    Cathy — are you a parent?

    • May 7, 2013 at 5:34 pm

      I found your “About” page which says you have three sons. I asked if you are a parent because your post talked about your own childhood, and not your experience as a parent. Meaning, I read your comments as based on only one data point: your own childhood.

      I found that very surprising from a math babe.

      Like you, my wife and I raised three sons. My experience from that is that they brought their own personalities into this world — they were unique even in utero. Our parenting certainly affected their outcome, but I’ve concluded that their outcome was largely in spite of our parenting and not because of it.

      So when I read articles by people advocating one style of parenting over another, I often wonder if these people have ever met any actual children. Raising real children is where parenting theories go to die.

      • May 7, 2013 at 5:57 pm

        I believe I mentioned I am a parent in the post. I agree with you – as a parent I douch less than I’d supposed going in. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions. I’m not claiming I’ve proved them. And I’m not surprised to see other people disagree. My goal is to be thoughtful and provocative and honest. Not necessarily mathematical. But as you say, one can’t be mathematical with only one’s own experience, so why have that kibd of standard?

      • May 7, 2013 at 5:59 pm

        Hah spellcheck got me! I ‘do less’ not ‘douch less’!!! To be clear: I douche in a completely predictable way.

        • May 7, 2013 at 6:15 pm

          As any math babe would!

  11. May 6, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    Well said, Cathy. I agree that neglectful parenting is where it’s at (within limits). Remember when adults used to say to children, “Get out of the house and don’t come back until it’s dark!” This greatly anticipated banishment led me to hours of wandering in the woods, climbing trees, wading barefoot in the pond filling my bucket with tadpoles, making mud pies and witches brews out of juniper berries and lizard skeletons. It was a necessary time of exploration and unadulterated wonder. The students I teach in Oakland today don’t have much (or any) wandering-in-the-woods time — much to their detriment. They are so over-monitored and pressed to excel that they don’t have time for that most fundamental right of childhood: daydreaming. To the extent that neglectful parenting can offer children breathing room to explore their curiosity independently and rekindle their own innate capacity for imagination, then I’m all for it.

  12. May 6, 2013 at 11:09 pm

    I’ll agree that we need to make sure our kids know that we have faith in their ability to make decisions. We need self-confidence in our decision making abilities. The key is how a parent reacts to a kids decision, especially if the parent projects his or her fears onto the kid.

    Still, I find myself agreeing more with Christina and less with Becky even though my childhood resembled Becky’s description. For most of human history, kids worked on farms, factories and mines. Not much free time but I’m sure they daydreamed plenty. They understood their essential community role through their jobs where they learned to work as part of a team for the greater good. They knew how and where they fit by the time they were physically mature. Few anxieties about what they’d do when they grew up.

    A few generations ago this changed. Many like me had the “freedom” childhood Becky described. While the abuses of child labor had mostly disappeared the developmental benefits of that labor went away as well. I wish I’d had a bit more direction and someone to work with to develop my talents and my confidence that I’d be able to “provide.” Maybe it was a male thing but at the time (30-40 years ago) my anxieties were directly tied to providing and doing useful work within the community.

    Most kids in their mid 20s today don’t have a clue about how they’ll fit. They have many anxieties about this. That’s why practicing “conformance” skills is so important. Kids have to gain confidence they can work with others toward a common goal. Conform to the norms of a group. These skills don’t come naturally, they have to be practiced and nurtured. If you don’t develop the ability to work for a team, your life options are very limited and jail is likely to be one of them. Or working for a dysfunctional organization with others who never learned to work in a group. I’m not surprised that parents from my generation are getting their kids more involved – they probably feel they didn’t live up to their potential and don’t want to make that mistake with their kids.

  13. albrt
    May 7, 2013 at 3:29 am

    I was raised by a working single mom and was wandering a mile or two from home by age eight. We moved a lot, so I did this in cities, towns, woods and farmland. I started taking weekend bike trips by the time I was thirteen.

    Of course, a lot of poor kids today have more “freedom” than I had, if they have parents on the scene at all. But I guess it’s fair to say very few kids in the suburban middle class and above have the physical freedom I had.

    On the other hand, I can’t even imagine the online range kids today have. I could ride my bike down a road past a farm, then past another farm, then another, but I wouldn’t see a lot of new information and I was often bored. I went to the library a lot, but it was hard work to figure out how to find anything you wanted to know, and the information I found was probably outdated most of the time.

    I guess I’d rather have the physical freedom myself, but I can’t say kids today are living in a more restricted world, and I’m skeptical of any broad generalizations about the effects.

  14. Leila Schneps
    May 7, 2013 at 4:46 am

    Becky wrote: “Remember when adults used to say to children, “Get out of the house and don’t come back until it’s dark!” This greatly anticipated banishment led me to hours of wandering in the woods, climbing trees, wading barefoot in the pond filling my bucket with tadpoles, making mud pies and witches brews out of juniper berries and lizard skeletons. It was a necessary time of exploration and unadulterated wonder.”

    I think it depends on the kid. I had this kind of childhood: my mother was very keen on no-kids-in-the-house-getting-it-dirty, so we had to stay outside until she would ring a bell for dinnertime, that was guaranteed to reach our ears even from the houses and gardens down the street where we would be running around. (No forests or ponds where we were; it was a gardeny suburb.)

    But to be honest, I spent the majority of this time getting bored. I simply wasn’t cut out for that kind of play. I lent myself wearily to secretly raising caterpillars in jam jars with holes punched in the lids on the roof of someone’s garage, playing “horse” (I refused to be a horse and crawl around on all fours, so I was always the rider), and joining in other dull games with the numerous neighborhood children, practically none of whom I really liked. I loved climbing trees but had climbed and fallen out of all the ones around the nearby blocks a million times. The best times were when, against the rules, we could sneak into my best friend’s basement, which had been fitted out as a playroom: at least there, we could cut out pictures and glue stuff and make things and play real pretend games with imagination, all greatly preferable to running back and forth outside yelling. I was quite jealous of my sister who got to play the violin and badgered my parents until, too late, they finally allowed me to have piano lessons (they explained for years that I was too fidgety to concentrate on music). The result was that I never reached a really good level and always regretted the five or six years where I could have been learning it younger.

    I also had a tough time my first year in college, where I arrived fresh from hate-school-and-have-no-extracurricular-activites to land in a class full of people who had all been learning advanced stuff since childhood (such as math camp!) Kids who excelled, who were fantastic at some sport, who spoke another language, who played music wonderfully. I found that my bringing-up, while free-range, had earned me a lot of missed opportunities. Similarly, my husband regrets that his Russian-born father never taught him the language, and that it never even occurred to his parents to offer him music lessons. His parents were similarly of the “kids should raise themselves by running around outside” variety.

    So, I’ve raised my four kids differently. They all learned music from very young, and all seem to love it, although some are or will be professional and some will not. Whenever we go to winter sports vacations, I make sure they have lessons so they can learn to ski well enough to glide and swoop freely down the slopes like the people you see enjoying themselves, and not get anxious at every turn as soon as it gets steep, like I still am having only learned to ski as an adult. I don’t hover over their homework, but I do teach them all kinds of extra stuff that they don’t get in school. They get lugged to museums and ancient ruins, and their playing cards are the kind with famous paintings and historical buildings on. I make sure that lots of classical literature passes through their hands.

    The ones who are over 20 are now long past all this, of course. Some of it stuck and plenty of it fell by the wayside. But at least they had a good solid basis to build on in any direction they chose. They never went through the panic feelings of inferiority that I had, or the desperate and not always successful struggles to catch up. They never had the regrets for all the lost time that I could have been using to learn something that I’d have loved doing. They both say that I made them work really hard as kids, but they’re glad of it now, and don’t wish it had been different. That one observation seems to me to make it worth it.

  15. Angry Panda
    May 7, 2013 at 9:46 am

    Oh yes. All children need are “privacy” and “freedom”…

    Look, here’s the thing. Helicopter parenting is messed up on a number of levels, chief among these being that the kid ends up lacking self-sufficiency (while being whiny as hell – not all, but surely some). You can already see that in some of the 20-25 year olds that are hitting the workforce.

    At the same time, however, a kid is a blank slate. What you write there is how the kid will develop. If you write nothing and let the kid be “free” and “private”, then you get what you get. Sometimes what you get is ok, at other times – not so much. The point of things like music practice, arts classes and isn’t to hover over the kid, but to a) cause him or her to develop (physically, intellectually, emotionally) beyond what’s offered by the school/tv/regular environment; b) instill a work ethic (including output quality, regular practice, etc.); and c) impart some life skills (more applicable to team activities – socialization – but also could extend beyond that). Don’t tell me that leaving a statistically average kid to do whatever he or she wishes without very much supervision or “adult interference” will do any of this. Because it will not.

    Again, the problem arises when you transition from the “you will sit here and practice” to the “you will sit here and WE will practice TOGETHER and let me get your special juice for you”. The other component that I’ve noticed is that criticism seems oddly absent. It’s not – “this is a bad essay, here are the mistakes, go and rewrite it”, it’s – “oh, what a wonderful essay, now could we please just fix this and this, my special little…” I mean, come on. If a kid is fat, you tell him he’s fat and suggest a jogging regimen and don’t go all wishy-washy (I speak from a number of personal experiences here contrasting the two approaches). And, again, if the kid is “free” and “private”, the TV ain’t going to tell him that he’s fat or make him go jogging.

    Rant mode – disengaged.

    • May 7, 2013 at 9:51 am

      I was with you until the fat comment. Turns out telling people they’re fat and that they should go jogging is mean, not helpful. People should know that by now.

  16. Deane
    May 10, 2013 at 1:18 pm
    • May 10, 2013 at 1:42 pm

      Thank you, Deane. Real data and real analysis, hoorah! And very interesting, too.

      A point to note – this is a study of the parents’ emotional style. It does not seem to investigate the parenting behaviors mentioned in this post.

  17. karen
    May 12, 2013 at 8:00 am

    I’m so, so glad I was there when you were 17 and got your license and a crappy car. Love you.

    • karen
      May 12, 2013 at 8:01 am

      Remember that time we drove to Martha’s Vineyard at like, midnight?

      • May 12, 2013 at 8:15 am

        As I recall it was Cape Cod, and everyone fell asleep except me. Still slightly annoyed. ;)

    • Christina
      May 12, 2013 at 8:11 am

      Ah, you make the rest of the readers jealous that you were there. I bet it was a blast. Re: the next post, did you remember that it was an island before you reached the water? I just need to know…

  18. piper
    May 12, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    the following is based on zero data research on my part.

    i think it is potentially dangerous (or some less strong word, really) to use your personal experience as evidence to advocate for “privacy” and “independence.” not because i think you didn’t benefit from it, but because i don’t think you had as much privacy and independence as a child might be given if the parent decides to value privacy and independence. the fact that you had family dinners and an enforced bedtime is Huge. statistically from what i’ve read those are Big Factors in teen sex/drug use (sex use??). i totally support the idea that freedom is better than schedules, but as someone who latches onto ideas and strives to apply them to my life, i would just phrase it differently and would talk about the dinners/bedtime/hw stuff as being actually important not just clarification. (not sure if i’m making sense.)

    i’m surprised teen suicide hasn’t gone up! i thought it was doomsday for teens. is it just gay teens? this whole it gets better thing and anti bullying stuff. i thought things were far worse today. based on that apparently wrong premise, i’ve been working on the hypothesis that kids today have way too much privacy. by which i mean children have too much communication with each other that is unchecked by adults. my husband was reading a slut shaming diary (someone is tumbling their diary from the 90s to show that this stuff happened before the internet too) and asked why kids would be like that. my feeling is that it is easy to want to put someone down and to bond with others over how terrible this one person is. i think it is human nature to lift one’s own status at the expense of another. but it would just take a grown up overhearing this to teach a child Hey, that’s not cool. and to get the child to think about how they’d feel in that situation. and they would probably stop. at least then the gossip would be restricted to just the truly mean kids. i remember telling a grown up that the new kids on the block were gay and laughing (b/c that’s what my elementary school was saying) and then the grown up asked me why that was funny and i had No Idea and i never thought it was worth saying again. i think kids need social guidance and having them just work it out in the wild is not compatible with wanting them to learn the sort of social standards we have evolved.

    kids need more freedom to play outside and explore nature and do healthy physical activities and design their own goals, working together with other children. kids do not need more freedom to watch tv, go online, start a facebook group, spread rumors, etc. and i don’t know how you can separate the two without parental involvement. (and i still believe this even if teen suicide rates are the same or declining. maybe things were just worse before and i didn’t know.)

  1. May 7, 2013 at 6:56 am
  2. May 12, 2013 at 7:27 am
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