Friday, August 24, 2007

On "Hyper-Parenting"--UPDATED

The vicious circle of competitive parenting coupled with aggressive teaching makes for ridiculous circumstances. And what is schooling for, anyway? Oh, I remember! The children.

Many problems exist in schools these days and, according to PJM writer Aaron Hanscom, two of them are: 1) single parenthood and 2) hyper-parenting. This post is about the second, but I think the underlying problem with both issues is the same. Neither will be solved any time soon without a distinct cultural change or economic cleansing.

Hanscom offers many anecdotes for the hyper-parenting: piggish kids, bad field-trip behavior, father-son jackasses treating the ice-cream lady like dirt, etc. These stories demonstrate not so much hyper-parenting but selfish parenting. It takes effort to manage a child's behavior. It can be embarrassing and humiliating (I write as a mother whose 3 year old child staged a lay-in at Target) to engage with a out-of-control toddler. Many people ignore their child's dreadful behavior, some encourage it, because they wrongly believe the child will "grow out of it" or, and I hear and see this more, they believe throwing fits and acting like an untamed beast demonstrates "good spirit". No one will take advantage of him (unspoken--like I was taken advantage of by the ex, the boss, the tax man), no sir! He'll be assertive and that's good!

And don't forget, the rich kids likely have divorced parents, too. The kid is so much chattel to be divied up and argued over. Neither mom nor dad want to be the bad guy and so let pumpkin get away with murder. In addition, while 2/3 of low-income kids have one parent, 2/3 of middle and high-income kids have both parents working. The parents, harried and tired, feel guilty and overcompensate with activities (which have the double benefit of keeping the kid busy), material things, and awe-inspiring experiences. Except the kid isn't awed. With his limited life view, he shows no appreciation because he thinks everyone does what he is doing (a friend of a friend was taking her precious only child on a Safari and to Paris this summer).

What all the children want is time with mom and dad.

The schools, seeing the trend in absent parenting, give children copious amounts of at-home projects. It is state-sponsored behavior modification. As an involved parent, I resent it. If I worked outside the home full time or was a single parent, I'd be angry as hell. The projects are always above the child's ability to do by himself and, anyway the teacher will grade your kids projects based on what other kids parents do, so everyone is stuck. The working parents probably assume "all those stay-at-home moms" (said with a sneer) make glorious projects and work extra hard to compete. I can assure you, that the stay-at-home moms are as miffed at the situation as anyone. They're stuck, too.

A generation ago, homework wasn't given until sixth grade. What kids did at school was it. I cannot think of one instance where my parents had to expend any effort whatsoever for my schooling outside of showing up for a conference. Not these days. No, teachers want to spread the responsibility (read blame) around. If they give at-home projects that don't get done, they have an out. "If you had been more involved Ms. Smith, your kid wouldn't be illiterate. We can't help it that little Sally didn't have an enriching home-reading program."

But it isn't the home reading program that will make a difference. It's the home discipline program. If a child is raised contemptuous of authority (and let's be real here, many parents are living out their own temper-tantrum fantasies when they allow their children to behave so disrespectfully), with no boundaries and no social skills, learning will be a problem. Conversely, if the teachers forever foist the blame on the parents excusing the outcomes in their classrooms, learning will be a problem.

Like I said, only a huge cultural change could make a difference. That won't happen. People are selfish. More and more, there are the "marrying kind" and the "nobody's gonna tell me what to do types". This cuts across income, race and all other barriers. Divorce is here to stay. Single parenthood is here to stay.

The only other possibility is economic devastation. Colleges would have to cut back their fat tuition and get more competitive as people couldn't afford it, parents would be more involved because someone wouldn't be working, and hopefully, except for the Paris Hilton's of the world the entitlement mentality would deflate. Maybe a little adversity would bring humility and gratitude. Maybe it'd even keep marginally miserable people together for economic reasons which would have good implications for their child's development. No, they wouldn't be focusing on internal transcendence, but that's not what marriage is for anyway.

Parents these days make sure their child has the material things. Hanscom says that even the poor kids have their Air Jordans. That's been my experience, too. There are very few truly economically deprived children these days. But plenty of them are neglected.

As for NPR's article on "competitive birthing" and Hanscom's point:

NPR reported this month on “competitive birthing,” an example of wealthy families choosing to have many kids because they view it as a status symbol. While higher incomes have historically led to smaller families, in the past 10 years the number of rich parents having three or more kids has increased by 30 percent. Some people believe the change is due to over-achieving career women who have quit work and now focus their competitive energies on reproduction.
There may be people having bigger families, but I can assure you, the people I know aren't doing it for competitive parenting reasons. In all four cases of my friends with five kids, they all love babies. Quite an old-fashioned reason to have big families, no? And generally, these families have the most well-behaved, balanced and sweet children. Their mothers are dedicated to mothering. No nannies (maybe a house cleaner in one case). No competition. No Ivy Leagues. These are economically comfortable people not filthy-rich people. In fact, the extra kids naturally impedes some of the kid's dreams, no doubt. But as one boy I met at Best Buy said of his three brothers and roommates, "Oh, they're much better than things. We didn't have much growing up, but brothers are better than money."

I'm more inclined to believe that NPR is looking for a way to justify, yet again, why big families are a blight on mankind. And "three or more" counts as big. That is just stupid. But, of course, the interviewees are New Yorkers. Three is positively outrageous, dahling.

Rich or poor, nothing can substitute for a loving parent who instills discipline and values in their children. More and more, that's the luxury that kids are having to live without.

H/T Glenn Reynolds

Update: Thanks for the link Instapundit. More thoughts on parenting: the strong-willed child, the Empty Nest Syndrome, sexualizing young girls and fleeing public schools.

21 comments:

David said...

hyper-parenting...there are lots of parents who are very concerned that their kids get the "skills" and most of all the *credentials* needed for career success, but don't pay much attention to meta-skills, or what used to be called character. I'm talking about things like deferred gratification, courtesy toward others, willingness to listen as well as talk, ability to make decisions with incomplete information, curiosity, ability to withstand disappointment, and even sense of humor.

A person who has great skills and credentials but lacks these metaskills is likely at some point in his career to run into a stone wall. Behavior characteristics that may be tolerable in a marketing analyst are intolerable in a VP of Marketing. Yes, some jerks do make it to the top, but in general jerkiness--especially ill-concealed jerkiness--will reduce one's odds considerably.

Anonymous said...

Your post is spot on...excellent

Anonymous said...

Melissa, this is an outstanding post!

David, your comment above is thought provoking and very good. As an involved parent, it is frustrating when you have certain expectations that mirror integrity, honesty, strength of character, etc...and the neighbor kids sneer at that. I find myself saying way too often, "but I'm not their mama." Thanks David...this was a lift today!

The Den Mother said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Den Mother said...

All this reminds me of an exchange I had with one of my son's high school teachers. "Doug" has tons of natural intelligence but not much motivation to use it. In one particular high school class, he got an F one term. When I inquired of the teacher how she arrived at the grade, she explained that although Doug had the highest test average in the class and always contributed to the classroom discussion, he NEVER did his homework. She said that all the kids were told on the first day that their homework would count for 50% of their grade. Then she apologized to me for "having to enforce the class rules."

I informed her that she didn't have anything to apologize for, that it was Doug who should be apologizing to me for wasting my money (private school) and to her for wasting her time. The teacher looked shocked that I would say this and thanked me because "most parents do not share your attitude."

Sigh.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I've felt guilty for hyper-parenting in the opposite direction. When my child was young I was innately mortified if even the slightest whiff of rude or could be construed rude, petulant, mean, disrespectful behavior bubbled up. It was hard because my child would see other children behave this way or worse and wonder why he always got in trouble.

While I've never been a huge relier on parenting books or the new pop-psychology on parenting to bits I read in those early years gave me the confidence and assurance I was doing the right thing and they boil down to discipline and inconvenience.

Of all places one was Spock - he wrote that it was a duty of a parent to discipline, not only to get good behavior but for your child's overall self-worth and healthy mental disposition in life. Children who aren't disciplined know their behavior is wrong and unacceptable and they begin to wonder why they are so different that they aren't expected to behave the same as the other children, hence the pushing the limits, they act out more. Aren't I worthy of the same standards?

While parents fool themselves into seeing a possible "spirited child who won't let anyone take advantage of them" they've really created the opposite, a self-conscious, self-doubting mess whose feelings of inadequacy plague them for life in all myriad of ways.

The other bit of reading that struck a chord, parenting is inconvenient and if your truly want a happy, content, well-adjusted child you'd better shelve the selfish or "easy" way and take responsibly for raising the child you had.

That includes leaving you basket full of groceries you are in desperate need of and picking your screaming, kicking child off the grocery Store floor by the arm, depositing he or she in the car seat and while driving straight home informing your child that he or she will not get to go anywhere if he or she behaves that way again -- and STICKING TO IT!

For a parent it's hard, it's a pain (especially when you really need the gallon of milk etc.), but it works and most people would be surprised how fast it does. Say within a few hours of the episode, young little darling would like a bottle of milk and well because of their tantrum you weren't able to buy it ...major lesson learned.

Anonymous said...

anon 3:55,

Sounds like you've had some good experiences. Proper disciplining is difficult for me because of adults in my teen years that were abusive. I have spanked but only on rare occasions. I do ground my children from things and that seems to work pretty good. Negotiations seem to work pretty well, but I must say that I do tire of it after a while since they are only 7 and 9.... - after all, I'm the adult and sometimes I just simply say, "because I said so."

Anonymous said...

Good post. Although I'm mystified why you are under the impression that a generaltion ago, prior to sixth grade, students weren't given homework. They surely were given homework. (Much personal experience with lots of elementary school homework more than a generaltion ago.)

rezzrovv said...

As the father of six, I have strong opinions on this subject. However, I avoid it because it quickly warps into pride regarding the behavior of my children. Again, however, I can't help myself. I believe it is largely a matter of the perpetual adolescence written about so much of late. Children having children and I don't mean pregnant, unwed 16 year-olds. I mean 30 somethings that have never known adversity (alluded to in this post) who suffer from narcissism that they extend onto their children. The children become nothing more than a vehicle for their parent's continuous need for vicarious vainglory. Not to make things overly political, but I find this narcissistic adolescence most prevalent on the left.

My 13 year-old (the oldest) loves high school musical. If you haven't seen it, you should, quite fun w/out any embarrassing situations. In fact, in HSM2 you never see a bikini at the country club swimming pool. That impressed me. Anyhoo, I was talking to a co-worker how said that his 14 year-old watched the movie just to crack jokes at it. She isn't that much older than my 13 year-old. I'm thankful my daughter isn't that cynical and can enjoy a wholesome, fun movie like High School Musical. Is it me or are kids much more cynical than I remember? We homeschool and I believe that to be the main difference. At 13, my daughter isn't even aware of brand name clothing. In several ways my daughter (and all my children) are not as mature (cynical) as their public/private school counterparts, but in many other ways they are dramatically more mature.

BTW, I have no idea what "negotiation" is regarding parenting as commented above though I think I have an idea. That is exhausting and I would definitely rethink that strategy.

Melissa Clouthier said...

As a person who suffered excessive "discipline" as a child, I can sympathize with the parent who is afraid of spanking. I am uneasy about corporal punishment.

Often, spanking is the easy way. Consequences, now those are difficult because the parent must show his or her mettle and follow through. I am not entirely against spanking, I have given a few to demonstrate that I will set a firm boundary if necessary. (The two spankings are experiences that have grown into legends amongst the little people. They don't remember the actual event, just the idea of one....)

Basically a parent must mean what he says and the child must know that he means what he says, that's all. It's called respect.

And no, I didn't have homework until 6th grade. Explains a lot.

Anonymous said...

I'm Anon 3:55 PM, I realize I didn't say I never spanked, but I hope by saying discipline no one took it as I did. (Well, OK I can count on one hand a "swat" administered and that was usually because he ran out into a busy street or something and I wanted him to learn it was a no no)

>>>Consequences, now those are difficult because the parent must show his or her mettle and follow through.<<<

Exactly. It's difficult and a pain, but consistency is key.

Also, another aspect that rezz sort of alludes to (30 year old vain parents, parented by boomers) and an aspect of discipline is shame and parents who are allergic to shaming their children for their actions or behaviors.

(I am not speaking about shaming children for things they can't control, like bedwetting or mistakes, like spilling their cup of milk for the 100th time)

I am speaking about shaming them for being rude or cocky or just plain mean. I've seen young, but old enough to know better children, treat their friends and adults horribly and their parents either ignore it, provide the most lame admonishment or just excuse it as their child's typical personality, "He's just that way"

Parents are allergic to shaming their children for their behavior, but it's shame that keeps us all from being monsters to one another - to feel bad for mistreating someone keeps you from mistreating people. And then children learn to value people vs. view them as servants, punching bags or dirt.

I dunno why people have stepped away from this so drastically. Anytime my child acted rude to an adult or mean to a playmate I never missed a chance to shame him - a little "hey, who do you think you are to do that to him? That's mean. You apologize right now mister or you can spend the rest of the day in your room" kinda thing in a pretty firm voice and pretty quickly he got the idea. You treat people the way you expect to be treated or else.

I guess people don't like to admit their children can be or are jerks.

Anonymous said...

My 7 year old's school sent home a contract for me to sign dictating about ten things I was to voluntarily pledge to to further his education. My fourth grader's school has a sign in the hallway that states students must walk looking forward with their hands at their sides whenever walking between classes. They are required to wear tags around their necks when walking in the hall. My high school son's math teacher sent home a rule list for me to sign. Rule #5 was that my son must obey all the teacher's rules, written or verbal. (Yes, I sent it back with a request she not penalize my son because I found rule #5 overreaching.) And I am supposed to impress upon my children some compunction about ever questioning anything these people say or do?

Melissa Clouthier said...

Respectfully disagreeing gets a student bad grades. Nod subserviently and think later. Really. It's better that way.

Of course, I'm only kinda joking.

jaycurrie said...

It's interesting: we began homeschooling because of a reluctance to drop our five year old into the shark pool of popular "culture". But we are continuing largely because he and his brother are turning out to be nice kids with a terrific sense of themselves and a modest sense of their place in the world. (Oh, and to actually teach them to do cool stuff like read well.)

We refer to them as free range kids: no industrial, production line learning, lots of time with mum, less time with dad but still lunch and dinner and stories every day.

And the way we do this is to have decided our kids were important in an hour by hour sense rather than a "quality time" sense. That and no TV and kids respond by spending hours actually playing, looking forward to the daily bike ride/trip to the library/shopping expedition.

The boys are far from perfect - they fight and tease and pay no attention to their parents; but they know that those things are not right. The discipline is imperfect but largely internal. I get to play the heavy about twice a week.

Being a parent is hard work but it's the job we have chosen.

DWPittelli said...

Dear Den Mother,

If your son had the "highest test average in the class" then I wouldn't say he was unmotivated to use his intelligence.

The purpose of homework is to learn the subject.

Assuming we are not talking about project work or papers, but rather problem sets and such, it is useless make-work -- and demoralizing -- to penalize a student for not filling out what he has proven he doesn't need to in order to learn the subject.

I hope I wouldn't have berated the teacher either, but it sounds like your son needed either a class with smarter students like himself, or to be home-schooled.

Anonymous said...

"Is it me or are kids much more cynical than I remember? "

If you had to go and deal with the broken public school system every day, you'd be pretty damn cynical too.

Everyone wonders why children show up with guns and start blasting - why don't you ASK them - they know. For all that the nutty educators blater on about fairness, what you generally find is an environment full of pointless, mind numbing busywork that looks the other way to arbitrary bullying and injustice by both faculty and students. You might as well think of them as miniature little USSR's.

Anonymous said...

It's also interesting to see what is considered a "large" family now. My grandfather had 9 brothers and that wasn't unusual. Of course they were economically beneficial since they could all work on the farm. The combination of increased taxes and the shift away from an agrarian society has made it very expensive to raise kids.

Anonymous said...

P.S. Under the label section you have "divoce". :-)

Anonymous said...

I know one of these little sawed- off terrorists. He's a friend's 11 year-old. While he may impress his teachers by making good grades in school, he's pretty much dreaded everywhere else he goes in the neighborhood. He's never been made to mind or have any manners. He's a smart aleck and disrespects adults--something for which I would never have made it to another birthday over when I was a kid. My friend, who had him later in life, coddles him because he was her much sought after baby that almost didn't happen. This boy seems to have an immense disregard for women in particular. The child's father is the only one who can make him mind. He's not with him all the time though, due to his work hours. This young man is a of a pariah in our little town due to his abhorrent behavior. You don't even have to mention his name for people to know who you're talking about. When he's physically attacked some of us and we've said something to his mother, she'll just laugh nervously and say, "Oh, well...." I wished that I weren't adult so that I could actually hit him back. He's going to wind up in the pen some day or dead, or probably both if his parents don't straighten him out. I wish they'd let me have him just one day. I'd break him like a wild horse.

Anonymous said...

Like I said, only a huge cultural change could make a difference.

Shari'a?

From what I've heard about these Paris Hiltons-in-waiting, I'd like to seal off their Spring Break Party Town and hand it over to the Saudi or Iranian religious police for a while.

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