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June 26, 2012 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Drawing on recent work by anthropologists Elinor Ochs and Carolina Izquierdo (working draft in PDF format of relevant paper here), The New Yorker asks: Are Americans raising the most incompetent and spoiled children in the world? The Wall Street Journal also considers Ochs' and Izquierdo's conclusions...
posted by artemisia (116 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Let's take a look at the subject selection here... 23 families, from a single income bracket, in a single metropolitan area. Plus, they are all the type of family to be AOK with cameras being placed in every room of their house.

Yeah, that's an accurate cross-section of America.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 8:51 AM on June 26, 2012 [38 favorites]


These pieces that examine the life of elites, and decide that their conclusions hold true for the rest of America, are the worst thing about "highbrow" journalism.
posted by downing street memo at 8:51 AM on June 26, 2012 [44 favorites]


oh goody moral panic
posted by JPD at 8:53 AM on June 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


OH GOD THIS AGAIN.
posted by The Whelk at 8:53 AM on June 26, 2012 [13 favorites]


I'm going to stop by the local Kohl's on the way home from work and stuff a few copies of this article in the pajama legs of anything that says *DADDY'S PRINCESS*.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:53 AM on June 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


Does the New Yorker cloyingly pander to its readers basest voyeuristic urges?

No, of course not. It panders cloyingly.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:00 AM on June 26, 2012 [43 favorites]


Also? Sue me, but I think "spoiled" kids do better in life. They're taught that their opinions matter, that they should ask for what they want and assert themselves to get it - resulting in all sorts of positive life outcomes. Their parents' desire to please them usually results in them trying a lot of activities as children and being all the more well-rounded for it.

To me this is one of the things that separates the children of the elite (and those who enter elite institutions in formative stages) from the rest of us.
posted by downing street memo at 9:00 AM on June 26, 2012 [22 favorites]


Maybe. I mean, by definition, some nation has to be on the bottom.

But I suspect that for something as vaguely defined as "incompetent and spoiled" that all the nations are all pretty close.
posted by BeeDo at 9:01 AM on June 26, 2012


Hanging my head in shame, I take full responsibility for having failed to raise my children to participate in any society other than the one they live in.
posted by mondo dentro at 9:03 AM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Let's take a look at the subject selection here... 23 families, from a single income bracket, in a single metropolitan area. Plus, they are all the type of family to be AOK with cameras being placed in every room of their house.

To be fair, this is how anthropological ethnographers (like Ochs and Izquierdo) work. They do intensive, fine-grained studies of bounded groups (traditionally village-bounded, but the discipline has changed to accommodate changing times) rather than the broad, sweeping surveys and statistical analyses more traditionally favored by sociologists and economists. I would hate for the kind of knowledge yielded by such studies to be dismissed outright on the (unsupported) premise that such methodologies are inherently flawed. (In fact, a lot of sociologists are now turning to ethnography as a key methodological approach, because there are certain data one simply cannot gather when employing a broader perspective.)
posted by artemisia at 9:04 AM on June 26, 2012 [22 favorites]


Not sure the Matsigenka are people I want to model my life after (parenting or not):

-the average tribal woman marries around age 16
-women have an average 8 to 10 pregnancies
-During meals, men always eat first, while the women and children divide what remains
-Literacy rates range from 30% to 60%
-their main source of protein is a rodent

American parents might be assholes, but people all over the world have got their own damn problems, too.
posted by mattbucher at 9:04 AM on June 26, 2012 [17 favorites]


Also? Sue me, but I think "spoiled" kids do better in life. They're taught that their opinions matter, that they should ask for what they want and assert themselves to get it - resulting in all sorts of positive life outcomes. Their parents' desire to please them usually results in them trying a lot of activities as children and being all the more well-rounded for it.

There's something to this but what seemed to me to be the problem with the families in the article was actually a lack of follow-through. You tell a kid five times to take a bath and on the sixth time, THAT's when you carry him? And then he comes back you and you don't do anything? Well, there's your problem! You're letting him do whatever the hell he wants! Sure, opinions matter about some stuff and I think that's a good point, but you're less likely to get anywhere good in life if you think directions don't apply to you.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:05 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


IS THE NEW YORKER STARTING TO SOUND LIKE THE TEASERS FOR MY LOCAL FOX NEWS SHOWS? FIND OUT MORE AFTER THE BREAK.
posted by nushustu at 9:08 AM on June 26, 2012 [17 favorites]


I don't know about this generation, but we seem to have raised a bunch of crappy drama queen journalists in the last.
posted by KaizenSoze at 9:09 AM on June 26, 2012 [20 favorites]


"You're doing it wrong" and "They're doing it wrong" sell many, many page views. I suppose I should be thankful to have the leisure to be worried about either.
posted by Mooski at 9:10 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ah, another well-researched study of quantifiable metrics
posted by MangyCarface at 9:11 AM on June 26, 2012


Less snarkily: as is usually the case, the actual academic study is far less problematic than the stupid journalistic generalizing based on it. I don't think doing anthropology with 23 families is necessarily bad. After all, what anthropologists do is very detailed and intensive. I also think the theme of the actual paper is well worth doing and thought provoking.

The scolding and moralizing tone of the New Yorker article are not really found in the paper, at least not based on my quick read of it. Even accepting everything in the academic paper, it is completely incorrect to affix the "blame" on Americans. The paper itself is comparing "a small scale egalitarian society", "a post–colonial socially stratified society", and a "a post–industrial society with a market economy". The US only enters because it is the exemplar for the last category.
posted by mondo dentro at 9:13 AM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Honest question: Am I being naive in having little to no doubt that, barring some sort of mental disability/disorder, my (as of yet theoretical) child will go and get a bath/shower after being told to no more than once or, worst case, twice?
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:16 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I being naive in having little to no doubt that... my (as of yet theoretical) child will go and get a bath/shower after being told to no more than once or, worst case, twice?

I don't know... what will you buy them if they do?
posted by mondo dentro at 9:18 AM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


I don't know... what will you buy them if they do?

I feel like this deserves some sort of answer in Douglas Adams-esque future perfect tense, but it was, sadly, abandoned after it was discovered not to exist. Will wendall that it wollofed though.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:22 AM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


To compare one minor aspect of a culture or society to another is like comparing the fact that we use automobiles and that the ancient Greeks didn't. We're obviously superior, right?
posted by ZaneJ. at 9:24 AM on June 26, 2012


ess snarkily: as is usually the case, the actual academic study is far less problematic than the stupid journalistic generalizing based on it. I don't think doing anthropology with 23 families is necessarily bad. After all, what anthropologists do is very detailed and intensive. I also think the theme of the actual paper is well worth doing and thought provoking.

The scolding and moralizing tone of the New Yorker article are not really found in the paper, at least not based on my quick read of it. Even accepting everything in the academic paper, it is completely incorrect to affix the "blame" on Americans. The paper itself is comparing "a small scale egalitarian society", "a post–colonial socially stratified society", and a "a post–industrial society with a market economy". The US only enters because it is the exemplar for the last category.


Quoted for truth. I clicked through and read the actual paper, and (of course) the journalistic articles commenting on it took away something completely different than what I understood the message to be. The paper was a pretty straightforward study on childhoods in three different societies and what values and habits these societies valued and sought to teach their children. There was no moralizing.

More and more I see mainstream media outlets pouncing on scientific studies and drawing some very reactionary conclusions. An archeological analysis of one German Neolithic site that concluded some men inherited land and probably were privileged because of that, became "THE RICH GUY GETS THE GIRL!" Not what the study said at all.

"American children are spoiled and American parents do a shitty job compared to..." (and here insert Chinese parents, French parents, and now probably Matsigenka parents) is practically a cottage industry. French mothers? Pfft, the French are so yesterday! Matsigenka mothers are in! Making your kid climb trees and pick her own fruit snacks will be the latest childrearing fad.

tl;dr: when the media is all over a "scientific paper," try to read the actual PAPER and see what you come away with.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:25 AM on June 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


Oh yay, another example of how I'm a bad parent!

Seriously, though, I was taught to be self-sufficient. I was minding my siblings and taking care of the house by six. I cooked and babysat and cleaned and did all that stuff. And it totally fucked me up.

It took me until I was almost 30 to understand that my worth wasn't tied to how useful I was to others, or to believe that people could love me, not just the things I did for them. My siblings and I still have weird boundary and resentment issues due to my quasi-maternal role in their lives. I grew up lonely and sad because I had to stay home and take care of things rather than doing extracurricular activities or hanging out with kids my own age.

The other day my husband asked my mom what I was like as a kid. She said that I was wonderful and the only time I got into trouble was when I didn't properly supervise my siblings, and told a story about how one crawled away. I was six! I wasn't supposed to be in charge of four babies!

There is definitely an interesting discussion to be had about how to raise responsible children and yhe role of consumerism in our culture. Using the example a tribe that overburdens its kids because they're too poor to do otherwise is not it.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:26 AM on June 26, 2012 [61 favorites]


Honest question: Am I being naive in having little to no doubt that, barring some sort of mental disability/disorder, my (as of yet theoretical) child will go and get a bath/shower after being told to no more than once or, worst case, twice?
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:16 PM on June 26 [1 favorite +] [!]


It depends...are you going to follow up on little things earlier? There's no reason this should be a fight and you're not being naive as long as you establish early on that you are the authority. The thing is, kids learn super fast so if you tell them to do something five times and they don't and there are no consequences, what they learn is that when you say something you don't mean it.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:26 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Jeff Atwood's recent post on parenting is really relevant here. We often seem to get caught up in this false dichotomy where parents either must be strict Tiger Moms (or whatever the flavor of the month is) or lazy, indulgent enablers. Might it not be possible that we can be neither--that not being a tyrant toward our children doesn't mean we let them rule the roost?
posted by Cash4Lead at 9:28 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


It took me until I was almost 30 to understand that my worth wasn't tied to how useful I was to others, or to believe that people could love me, not just the things I did for them.

Wow, this is a really good and interesting point as well and something I hadn't considered, thanks Snickerdoodle.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:30 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


if you tell them to do something five times and they don't and there are no consequences, what they learn is that when you say something you don't mean it.

Yea, I guess this is where I'm confident in my ability to rectify things, post-haste, with said future, hypothetical Childe Roland. I just find it pretty difficult to understand people who don't understand and address this seemingly simple thing you've mentioned here.

Maybe I just watched one too many episode of super-nanny before my morbid curiosity wore off.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:30 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sue me, but I think "spoiled" kids do better in life. They're taught that their opinions matter, that they should ask for what they want and assert themselves to get it - resulting in all sorts of positive life outcomes.

Not really. I've met a lot of people like that, and they're incompetent and insecure, with no ability to discriminate. Bluff is a poor life strategy; you can have short-term success with it, but it's not reliable. Also, spoiled children turn into spoiled adults, and word gets around. When they fail (in business, relationships, wherever) they fail hard.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:30 AM on June 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


Those Americans are raising the most incompetent and spoiled children in the world. These Americans are not. For some values of "those" and "these". Please adjust your moral panic accordingly.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:30 AM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


The thing about incompetence is, everyone's incompetent the first time they do something. That's how you learn what to do and what not to do, by making mistakes. In my mind, if you want a kid to do a chore, you would show the kid how to do the chore the first time, maybe even monitor them that first time to catch the really big errors. Then you leave them to it, and if/when the kid makes a mistake, get the kid to correct the mistake so they learn not to do it the next time.

As for being wilful, sometimes it's just about making sure the kid understands that you really mean it. I was apparently one such as a toddler. My folks were calm, easygoing people, while at the same time being pretty strict in their application of boundaries. They applied the philosophy above to teaching us to be self-sufficient, by the way. While my mother was trying to potty train me, she would read to me, encourage me and generally pay all sorts of attention to me while she had me on the potty. I figured out this was a great way to get attention, and started refusing to go in the potty, much to my mother's frustration. Finally, one day, after a lengthy session with Mom and the potty, I went in the living room in front of the TV. My Dad grabbed me by the arm and whupped me on the backside all the way upstairs, me leaping two steps at a time with every whup, my sister following along behind, all wide-eyed. It is the only time my father ever laid a hand on me, and the first of two times in my life he ever raised his voice. I got the picture in short order.
posted by LN at 9:31 AM on June 26, 2012


"not evidence of progress but another sign of a generalized regression. Letting things slide is always the easiest thing to do"

Wow, Devo was right all along!
posted by cross_impact at 9:31 AM on June 26, 2012


Also? Sue me, but I think "spoiled" kids do better in life.

Maybe, from their perspective, but it's getting so I don't want to work, shop, or be in traffic with them. A little humility goes a long way in a fellow citizen, damn it.
posted by aught at 9:33 AM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


My kids can't tie their shoes. So what? Neither can Daniel Radcliffe.

Between the two of my kids of them they have exactly one pair of shoes -- soccer cleats -- with laces. Shoe-tying is a skill they'll pick up when they want to wear something other than Vans or sandals or rainboots.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:34 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is it Get Off My Lawn day at MeFi again? Yes it is.
posted by edheil at 9:35 AM on June 26, 2012


Someday, I'd really like to read a parenting article that was based on research on parenting practices from the OTHER 90% of the North American population.
posted by jb at 9:36 AM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Maybe I'm a terrible parent, but expecting instant, absolute obedience with mechanical precision from a five/nearly six year old seems a little unrealistic. As long as I get cooperation in a reasonable amount of time without any active, deliberate resistance, I'm generally happy and feel my child is sufficiently deferential to my authority. Am I doing it wrong New Yorker? Should I strive to make my child be more robotically compliant, or is it good enough he seems to actually want to do most things I ask him to do without much fuss? If I don't have to adopt a stern manner with my child to elicit the right behaviors, am I supposed to fake it and talk tough to him anyway just so I don't risk him not growing up into order-following automaton or stooge?

I'd ask the scientists who did the research for their opinion, but hell, what does that matter. They don't even seem to grasp the only true and correct implications of their own study!
posted by saulgoodman at 9:36 AM on June 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


The paper was a pretty straightforward study on childhoods in three different societies and what values and habits these societies valued and sought to teach their children. There was no moralizing.

I felt a wee bit uncomfortable unequivocally saying "no moralizing" in that the authors do talk about the relationship between the development of self-reliance, consideration of others, and a general moral sense (paraphrasing--I can't get to the paper again). But this seems to be something that is completely legitimate for a social scientist to consider, and is nothing like the "moral panic" spin of the reporting.
posted by mondo dentro at 9:36 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Someday, I'd really like to read a parenting article that was based on research on parenting practices from the OTHER 90% of the North American population.

You mean the .....Poors? Renecca Smythe says they just let them run around without any kind of professional development course.
posted by The Whelk at 9:38 AM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


From the NY article: . In medieval Europe, children from seven on were initiated into adult work.

No, they were put on children's work. And adolescence lasted into the early 20s.
posted by jb at 9:38 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


yeah when you can't get married until you can support a family you live at home much longer.
posted by The Whelk at 9:41 AM on June 26, 2012


Actually, reading the Wall Street write up, I guess we'd probably be viewed as doing pretty well, comparatively... Although the shoe-tying thing has never come up since none of my son's shoes have laces.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:41 AM on June 26, 2012


The Whelk: yeah when you can't get married until you can support a family you live at home much longer.

Hah, if people here lived at home until they could support a family, people who moved out at 25 would be exceptional and most people would live at home until their early thirties. A lot of people would never leave home at all.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:43 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I believe that children in Brazil are way more spoiled and incompetent than children in the US, who in general I find quite polite and articulate. But that wouldn't fit the AMERICA SUCKS narrative, so why bother.
posted by falameufilho at 9:44 AM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Not really. I've met a lot of people like that, and they're incompetent and insecure, with no ability to discriminate. Bluff is a poor life strategy; you can have short-term success with it, but it's not reliable. Also, spoiled children turn into spoiled adults, and word gets around. When they fail (in business, relationships, wherever) they fail hard.

Well, sure, if you're actually bluffing. Lots of spoiled kids have the goods to back up their assertions and questions, in part because they were spoiled in the first place.

I don't know. I just think about my own upbringing. My parents are good people, but they had a more-extreme version of the worldview this article wants every parent to have. They thought studying and learning and doing well in school was important, but what was more important was that one become a "man", which inevitably involved large amounts of manual labor and the expectation that I would get a paying job as soon as I was legally eligible. The basic parent-child model, for them, was an adversarial one; when I didn't do as well as I could in school, it was because I was either lazy or defying them, not that something was wrong.

Turns out something was wrong: I was anxious and depressed. But my parents persisted in treating the problem as one of defiance, and the prescription for that was "more responsibility". 10-15 years later, I'm now learning that I have (and had) an actual, real, solvable problem - but the treatment for that problem would've looked a lot like "spoiling" to my parents.

I'm doing perfectly fine now, but I cannot imagine what my life would've looked like if my parents had "spoiled" me.
posted by downing street memo at 9:48 AM on June 26, 2012 [10 favorites]


Last month, the New Yorker's dance critic wrote a piece about prescriptivism in the English Language. This week, their environmental reporter writes about the latest research on child-rearing.

Join Anthony Lane next week as he ventures to the Levant to report on the deteriorating Syrian situation and its "dreadful" implications for the Israel-Palestine peace process!
posted by Luminiferous Ether at 9:50 AM on June 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


Last 3 paragraphs was actually worth it. The author finally touches on the challenge for modern society and individuals to cope with complexity. I'd skip the rest of the article.
posted by polymodus at 9:54 AM on June 26, 2012


that wouldn't fit the AMERICA SUCKS narrative, so why bother.

This just won't do. Please turn in your internet membership card when you log out.
posted by Winnemac at 9:56 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Is the China Bubble Bursting?" by Sasha Frere-Jones
posted by Vhanudux at 9:56 AM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Maybe there's some sort of mechanism by which our failing health care, education, infrastructure, middle and working classes, civil society, mental and physical well-being of the populace, the fabric holding together a common sense of being part of anything meaningful or good as a citizen of this country ... maybe somehow this is having an effect on the children being raised in this society by its shell-shocked inhabitants?

With the exception of the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty and the dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France, contemporary American kids may represent the most indulged young people in the history of the world. It’s not just that they’ve been given unprecedented amounts of stuff—clothes, toys, cameras, skis, computers, televisions, cell phones, PlayStations, iPods. (The market for Burberry Baby and other forms of kiddie “couture” has reportedly been growing by ten per cent a year.) They’ve also been granted unprecedented authority

You do realize it's adults who choose what culture their children absorb, yes? The market for kiddie couture is growing because your readers think they can buy and brand their way to happiness and social status. Fuck indulged, how would you know what indulgence would be to a kid? How oddly coincidental that it turns out the answer is: consumerist shit, your favorite "indulgence" as well

Somehow I bet those kids hiking through a jungle with a machete to achieve some concrete shared goal with a semi-autonomous group with which they're socially bonded are much more mentally and physically healthy and stable than these bougie kids whose existence is treated as so theoretical, such a black box, you'll notice they're never deigned an interview or a quote in any of these "what is wrong with them" articles, written by adults who are still too afraid to ask the real question, "what is wrong with us?"
posted by crayz at 9:57 AM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Very interesting AskMeFi thread on American children as compared to children of other cultures.

A comment in that thread got me thinking about a conversation I had with a student teacher: both the comment in the thread (by rhmsinc) and the opinion of the student teacher agreed that the worst most spoiled children were boys (never girls) from certain strongly patriarchal cultures. Make of that what you will.

I also think that Downing Street Memo raises an important point: children suffer if they see their relationship with their parents as adversarial and any problem the child has is because the child is at fault (for being "lazy" or "defiant"). I experienced this kind of upbringing myself from a middle-class angle - any problems I had were my fault because I was a bad kid or "faking it to get attention", not because my parents were doing anything wrong. I don't know if I would have wanted to be spoiled, per se, just taken seriously and not blamed for everything that went wrong. I think (American, at least) parents are far more better about this than they were in my day.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:59 AM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Sue me, but I think "spoiled" kids do better in life

...for an appropriate definition of "better".

To me this is one of the things that separates the children of the elite (and those who enter elite institutions in formative stages) from the rest of us.

Also money.
posted by erniepan at 10:01 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


"if people here lived at home until they could support a family, people who moved out at 25 would be exceptional and most people would live at home until their early thirties. A lot of people would never leave home at all."

This works pretty well in Miami and other parts of Latin America. (Although, I will point out that, nowadays, sometimes young people move when they can support themselves, but not yet a family.) In my family, no one in my generation moved out before their mid-twenties (Except for me, briefly, when I went away to college and one cousin that went into the army. Even then my permanent address was still my parents house and that is the place I thought of as "home.") And out of 11 cousins, 5 moved out because they were getting married, 1 still lives at home (he's way younger than the rest of us) and the other 5 moved out only after they had good enough jobs to live on their own (and it was absolutely explicit that we could stay with our parents if we wanted to).
posted by oddman at 10:04 AM on June 26, 2012


Sue me, but I think "spoiled" kids do better in life.

Sure, being spoiled is correlated with being privileged.
That doesn't mean you can make kids privileged by spoiling them.
posted by nixt at 10:09 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


erniepan: not only do we need a definition of "better", but of "spoiled".

My kids were not materially spoiled (by US standards, anyway), but there's no doubt I did a lot of organizational and logistical things for them. I didn't clean their rooms, but I didn't expect them to keep them that neat, either. I cooked for them, but if they didn't like what I made, they could help themselves. I gave them some chores, but did most of the kitchen and house cleaning myself. So, in this sense, they were "spoiled".

On the other hand, they both had jobs by the time they were 13 or 14 and were responsible for their own spending money. I also expected them to think for themselves, negotiate the complicated social environment of a post-widespread-divorce world pretty much on their own, and encouraged them to speak their mind while, and this is important, being respectful to whoever they were speaking with. This, to me, is the opposite of being spoiled. Ironically, those from a more conventional old-world culture (including, say, my own now-deceased grandparents) would have found my cultivation of intellectual independence in my children to be "spoiling" them, as well.
posted by mondo dentro at 10:13 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'd like a moratorium on any article that ends with a question mark.
posted by desjardins at 10:14 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Very interesting paper. I've talked with my 60ish dad about the differences between his range as a child, mine as a child, and my kids.

Simplifying:
My dad grew up on a farm, and had an unlimited ability to roam, as long as he was back by dinner.
I grew up in a suburb, and as a latchkey kid had nearly unlimited range, as long as I was back by dinner.
We live in the city now, and drive our kids nearly everywhere. We have just started accepting the fact that our 8-year-old is crossing the street alone. I don't think we have let him walk to the end of the block alone.

I think I am fairly permissive about allowing the kids to take non-lethal physical risks.
I struggle with control issues esp around bedtime when I am worn out: shower time/PJs/floss/brush/get to bed. My wife deals mostly with the "get ready for school" stuff.
We have only recently begun to expect anything from the kids in the way of household chores.

The challenge for us is to foster autonomy while being nurturing. It's a process.
posted by etherist at 10:16 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


mattbucher: "Not sure the Matsigenka are people I want to model my life after (parenting or not):
...
-their main source of protein is a rodent
"

While all self-respecting people eat ruminants.

And drive cars.

And get their hair cut at the mall.

Not sure what the availability of protein has to say about the worthiness of a human being. It says something about the worthiness of your value system, I'll grant.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:16 AM on June 26, 2012 [9 favorites]


spoiled is a cousin of entitlement, and being entitled is a huge advantage when you pair it with good social skills.
posted by JPD at 10:16 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I grew up in a rural, religious community with an abusive parent and a ton of younger siblings. I always had chores to do, even when I was five or six. By the time I was nine or ten I was doing laundry, making meals, working in the garden, helping preserve food, cleaning bathrooms, doing dishes, etc. A little later, babysitting while my parents were gone. My mother would throw tantrums, berate us, hit us and sometimes refuse to speak to us for hours or even a day if we didn't do the chores to her liking or talked back. She once "disowned" my teenage sister for not doing chores and another time woke up my teenage brothers by putting dirty dishes into their beds when they were sleeping. One of my earliest memories is being locked in a bedroom to "cry it out" as a toddler. As a young child I regularly received criticism about how I was lazy and vain.

From the outside, everyone always commented on how well-behaved the kids in my family were. We acted that way because we were afraid.

I moved out when I was sixteen. I'm now in my mid twenties. I'm competent, responsible and self-sufficient. I feel a lot more prepared to deal with economic challenges than many of my peers. I'm happy to know how to do things.

But I also have a soundtrack running in my head every single day that says "You're a failure, you're not working hard enough, you're not accomplishing enough, you're a failure, you suck." I have bouts of severe anxiety and panic for no particular reason. I feel guilty all the time, because there's always something I'm not doing perfectly. I tend to do excessive amounts of housework so I can feel good about myself. And I no longer interact with my mother.

Every approach has its downsides, I guess.
posted by crackingdes at 10:18 AM on June 26, 2012 [25 favorites]


I would have commented earlier but I was waiting for my mom to press the Post Comment button for me.
posted by perhapses at 10:18 AM on June 26, 2012 [13 favorites]


The thing is, kids learn super fast so if you tell them to do something five times and they don't and there are no consequences, what they learn is that when you say something you don't mean it.

This is exactly right. I've had extremely respectful, obedient students who wouldn't dream of making a teacher ask something twice but won't do anything at all for their parents. I've had parents come to me and ask me to tell their children that I want them to do their homework, because they won't do it otherwise. These are sometimes kids who would burst into tears if they thought they disappointed me. It's frankly shocking to me that we're talking about the same child in some cases.
posted by Huck500 at 10:19 AM on June 26, 2012


Lots of spoiled kids have the goods to back up their assertions and questions, in part because they were spoiled in the first place.

Ah, I see where you're coming from. I grew up with similar (though not identical) problems, but the opposite of repressed/abused isn't coddled/spoiled. To be honest, I think spoiling kids is (unintentionally) abusive, because they end up infantilized and incapable. This percolates out into other areas: people argue that grammar and spelling aren't important, because it's hard and gets in the way of people's desire to express themselves; people can't write in cursive because who uses a pen any more either (but strangely, they're not much better at expressing themselves via a keyboard); people can't do math because why bother working things out when you have calculators; and so on. It's a problem.
posted by anigbrowl at 10:19 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Reading her examples again, I don't see spoiled kids. I see ineffective parents. Now, maybe they're all just really too lazy to actively parent, but I'm willing to bet they're just tired. Tired from work, from worry, from the prospect of escalating college tuition and dwindling retirement accounts.

It's hard work being a fair, consistent parent. Just look at how many AskMes we see about adults having issues with setting up and maintaining boundaries with other grown-ups -- is it any surprise that parents find it difficult when dealing with immature brains?
posted by snickerdoodle at 10:34 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tough crowd. I thought the article was interesting and thought provoking. But I also thought the article about prescriptivism was interesting (as was the ensuing dustup).

For all the New Yorker haters, which magazines live up to your journalistic standards? Where do you go for summaries of the latest thinking in various disciplines? I don't really have time to read all of the academic journals directly.
posted by diogenes at 10:36 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Slate headline: "Foraging for rodents - you're doing it wrong!"
posted by etherist at 10:46 AM on June 26, 2012


Honest question: Am I being naive in having little to no doubt that, barring some sort of mental disability/disorder, my (as of yet theoretical) child will go and get a bath/shower after being told to no more than once or, worst case, twice?

Maybe. I can see how it happens. I've been known to tell my four year old to get in the bath more than twice. When I know that strictly enforcing that second ask is going to ruin the next 30 minutes of my night (due to ensuing tantrum), I sometimes make the decision to see if she's more agreeable in a few minutes. I know that I should suffer through those 30 minutes and she'll eventually learn to stop testing me, but sometimes I just don't have the time or energy.
posted by diogenes at 10:49 AM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Tough crowd. I thought the article was interesting and thought provoking.

I liked it. Maybe it would go better with some additional context; on the other hand, when people feel that they are within the scope of a critique they tend to become irrationally hostile and dismissive.
posted by anigbrowl at 10:49 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


My kids can't tie their shoes. So what? Neither can Daniel Radcliffe.

....That's because Daniel Radcliffe has a neurological disorder. Is that what's going on with your kids?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:13 AM on June 26, 2012


Tough crowd. I thought the article was interesting and thought provoking.

I actually think the subject could be interesting and thought provoking, but the framing of the New Yorker piece was just lazy and condescending. The WSJ piece did a better job, and I don't think I've ever typed those words before.

For instance, I would be interested in exploring whether the differences in parenting styles reflect differences in how we perceive the roles of individuals vs. family, and how that manifests itself in adulthood. It's probably true that Italians are more family-focused, but it's also true that their 20 and 30-somethings aren't doing so hot by what we consider "adult" metrics (getting jobs, moving out, etc.)

Here's an example from my personal life: it is true that I am super-responsible and played a big role in the running of my household from about age 5 (and a primary role from 7). I'm resourceful and resilient and capable. But I'm also pretty risk-averse and had a tendency to stick with jobs and relationships that weren't good for me because it was irresponsible to take a chance, quit a job, or start my own company. My younger siblings, who didn't have that sort of responsibility, felt free to travel, move across the country, and dream bigger dreams than I let myself at 20. Do I wish they were more financially secure now? Sure. But do I also wish that I'd spent less time doing the "right" thing and more time being selfish when I was younger? Hell yes.
posted by snickerdoodle at 11:15 AM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


No, I don't think I'm personally being critiqued, but I still think this is crap of a piece with all the other "non-rich Americans are no good" porn that our social elites are currently obsessed with. Rich people: your kids are spoiled even worse!

And the previous generations of parents almost uniformly beat their children and otherwise basically neglected them. My own (grand)parents were left to effectively raise themselves by their alcoholic, abusive and otherwise absentee parents like many in that generation did.

America's problem is not that all of us disgusting, fat, non-rich people are spoiling our children. It's that you elites keep dismantling every facet of what's stable in our society on a near-perpetual basis in pursuit of a more flexible workforce and more profits for your shareholders.

Yes, there are lots of social and cultural problems playing out now in our communities as a result of those shifts. But that's not the cause of our more general troubles, no matter how willingly the target audience for this kind of just-so cultural moralizing dressed up as reporting gobble this stuff up, but merely another constellation of the symptoms of the ailment. Just as the often observed truism that nobody seems to value work anymore in the US is a largely accurate reflection of the fact that our economic leaders don't really seem to place much value on actual work anymore either.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:16 AM on June 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


Hanging my head in shame, I take full responsibility for having failed to raise my children to participate in any society other than the one they live in.

Same here, except for the Forgotten Realms.
posted by Gelatin at 11:16 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


....Sorry, corpse in the library, my retort was phrased really meanly.

What I was getting at was that that was kind of a big detail to leave out. But it's also a reminder to all parties that sometimes there can be reasons why a given kid can't or doesn't tie shoes/cut meat/do chores/etc., and the passerby can't always know that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:18 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


> That's because Daniel Radcliffe has a neurological disorder. Is that what's going on with your kids?

Yes, actually, for one of them. (The other? Eh, that's just picking-other-things-to-worry-about on my part.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:18 AM on June 26, 2012


There is definitely an American style of parenting that is currently extremely permissive about loud and disruptive behavior in public spaces, which I dislike. But that is distinct from how things go at home, where as far as I'm concerned parents can be as permissive and indecisive as they want.
posted by Forktine at 11:19 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm amused, not offended, no need to apologize. I agree both that that's relevant and that it's good to keep in mind that we don't always know the full story.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:20 AM on June 26, 2012


No, I don't think I'm personally being critiqued, but I still think this is crap of a piece with all the other "non-rich Americans are no good" porn that our social elites are currently obsessed with. Rich people: your kids are spoiled even worse!


Is there a different article? Because if that thing was classist it was attacking the upper middle class. The two towns that got direct shout outs were Brentwood and Park Slope. That's only non-rich if you live in Greenwich.
posted by JPD at 11:21 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


No, I don't think I'm personally being critiqued, but I still think this is crap of a piece with all the other "non-rich Americans are no good" porn that our social elites are currently obsessed with. Rich people: your kids are spoiled even worse!

Obviously you do, given how strenuously you are projecting yourself into it.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:28 AM on June 26, 2012


No, I don't think I'm personally being critiqued, but I still think this is crap of a piece with all the other "non-rich Americans are no good" porn that our social elites are currently obsessed with. Rich people: your kids are spoiled even worse!

Dude, this whole article is a big critique of rich-people parenting. Poor people parenting is generally more authoritarian.
posted by downing street memo at 11:30 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Agreeing that the New Yorker article wasn't directed at poor people. What made you think that it was?
posted by diogenes at 11:31 AM on June 26, 2012


I guess the main point is that the New Yorker article ignores the existence of poor people entirely. Which may not be critical toward poor parents, yes, except insofar as it implies that they do not exist, and that upper middle class parents are the only parents that exist in America.

Which brings up an interesting point. Would you prefer to be told that you're spoiling your kids, or ignored entirely? Considering that this is the New Yorker, I have a feeling most parents in the US prefer the latter.
posted by koeselitz at 11:35 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Personal anecdote time (because it's my only frame of reference):

My genetic father, while not in the 1%, is certainly sitting in what my sociology text books call "the upper class": C list executive, servants (quality of life also enhanced by working/living in Asia where these things come cheaper), any material good the immediate family feels it wants are almost immediately available, all the other hall marks of living, if not like Lord Somesuch, definitely in the sort of social strata Jane Austen considered worth writing about with the immense privilege inherent in that sort of money. Getting this involved coming from parents who made the social mobility jump from immigrants/poor Catholics, into executives in their own right, a jump other bits of the extended family also managed given the MBA type things listed on their facebook profiles. My father has two daughters, in addition to me, who live in that sort of bubble, where their toys and tech devices and classes/achievement projects are just part of their life.

I am his additional bastard daughter, raised for most of my life on some sort of government social assistance, in what passes for poverty in Canada. Now my sisters and I only share partial genetic similarities, but given that he met both my mother and step-mother through the SCA, this means that our cultural values are pretty similar as far as nerdery. And at least the eldest of my younger sisters probably also has Aspergers like me, so that even if they honestly think room cleaning is what maids do, the parenting problems my mother and my father had, respectively with me or with my sisters are remarkably similar. Feckless to the point of potential neurological impairment, academic performance all over the place, more interested in fantasy than real life... the only difference I see is my father and his wife trying to deal with it by throwing money at the problem (and occasionally child abuse, strikingly similar to my own childhood) which helps cover for things the fifth time you lose your glasses but does nada to change the inherent unfix-able problems that come with our genetic legacies- my sisters might have had a daily private swimming coach, but they also fight having their hair washed, because hello, scalp contact is agony, you know?

Occasionally, through facebook or in person pronouncements, my father will talk about how spoiled his kids are and how good it is for them to live rough by flying coach and navigating university for me involved a lot of frank conversations about parental obligations- that he could determine who and what he wanted to be via his own personal choice, but that his boot-strap-after-highschool model of adulthood was as best, deluded and he couldn't foist that off on me -and- brag about his money. But the end take away that I had to have is that myself and my sisters, no matter the wealth the latter enjoys by proxy, seem to be turning out equally fucked and blessed, thanks to all getting beat upside the head with the developmental dyspraxia stick- our ability to be self reliant hampered more by our lack of social skills and organizational skills than lack or provision of help.
posted by Phalene at 11:36 AM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is there a different article? Because if that thing was classist it was attacking the upper middle class. The two towns that got direct shout outs were Brentwood and Park Slope. That's only non-rich if you live in Greenwich.

Well, actually, I guess that's a fair point. But so much of the framing is about how "American families" raise their kids...

Well, the people described in the article don't seem very typical of middle/working class families I know either. Maybe these are also regional/things? I don't know. Maybe I'm misreading here.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:39 AM on June 26, 2012


Obviously you do, given how strenuously you are projecting yourself into it.

As I said, it just seems like this is being framed as "here's how Americans raise their kids." And I'm just not sure any Americans I know qualify.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:40 AM on June 26, 2012


OK, but how do you get from that that it's an elite critique of ordinary people? Is it just because it's in the New Yorker/WSJ?
posted by anigbrowl at 11:47 AM on June 26, 2012


Which brings up an interesting point. Would you prefer to be told that you're spoiling your kids, or ignored entirely?

I dunno man. I know a fair amount of poor people, and I'm pretty sure they don't give a flying fuck about The New Yorker to the extent they're even aware of its existence. (not that I think this indifference is a bad idea)
posted by downing street memo at 11:51 AM on June 26, 2012


OK, but how do you get from that that it's an elite critique of ordinary people? Is it just because it's in the New Yorker/WSJ?

Sort of. The fact that it's getting mainstream media focus at all suggests it represents upper class priorities and values to me, as that's who seems to set the priorities for all US media coverage. The US media (left and right) don't usually cover ordinary Americans' stories from their POV; they always seem to come at things from some remote perspective that's just breathlessly befuddled by the strange ways of these peculiar creatures and wants to study them at a distance.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:54 AM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think it unreasonable for the New Yorker to print an article directed towards the demographic that reads the New Yorker.
posted by diogenes at 11:55 AM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


No it isn't, but this is becoming too much of a derail. Apologies. The initial framing led me to think the topic was supposed to be "American Families" not "New Yorker Reader Families." My mistake.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:00 PM on June 26, 2012


Also? Sue me, but I think "spoiled" kids do better in life. They're taught that their opinions matter, that they should ask for what they want and assert themselves to get it - resulting in all sorts of positive life outcomes. Their parents' desire to please them usually results in them trying a lot of activities as children and being all the more well-rounded for it.

To me this is one of the things that separates the children of the elite (and those who enter elite institutions in formative stages) from the rest of us.


The one thing that separates the children of the elite is the Rolodex of contacts that they take into life from their experiences with like-minded families and institutions that they are exposed to in their formative years. In other words, "like hires like". Want some examples? Just who do you think you are interviewing with if you want a job at a good law firm, university, tech company, etc. etc - not to mention high-level government policy work? You are interviewing with people who mostly come from your class, and understand your "code".

About "spoiled kids". I have raised two generations of kids, and from what I see in the upper-middle-class enclave I live in is that kids today have no idea what empathy means. They are disconnected from their parents, and very self-prepossessing. In addition, compared to the educated classes from abroad, they are at a future disadvantage, because they are mostly about instant gratification, and are learning that their privileged lifestyles are part of their heritage. What an awful surprise those kids will be faced with - 10-15 years, hence. American families still largely think that our culture is the be-all and end-all. They are wrong, and they will discover their error in good time.

Last, the "self-esteem" movement is probably one of the most harmful things that has ever been introduced into American child-rearing. It has been shown to de-motivate kids for tasks that they don't get immediate rewards for, or that may be so hard that they risk failure (and thus lose praise).

We will learn, but we are going to lose a few generations of optimizing human capital before we pick up necessary lessons. Just look at the crisis of wandering young males, without purpose or goals, in our culture. That's what happens when you infantalize kids. Look at Italy, where boys are infantalized by their mothers - something like 40% of all single Italian males over 25 are still living at home. If an Italian woman meets a guy with a job and his own pad, it's like striking gold.
posted by Vibrissae at 12:01 PM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think sites like STFU Parents show that this isn't solely an upper-middle class phenomena.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 12:07 PM on June 26, 2012


Honest question: Am I being naive in having little to no doubt that, barring some sort of mental disability/disorder, my (as of yet theoretical) child will go and get a bath/shower after being told to no more than once or, worst case, twice?

Depends on the age, and depends on the child. When I was pregnant I fully believed that the parenting made the child. Then the Powers that Be in their infinite wisdom gave me the child that proved me wrong. My daughter is five and a half, and about two thirds of the time our instructions are received with cheerful acquiescence. The other third of the time? Obstructionist delays, sobbing melodrama, or outright fury.

Many of the personality traits that make a child challenging to parent are traits that are incredibly useful to a fully formed adult, if the parents can manage to raise their kids to use them for good and not for evil. My daughter is stubborn, willful, and bitterly chafes against the idea that other people can tell her what to do. She's also kind, determined, creative, and largely resistant to peer pressure. I was in tears at the doctor's office during her 2-year-old appointment, wondering if I'd done something to make her so stubborn, and the doctor said "No, absolutely not, she was born this way. However, there are things you can do to make it better."

Those things, by the way, are NOT increasingly strict and harsh penalties. That just led to us screaming at each other all the time. No, it's a combination of empathy, engagement, collaboration, and firm, fair consequences delivered without anger or tears. And it is a LOT of hard work, hard enough that after twelve hours of it, the temptation to say "fine, have another five minutes in the bath then" is awfully strong.
posted by KathrynT at 12:12 PM on June 26, 2012 [4 favorites]



Ochs and Izquierdo noted, in their paper on the differences between the family lives of the Matsigenka and the Angelenos, how early the Matsigenka begin encouraging their children to be useful. Toddlers routinely heat their own food over an open fire, they observed, while “three-year-olds frequently practice cutting wood and grass with machetes and knives.” Boys, when they are six or seven, start to accompany their fathers on fishing and hunting trips, and girls learn to help their mothers with the cooking. As a consequence, by the time they reach puberty Matsigenka kids have mastered most of the skills necessary for survival. Their competence encourages autonomy, which fosters further competence—a virtuous cycle that continues to adulthood.
I'm unsure how this could be said to be anything other than an apples-and-orange comparison. "This culture does X while that culture does Y". Are American children lazy, useless drains on their parents? Compared to a three year old who has mastered a machete, yes. So what?

All of this feels quite a bit like some tired, white-collar parent venting their frustration with their high-maintenance, bourgeois kids. "Children living in the jungle know how to take out the garbage, so why can't little Timmy figure it out?" Well, mom and dad, because you chose to live in a posh Los Angeles suburb instead of a slum in Bogotá. You get the kids you ask for.
posted by deathpanels at 12:13 PM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just look at the crisis of wandering young males, without purpose or goals, in our culture. That's what happens when you infantalize kids. Look at Italy, where boys are infantalized by their mothers - something like 40% of all single Italian males over 25 are still living at home. If an Italian woman meets a guy with a job and his own pad, it's like striking gold.

This "crisis" is a result of there being no jobs for those wandering young males to take. Nothing to do with infantilization.
posted by downing street memo at 12:29 PM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


The New Yorker article takes a working paper by two anthropologists that hasn't even made it into a peer-reviewed publication, completely misses many of the major observations of the paper, and basically turns it into a trite anecdata-filled lament about "What's the matter with kids today?" The U.S.A. certainly has its share of spoiled children, but any nuance that was in the original working paper was totally lost.

1. The working paper focuses on responsibility as a moral concept, with several quotes from philosophers like Aristotle and Kant. The paper is trying to illustrate the idea that helping with household chores is a moral activity, because it involves anticipating the needs of other people besides yourself, which helps kids be more compassionate. The New Yorker completely misses this moral/philosophical context to the paper.

2. The New Yorker publishes observations from the paper about the Matsigenka, but fails to note that, in the same paper, when Matsigenka children go to town for schooling, the Matsigenka children and their parents view the kids' Peruvian mestizo classmates as highly spoiled. So it isn't just American kids who can be judged as spoiled by outsiders.

3. The paper doesn't do a good job of distinguishing between responsibilities placed on US children for household chores and the responsibilities placed upon them by schools and extracurricular activities. In fact, the paper dismisses US kids' homework responsibilities as an explanation, because they say it cannot explain why children refuse to do short-term tasks, like taking a dish to the dishwasher. But the paper doesn't mention how an overscheduled US child with lots of homework and extracurriculars might be too tired or too short-tempered from fatigue to help out at home. In fact, the New Yorker article's moralizing about middle class American children being lazy conflicts with some recent ethnographic research about how middle-class American children run frenetically from activity to activity with barely any free time, prompting similar moral panic articles in journals like the New Yorker, but this time about "overscheduled kids."

4. The best explanation offered in the paper is actually the simplest one. The Matsigenka and the Samoans view young children as competent enough to help out around the house, and the children act accordingly. Many US parents view young children as naturally messy and incompetent about household tasks, and (guess what?) the children act accordingly.

5. The New Yorker and the anthropologists also have a bit of a middle-class bias in ignoring the role that corporal punishment can play in how children behave. American children are routinely called spoiled by both non-Americans and Americans alike, but compared to the rest of the industrialized world, the U.S. also has a very high percentage of Biblical literalists who are quite sincere in their belief that sparing the rod spoils the child. Is it possible that American are both the most spoiled and the most likely to be subject to corporal punishment in the industrialized world?
posted by jonp72 at 12:31 PM on June 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


My daughter is five and a half, and about two thirds of the time our instructions are received with cheerful acquiescence. The other third of the time? Obstructionist delays, sobbing melodrama, or outright fury.

That sounds familiar :)
posted by diogenes at 12:49 PM on June 26, 2012


Nice analysis jonp. The only one I disagree with is this:

The best explanation offered in the paper is actually the simplest one. The Matsigenka and the Samoans view young children as competent enough to help out around the house, and the children act accordingly.

I think the article did capture that idea.
posted by diogenes at 12:54 PM on June 26, 2012


Honest question: Am I being naive in having little to no doubt that, barring some sort of mental disability/disorder, my (as of yet theoretical) child will go and get a bath/shower after being told to no more than once or, worst case, twice?

Don't underestimate the amount of time and energy it takes to properly discipline children. No matter how carefully you set your boundaries and make clear consequences for misbehavior, they'll still come up with stuff that forces you to make judgment calls all the time.

"Do I allow this? If not, what consequences should there be?" It can be really easy to let things slide, just because you don't have the energy to deal with it, or because one of the other kids just fell down and hurt herself, and everyone's grouchy because you haven't got dinner ready yet. Especially if you're a parent with a job or other responsibilities in addition to child-rearing.
posted by straight at 12:56 PM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


This "crisis" is a result of there being no jobs for those wandering young males to take. Nothing to do with infantilization.

The "mamma's boys" concept of Italian men goes back a while, though. Twelve years ago, I homestayed with a family in Italy - the younger daughter of the family (in her twenties) had a job and had moved away to Rome and was living on her own, the older son (in his thirties) had a long-standing, very good job, and lived at home where mom did his laundry, served all his meals, and picked the veggies he didn't like out of a plate of food before he'd eat it.

This is also the time during that trip that I saw a determined little boy pull a candlestick off the altar during Mass. His dad would pick him up, bring him to the back of the church, and put him down again, whereupon he'd run right back up to the altar to see what he could grab.

Anecdotes, not data - but the stereotype of mammoni is one that the Italians themselves think about and discuss.
posted by PussKillian at 1:02 PM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Don't underestimate the amount of time and energy it takes to properly discipline children.

Not only that, being a conscientious "liberal" parent takes much more time than is stereotypically portrayed, because "liberal" does not equal "lax". It takes time to learn about the media your children are consuming, get to know their friends, understand what motivates them. It takes a lot of effort to actually engage your children about their interests, guide them in assessing their options, have nuanced discussions (when they're old enough) about right and wrong, particularly from a perspective that is attempting to acknowledge difference and diversity.

By comparison, it's relatively easy to carry out child-rearing based on negation, fear, and constraint. It's pretty simple to just say something like "because I said NO", or "because it's in the Bible". If this is one's parenting paradigm, one needs only refer to the appropriate authorities and/or dogma to know exactly what to say and do.
posted by mondo dentro at 1:08 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


For instance, I would be interested in exploring whether the differences in parenting styles reflect differences in how we perceive the roles of individuals vs. family,

The actual research paper discusses exactly this point. They describe quite specifically the behaviors that parents employ in child rearing and how those reflect the values held by the specific culture. These behaviors include things like stories that are told down to the specific ways parents and caregivers orient infants' and toddlers' bodies (outward facing, to others/society, vs. inward facing, towards the caregiver).

One issue that they observed in the LA families was that parents' professed values (what they said was important), i.e. independence, were actually at odds with the behaviors that they practiced, which generally taught dependence. Hence the LA parents' frustration. Or, basically, this:

The Matsigenka and the Samoans view young children as competent enough to help out around the house, and the children act accordingly. Many US parents view young children as naturally messy and incompetent about household tasks, and (guess what?) the children act accordingly.

The LA parents want children to help out, but they treat them in ways that undermine that desire. I highly recommend reading the working paper, it's quite interesting and the research is very carefully presented.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 1:18 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Last, the "self-esteem" movement is probably one of the most harmful things that has ever been introduced into American child-rearing. It has been shown to de-motivate kids for tasks that they don't get immediate rewards for, or that may be so hard that they risk failure (and thus lose praise).

My apologies, but this is ridiculous, and I hear it every time ANYTHING like this comes up, constantly, and the fact that it comes after several absolute horror stories about emotional and physical abuse that other Mefites experienced - and this is out of a sample of humanity that I think we can all agree is fairly privileged - only makes it more so. The idea that we've ruined our children by making them think that they have any value at all can be anecdotally disproved by comments right above yours. Moreover, the social problems that everyone seems to blame on "self-esteem" - especially among lower-class young Americans - are obviously not caused by an emphasis on too much self-esteem; they're caused by parents totally checking out and not paying attention to or engaging with their children.
posted by 235w103 at 1:24 PM on June 26, 2012 [13 favorites]


I recently reviewed a famous, and I am told, highly accurate ethnographic documentary on mid-century child rearing in the Austrian Alps. From this material, I ascertained that Austrian children are raised with an almost military rigidity, with all aspects of dress, hygiene, diet, and even leisure time governed by a strict and extremely formal behavioral code.

Typically, children raised in such circumstances require the intervention of a novice nun, ideally one with exceptional musical talent.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:25 PM on June 26, 2012 [14 favorites]


Typically, children raised in such circumstances require the intervention of a novice nun, ideally one with exceptional musical talent.

Well, if you thought that one was instructive, you should see the porn version.
posted by mondo dentro at 1:28 PM on June 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Isn't comparing the U.S. and U.K. like comparing spoiled apples and rotten oranges?
posted by jeffburdges at 1:49 PM on June 26, 2012


How dare the New Yorker author implicitly compare Metafilter/New Yorker-reading parents to (shudder) poor people? I'm so upset I almost forgot to microwave little Madison's single-serving pouch of pre-chewed organic fair-trade Mac 'n' cheese.
posted by jcrcarter at 2:45 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, the story reminded me to double check how I had spelt Och's first name in an article of my own... I knew I read metafilter for a reason.
posted by Scottie_Bob at 2:51 PM on June 26, 2012


Honest question: Am I being naive in having little to no doubt that, barring some sort of mental disability/disorder, my (as of yet theoretical) child will go and get a bath/shower after being told to no more than once or, worst case, twice?

You know, I was also a perfect parent before I had kids.
posted by zizzle at 4:44 PM on June 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


You know, I was also a perfect parent before I had kids.

Also: I sure as hell wasn't going to change my entire life just because I had a kid, like those other parents do!!

Yeah. Right.
posted by mondo dentro at 4:54 PM on June 26, 2012


On a bus line heavily used by minorities (mostly Asian and Latino immigrants), a tall white woman with long red hair, à la Julianne Moore, gets on with her son, who is about three or four years old. She keeps asking him questions.. "How was your day? What did you have for lunch? Did you get to play with water?" and so on, in an endless stream which I mostly tune out but still hear the pattern, questions ending with a rising tone like this? and like THIIIS???

She didn't seem particularly tense and the kid didn't seem frazzled, but this barrage of questions and choices still felt as if it must be overwhelming to a small child, and as it put her too much on his level. She didn't look that young, about 35, so it wasn't just a matter of post-teenage behavior.

The other bus riders maintained a bemused silence.
posted by bad grammar at 5:26 PM on June 26, 2012


Paul Graham had his own explanation for this apparent modern urban problem towards the end of Why Nerds are Unpopular in Hackers and Painters. The angle was, and it's not completely discongruent with the New Yorker article, that kids in modern city life don't have anything useful to work on and they know it. Schools exist mostly to compartment kids while their parents go to companies to do work. Houses are where everyone comes and consumes things after the parents get back from going to companies to do work. All of the chores we can think of to try and teach kids "character" are just that, chores, and while sure it would be convenient to have them done once in awhile, they aren't in seriousness anything that allows kids to contribute meaningfully to what the family needs. These needs are met pretty much entirely by adults going to companies to do work.

There isn't really any offered solution to this besides to grow up and be allowed to to meaningful work, or, in Graham's mind, if you are a nerd maybe you find your own to do. Who knows how this stands up, but I like it because 1) it makes nerds sound awesome, and 2) explains the problem in a way that is a mildy depressing indictment of our educational and corporate systems, instead of a way that is a hopelessly depressing indictment of our national character.
posted by Bokononist at 5:59 PM on June 26, 2012 [6 favorites]



Vibrissae: Last, the "self-esteem" movement is probably one of the most harmful things that has ever been introduced into American child-rearing. It has been shown to de-motivate kids for tasks that they don't get immediate rewards for, or that may be so hard that they risk failure (and thus lose praise).

235w103: My apologies, but this is ridiculous, and I hear it every time ANYTHING like this comes up, constantly, and the fact that it comes after several absolute horror stories about emotional and physical abuse that other Mefites experienced - and this is out of a sample of humanity that I think we can all agree is fairly privileged - only makes it more so. The idea that we've ruined our children by making them think that they have any value at all can be anecdotally disproved by comments right above yours. Moreover, the social problems that everyone seems to blame on "self-esteem" - especially among lower-class young Americans - are obviously not caused by an emphasis on too much self-esteem; they're caused by parents totally checking out and not paying attention to or engaging with their children.


Really? Are you sure? You mean the wrong kind of praise (which is what most kids get, as we build their "self-esteem") is OK? Check this out.

Look, when I see Little League coaches screaming praise at kids who are running the wrong way, just because they put out a little effort; when I see all the kids who wanna be in the school play rotated into the starring position, because they all want to be a "star"; when I see that crap - and I see it a LOT - I become even more sure about what I said, above.

Self-esteem is a good thing to have, but you don't get self-esteem by having someone "pour it into your self-esteemless-self; you get self esteem by earning it, and gaining praise for EFFORT, while at the same time being told that you have to try harder, if you want to do better - instead of being told "Johnny, you're the smartest, strongest, most-talented, studliest (yes, I have heard coaches say this to a 7-year-old).
posted by Vibrissae at 7:05 PM on June 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


No, of course not. It panders cloyingly.

Wrong. It panders clöyingly.
posted by srboisvert at 7:40 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


> when I see all the kids who wanna be in the school play rotated into the starring position, because they all want to be a "star"

What's wrong with that? It's a school play. It's not like one kid is going to have put in years refining their craft while working as a waitress to make ends meet.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:12 PM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Look, when I see Little League coaches screaming praise at kids who are running the wrong way, just because they put out a little effort

Where do you see this? I live in Madison, WI, dead center of more-up-to-date-than-thou parenting, and when a kid on my kid's soccer team runs the wrong way, the coach yells "Other way!" not "Nice effort!" What's the coach supposed to yell, "You suck?"

I'm sure kids today have lots of problems, but I can't say excessive self-esteem seems to be one of them.
posted by escabeche at 8:56 PM on June 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Piling on the Paul Graham reference, I thought it was common knowledge that child labor laws primarily serve the economic purpose of keeping teenagers out of the workforce to protect adult laborers.


(Of course, there is also the matter of child labor abuse, which child labor laws also protect against; but it's hard to argue that a 17 year old in a low-income neighborhood with no interest in higher education wouldn't be better off graduating early and working a full-time job in an industry instead of spending another year with no financial means and a near-total disengagement with an already failing public education system.)

posted by deathpanels at 9:13 PM on June 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


This strikes me as less an article about parenting per se, more another example of how a lot of the media in America does not seem to want to acknowledge that the society created over the last thirty years has largely failed its younger members. The alternative to recognising that most of the social reforms since the 80s have made life worse for young people in very fundamental ways is, of course, to blame young people for their failings - and by extension the parenting that made them that way.

Bear in mind that young people nowadays have much more trouble finding a job than their parents did and enter adult life under a massive burden of student debt that older generations never suffered. They do so at a time when the Global economy is in a terrible state, largely as a result of the previous generations' bad decisions in managing the economy (by basing it on asset bubbles and an insufficiently regulated financial industry, as well as a cargo cult quasi-religious conception of capitalism). Their elders are engaging in tax evasion on an enormous scale, at a time when tax burdens for the wealthy are at an unusually low level. Houses and property are, by and large, too expensive to afford - in many urban areas, it is cripplingly expensive to buy a house that is large enough to support a family, and yet there are homes standing idle. Furthermore, younger generations face growing environmental problems that are obviously partly man-made.

These things are, to coin a phrase, inconvenient truths. They are also the creation of the selfishness and incompetence of older people.

But one of the deep, sad truths about human nature is that people would always much rather blame their victims than take responsibility for their mistakes. In this case, the defensive strategy involves pretending that the children of a small slice of the elite, in a country increasingly riven by income inequality, represent "contemporary American kids" - and that therefore the problem is that young people in general nowadays have too much, not too little.
posted by lucien_reeve at 12:09 AM on June 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


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