13 February 2012

Bad Parenting

Yet the French have managed to be involved with their families without becoming obsessive. They assume that even good parents aren't at the constant service of their children, and that there is no need to feel guilty about this. "For me, the evenings are for the parents," one Parisian mother told me. "My daughter can be with us if she wants, but it's adult time." French parents want their kids to be stimulated, but not all the time. While some American toddlers are getting Mandarin tutors and preliteracy training, French kids are—by design—toddling around by themselves.
I'm hardly the first to point out that middle-class America has a parenting problem. This problem has been painstakingly diagnosed, critiqued and named: overparenting, hyperparenting, helicopter parenting, and my personal favorite, the kindergarchy. Nobody seems to like the relentless, unhappy pace of American parenting, least of all parents themselves. [Hat tip: Mangan]

I do not have children, or any theories for raising them.  I have no idea how much of a role nurture plays in child development.  I can’t even begin to anticipate the sort of messes kids can get themselves into.

However, I do know that overparenting annoys me.  Whenever I see some parent trying to micro-manage their brat, I want to go up to them and punch them in their face.

Kids are, for the most part, boring little turds.  They have nothing of value to say, and rarely offer insight. The wisdom of children is the wisdom of adults, except in a cute voice, and without as many rationalizations.  I do not see how anyone finds giving their undivided attention to children to be rewarding because kids are, simply put, annoying.

And yet, American parents are, for the most part, hyper-involved in their kids’ lives.  Look, we all get that you care, that you want what’s best for your kids, etc.  But here’s the thing:  children are humans, not accessories.  And they do not need your undivided attention to make it to adulthood.

My parents would probably have been considered neglectful because I simply did not receive much attention from either of them.  And I was homeschooled through sophomore year.  By the time I was nine, I was expected to be out of bed by 8:00 AM, and started on schoolwork by 9:00 AM.  I was supposed to do my own work without prompting or supervision, and only ask for my mom’s attention if I needed help with something.  Once I was done with school, I was pretty much free to do whatever I wanted with the rest of my day, provided I got my chores done without prompting.  When dad came home from work, we work expected to leave him alone so he could spend time with mom “talking about his day.”

I managed to make it to adulthood without any emotional scarring, or other major consequences of parental neglect.  I assume I’m one of the lucky ones.  I feel bad about myself now, having been deprived of a childhood with overbearing parents that wanted to micromanage my life.  How ever was I to rebel?

Anyway, parents in America have turned this country into a bizarre Benjamin Button world, where you become more childish as you age.  Normally, it is the children who focus on the parents.  In America, though, it’s the opposite:  the parents focus on the children.

I think that’s what most annoying about American parents.  Their lives are so devoid of personal value that they use their kids for social status.  That’s why they always focus on their kids, signing them up for sport every season, plus music and language lessons, not to mention play dates and worthless academic competitions.  American parents have nothing to show for their years wasted at colleges and in cubicles, so they live vicariously through their children, turning them into narcissists in the process, only to set themselves up for inevitable disappointment once the kids finally realize they don’t want to be prodigies.

This culture is so dysfunctional.  Kids can’t be kids because adults won’t be adults.  Kids have to be artists, athletes, and academics, and parents have to be their kids’ personal trainers, managing every second of their lives.

The worst conversationalists in the world are American mothers.  They are devoid of personality.  They have no life of their own; only of their children.  All they talk about is their children, or things related to their children.  When you talk politics with them, it always comes back to their children.  Cooking, art, clothes, etc., it always comes back to their children.

The dads don’t say much, though.  Probably because they’re always at work, earning money to be spent on their kids’ activities.  They don’t know much about their kids, about their dreams, about their interests.  They only know about their activities.

What’s sad about all this is that American parents get parenting completely wrong.  They overparent, but not where it counts.  They are over-involved in their children’s lives when it comes to superfluous things, like sports and art, but they are never involved enough to actually discipline their children and mold them into functional adults.  They give their children license where boundaries are needed and boundaries where license is needed.

Res ipsa loquitur.


  1. Further reading: "Boys Adrift" and "Girls on the Edge" (review here), both by Leonard Sax.

  2. Much of this probably goes back to Dr. Spock and his Freudian view of child-rearing. He also advocated a vegan diet for kids and a light touch when it came to discipline - social isolation instead of scolding or smacking.

    I am consistently encouraged to put my three year old in daycare so she can socialize, but I don't see the need. We have a yard and books and toys aplenty so she can play and learn. She plays well with her younger sister and says "please" and "thank you." When she sees her cousins, they all play well together or with minimal adult intervention. She appears to be socialized just fine, even though I'm "doing it wrong."

    This is driven not only by vicarious living on the parents' part, but also competitiveness. The message that college is bust is starting to slowly trickle into people's heads, but not quickly enough. If college won't be useful, then a trade or manufacturing job is the next step, but American manufacturing is taking a long time coming back. So (mostly) SWPL parents compete for top-end preschools (which study after study debunks as remotely useful in promoting academic success) and get their kids into multiple activities to pad the college resume. It's ridiculous and pressures kids too much.

    I lived in France and Switzerland for brief periods of time in high school and in my early career years. The kids I knew were intelligent and hard workers in school because of the lycee/university system that either let one move on or just career-tracked you by 15. Their parents expected them to behave and entertain themselves. This is not to say that parents did not love their children; quite the opposite. Rather, they loved their kids enough to let the children prove their independence and intelligence and self-discipline to be functional.

    American parents, by and large, do not trust their kids, but its symptomatic of the greater liberalism of our society. Liberals do not trust anyone to do what is best, nor do they trust that anyone has appropriate emotions. Parents are afraid they are not showing enough love if they don't shower their kids with attention or allow their kids to take part in everything under the sun.

    I take it from some other posts you've written that you are still in college, so your quite a bit younger than I am. Kids are great if you want them for their intrinsic value as people. But your assessment of kids as accessories is astute and unfortunate.

  3. This is pointlessly stupid. The only parenting behavior that needs correction is spending all your EBT food money on crack and cigarettes.

    All those middle class kids who get too much attention and the middle class kids who get not enough attention will be just fine. It is the ones at the lower end that will be problems. Those are the ones who will be breaking into neighbors houses at 12. Those are the ones who will be pregnant at 15 because they never had a "daddy" in their life.

    All healthy parents tend to give too much attention to their first child and then learn that less is OK with future children. By kid #4, it is a good day if they remember his name.

  4. But... but... but.... children NEED to have dozens of intellectually stimulating activities, or else Amy Chua will make fun of American parenting again!!!

  5. Also, the upper class kids can have all the crack they want. They can afford it and they will never have to do an honest day's labor for it anyway.

  6. @Cranberry- Spot on. Why don't you have your own blog? Many of your comments are insightful and well-written; you should be putting them in a more prominent place.

    "All those middle class kids who get too much attention and the middle class kids who get not enough attention will be just fine."

    @Prof. Hale- we'll have to see about that. When the college bubble bottoms out, I can't imagine people being happy about wasting their entire childhood doing stupid crap only to get a mediocre, meaningless job out of it.

    "By kid #4, it is a good day if they remember his name."

    Except most parents don't even get to kid #3, and a decent number never make it to kid #2.

    Lol about the upper class crackheads, though. It's funny 'cause it's true.

    @Ingemar- Who cares about Amy Chua? Her kids are nothing more than status accessories.

  7. Thanks, Simon, I'm considering it. I have a lot to write about and I use the old fashioned paper-and-pencil method to jot down notes in an old marbled tablet for the day when I start writing more prolifically.

  8. @Cranberry- well, let me know when you come on board so I can read you and link to you. BTW, I still love writing with pen and paper. There's something about that medium that's just comforting to me.