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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Are Parents Ruining Their Children?

Are parents ruining their children?

This expansive article by Psychology Today, first released in 2004, says yes.

It says that from infancy on, helicopter parents cushion their children's failures while pushing them ever harder for success, and if that success doesn't come naturally, well, the parents help the children along. Anything for a successful child. It concludes that the obsession with perfection from a young age prevents children from growing up. It sites increased depression and anxiety diagnoses and a slowed rate of adults actually being adults (which they define as completing school, holding down a job and starting a family) to back this theory up.

And it's not that I don't agree, necessarily. I think the five-page article brings up many valid points and that parents need to re-look at their dealings with their kids.

But I think those studying this need to take our society into consideration. Remember, if your studies start in 1988 and end in 2004, or continue to the present, you are using the same subjects as both the children and the parents. That's important. For if this child-adults you speak of actually are the parents, then it's no wonder why they coddle their kids the way they do. They don't know any different. You cannot in one breath complain at the immaturity of adults today, then turn around and say those adults should know better while rearing their own kids. Of course they don't.

This is a long-term problem that has been getting worse very very gradually, not just in the last 20, 30 or even 50 years.

As we become more technologically advanced, we are coming up with solutions to problems prevalent in the 1980s. In twenty years from now, the technology will be focused on eradicating the new problems brought into existence by our current solutions to our old problems. This is a pattern that's gone on from the beginning of human existence. It can hardly be blamed solely on "hothouse" parenting.

This is an incredibly long piece, so I'm just going to highlight the select areas I had issues with.

In the very beginning, the study uses an example of a highly competent girl whose parents wrote in to her school, explaining that she had "difficulty with Gestalt thinking." The authors put forward that there was nothing wrong with this girl, that her parents had prematurely set her up for an advantage while taking her SATs.

Now, that could very likely be the case. Or, alternately, the girl could have actually had problems with Gestalt thinking. A close friend of mine in school was very smart, worked very hard on her grades and pulled in good ones. She was social, academically inclined and good at sports. She got a 500 on her SATs. She took the tests three or four times, each with the same dismal results. She'd probably have a lot to say about the smarmy conclusion of this article. Some kids, believe it or not, actually do have the problems they present with, regardless of their competence in other areas. Had my friend been given the unlimited time for the test that trouble with Gestalt thinking allows, she'd have done just fine. Her issue was that she could not skip questions, an imperative piece to doing well on the test. I don't know why she couldn't, but I believe her when she says she couldn't. She's now an elementary school teacher with a master's degree and two children. Wimpy? I think not.

This broadens to the next point of the article which is increases diagnoses of depression and anxiety in college students, supposedly brought on by parental involvement. The article purports that students are pushed to be perfect while at the same time their parents are doing their work for them, blocking them from the natural cycle of failure and disappointment, the result being that students feel they cannot do anything by themselves, and the prospect of having to (in college) folds them into a box of insecurity, anxiety and depression.

Could be. This could definitely be part of it. But we cannot ignore the advanced techniques we now have for diagnosis these conditions and regulating the brain chemicals to help those truly in need. Fifty years ago, these conditions may not have seemed as prevalent, but that doesn't mean they weren't. It simply the ways for treating it (or ignoring it) were different. Those who were not suffering to the point of incapacitation were considered slow, or odd, or slightly off. They had trouble making it in society and often stayed with their parents forever, never even attempting this growing up that the article is so fond of referencing. Those who suffered from advanced symptoms were locked away and shoved under society's rug.

Are people these days using depression and anxiety as a crutch in what should be very normal lives? They could be, I can't talk to that. But I do know that you cannot use such a statistic as evidence of poor parenting practices. It's not logical without taking societal history into account.

The article says parents are no longer teaching their children the essential skills they need to survive. Instead, it says "showing kids how to work the system for their own benefit."

I would say for the sake of argument that learning how to work the system in which you live to your benefit is a valuable life skill.

It attacks cell phones, saying the devices extend the umbilical cord indefinitely. That students and young adults no longer reason for themselves, but simply call mom and dad to get out of trouble.

I would argue that the point of cell phones is to help young people out of trouble. Real trouble. I would say the safety benefits of cell phones outweighs the potential for stunted growth into adulthood. I have a cell phone. An., yeah, I called my mom up until my early twenties if I was scared or sick. Childish? It probably was. But it didn't harm me. And I felt loved and safe. And I'm now 29 with my own family, and I no longer call my mommy when I have the stomach flu or when my car gets towed. Not that this disproves their theory, which I agree with in essence, but I do think cell phones are an advantage, not a disadvantage. Remember, 50 years ago, people stayed a lot closer to home and had their entire extended family network to lean on, in person.

The article boldly states that parental hovering is the cause of failure in young adults. It says the "no man's land" of 20-30 is continuing to extend because children don't know how to be adults themselves, and so they revert to being the children they were never allowed to be in youth.

"Using the classic benchmarks of adulthood, 65 percent of males had reached adulthood by the age of 30 in 1960. By contrast, in 2000, only 31 percent had. Among women, 77 percent met the benchmarks of adulthood by age 30 in 1960. By 2000, the number had fallen to 46 percent."

Remember, the benchmarks are finishing school, getting a job and having a family. Excuse me, but why would we use the classic benchmarks of adulthood here? We're not in 1960. We cannot compare to that without comparing all other factors as well. What about the increasing number of students getting their master's degrees and doing post-doctoral work? What about the economic downturn that is stopping millions of previously employable, competent people from getting jobs? What about women becoming more confident in pursuing careers, so that perhaps their family lives come later? My sister is well on her way to a Ph.D in biomedical engineering. According to this article, I'm the adult, and she's the kid. I'm the success and she's the coddled young adult unable to forge her way.

I don't think so. If you look at my specific family, you'll see it's my siblings that are successful. You cannot define success and adulthood by job and family anymore. It's not fair and it leads to false conclusions.

I think this article is great, don't get me wrong. It certainly gave me a lot to think about as I continue to rear my children. Many of the points are spot on, or at least make enough sense for me to be able to glean the information I need from them for use in my own life.

I do want my kids to be independent. I do want them to play. I do want my life to be easier. I think this article has a lot of tips to help parents who may be faltering on their way. But I also think that they've omitted important study in order to drive home their objectives. And I don't think that's necessary. The world is scary enough, as those writing the article well know.  We need to take things at their face value in the way they currently fit into our society without conflating them without making faulty comparisons and placing extensive blame. Of course parents are at fault for some of their children's problems. Are they responsible for the weakening of the fabric of society? I think that's stretching it.


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1 comment:

  1. "Remember, 50 years ago, people stayed a lot closer to home and had their entire extended family network to lean on, in person."

    And when your car broke down, the tow truck driver knew your brother in school, and called your parents for you.
    In other words, I agree - comparing society today with society 50 years ago is apples-to-oranges.



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