In a recent issue of the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert had another one of those features that hits upper-middle-class American parents where they live: Do we spoil our kids? (Obviously, by any reasonable historical measure, the answer is yes.) And by doing so, are we doing them a practical disservice — rendering them unable to function independently in the real world?
What values do we convey by turning our homes into warehouses for dolls? By assigning our kids chores and then rewarding them when they screw up? By untying and then retying their shoes for them? It almost seems as if we’re actively trying to raise a nation of “adultescents.” And, perhaps without realizing it, we are.
The flip side of this anxiety is the knowledge that this method of parenting (pampering, “helicoptering,” whatever you want to call it) works — at least in a narrow material sense.
David Brooks summarizes some recent research by sociologist Robert Putnam:
Affluent, college-educated parents, writes Brooks, spend more time with, and invest more money in, their children than working-class parents do.
As a result, behavior gaps are opening up. In 1972, kids from the bottom quartile of earners participated in roughly the same number of activities as kids from the top quartile. Today, it’s a chasm.
Richer kids are roughly twice as likely to play after-school sports. They are more than twice as likely to be the captains of their sports teams. They are much more likely to do nonsporting activities, like theater, yearbook and scouting. They are much more likely to attend religious services.
It’s not only that richer kids have become more active. Poorer kids have become more pessimistic and detached.
Let me repeat the qualification above: Yuppie parenting is working in a “narrow material sense.” But it’s also creating a kind of slow-motion moral disaster.
Perversely, however, Putnam’s new data, to the extent that it filters into the zeitgeist, is only going to reinforce these patterns. What affluent parent, knowing that he is giving his child an “edge” in life, is going to stop spoiling his children?
What’s your take out there, TAC parents?