December 18, 2015

"Middle-class and higher-income parents see their children as projects in need of careful cultivation..."

"They try to develop their skills through close supervision and organized activities, and teach children to question authority figures and navigate elite institutions. Working-class parents, meanwhile, believe their children will naturally thrive, and give them far greater independence and time for free play. They are taught to be compliant and deferential to adults. There are benefits to both approaches. Working-class children are happier, more independent, whine less and are closer with family members.... Higher-income children are more likely to declare boredom and expect their parents to solve their problems. Yet later on, the more affluent children end up in college and en route to the middle class, while working-class children tend to struggle...."

From "Class Differences in Child-Rearing Are on the Rise" by Claire Cain Miller (in the NYT).

That made me remember "I Don't Care Where My Children Go To College," by Catherine Pearlman, which I read the other day. Pearlman seems to be a middle-class/higher-income person with class envy. She seems to want to adopt the life styles of the working class... though not quite:
I am not going to steal my son and daughter's childhoods so they may wind up at Yale instead of Westchester Community College. I am not going to force them to be who I say they should be by signing them up for every class and making them stick with it. Instead, I am going to sit back and watch them find their own path. I am going to expose them to life and do it as a family. I am going on month-long family vacations in foreign lands and I am not going to worry about how it will look to the football coach or the college counselor. I am going to discuss issues of the day over slow family dinners. And I am going to teach my children that they can be successful doing whatever they want if they follow their dreams and work hard. Going to the best college won't make that happen for them. Giving them the freedom to flourish in their own way in their own time will.
I had to laugh at "I am going on month-long family vacations in foreign lands...."

29 comments:

mccullough said...

Teach your kids how to use short range and long range firearms. These skills will be more useful.

Fernandinande said...

the evolutionist:"In many ways the book is arguing against the view that our thoughts are socially constructed by how we were socialized as children. Can you say what this view is and why you think it's wrong?"

Pinker: Yes, it argues against the view that parents mold or shape their children, that the early years in the home form personality for the rest of one's life:"as the twig is bent so grows the branch." This is unlikely from an evolutionary point of view because the interests of children and the interests of parents only partly overlap. Robert Trivers pointed out 25 years ago that a direct consequence of Mendelian genetics is parent-offspring conflict: a child shares 50% of its genes with each parent and shares 50% of its genes with its siblings, but shares 100% of its genes with itself. Therefore one would expect that parents would, all things being equal, have an interest in treating all of their children equally. But each child values its own interests twice as much as those of his siblings, and this sets up an area of conflict. So you should not expect children to allow themselves to be molded by their parents -- to follow the norms and examples their parents set for them."

Amanda said...

Yes, the month long vacation in a foreign land in truly teaching the children that they aren't privileged. However, I do see her point. There is way too much emphasis on grooming the child for success instead of observing the child to see what natural talents and interests he/ she expresses, and then encouraging one or two of those. I've seen children being pushed way too hard in school and at home in some affluent families. Years of sports lessons, dance, voice, music, etc. in which the child begs to not go and it's a major fight to drag the child to the event 4 nights a week.

I've seen children who are sleep deprived because the team sports events take too much time that should be alloted to homework. Too much homework assigned so that if the child is sick for a couple of days, it takes a week to make up the schoolwork. While children from more affluent families have less angst over having enough or the correct style/ designer label of clothing or the latest toys and electronic gadgets, the pressures put on them by their affluent society is tremendous and affluent parents should relax a little and give their child a less frenetic childhood. It doesn't always ensure admittance to the best universities and could turn the child into a neurotic mess.

SGT Ted said...

My observations over the years is that the close supervision and organized activities is the result of the women, who tend to be "mistress of the universe" types, over-organized and over-protective in their parenting. The men go along with it, but it's driven mainly by the women.

cubanbob said...

We made quite an effort to get the kid into an Ivy. In America today, brand name schools and the connections made there count. It may not be fair but that is how the country rolls.

SGT Ted said...

And actually, her description of how she is going to raise her children is very similar to how I was raised in a middle class family in the 60s-70s.

mikee said...

I, for one, welcome the child rearing process exemplified by The Lord of the Flies, as repeated by the mother in this post.

Children are little barbarians in need of adult guidance, up to the point where they stop hurting others gratuitously, recognize danger and try to avoid it, and can feed and clean themselves.

Gahrie said...

Children are born as barbarians and need to be civilized as they are raised. (or else they remain as barbarians as adults)

The Gold Digger said...

Higher-income children are more likely to declare boredom and expect their parents to solve their problems.

Here's how my (grew up on a dairy farm) mother solved my boredom problem - she told me to clean the bathroom.

I learned quickly not to be bored.

Deirdre Mundy said...

People consider me an "extremely hands on child-raiser" because I homeschool....


But, it terms of activities? We're laid back. If a kid is interested in something, we try to encourage them. If they lose interest, we let them try something else. Childhood should be a time of trying on MANY different identities and interests, and discarding them, and picking them up again later.

BUT the very fact that you do encourage them to explore, try to hook them up with resources, etc. makes you a hands-on parent. You're just an upper/middle-class style parent who doesn't view the kid as an accessory or commodity, so you don't need the same bragging rights.

Jupiter said...

I had to laugh at "I am going on month-long family vacations in foreign lands...."

Why? I take my family to Mexico for several weeks at a time. Beats the Hell out of sitting around the Willamette Valley in February, watching the rain pound down out of a gray sky.

Deirdre Mundy said...

But.... full disclosure: I do want my kids to go to good colleges, if they want to go to college. Why waste time at a place that doesn't challenge you? So.... we do what we can to smooth the way--- give them practice at standardized tests, teach them to write good papers, encourage them to take the accelerated path in math, stay active in our alumni association to give them a boost, that sort of thing.

It just LOOKS more relaxed, because we're not focused on out competing other parents. Of course, we're also living in an area that's an automatic 'geographic diversity boost' because so few children from here APPLY to elite schools, or even schools more than 2 hours away. So "standing out" looks different.

(I mean, I expect my kids to be National Merit Semi-finalists, and if they are... they'll be a rare breed. Whereas, where I grew up, the kids who DIDN'T make the cut-off were considered failures......)

Deirdre Mundy said...

My husband likes to say--- "If these high-octane coastal parents were SERIOUS about wanting to get their kids into the top schools, they'd chuck it all and move to the rural middle until their kids graduated from high school......"

Jupiter said...

cubanbob said...
"We made quite an effort to get the kid into an Ivy. In America today, brand name schools and the connections made there count. It may not be fair but that is how the country rolls."

You might want to consider using the past tense there, CB. I am betting that a majority of the people killed on 9/11 had Ivy League degrees.

Sebastian said...

"Working-class parents, meanwhile, believe their children will naturally thrive, and give them far greater independence and time for free play. They are taught to be compliant and deferential to adults." Because compliance is the ticket to independence. No wonder working-class kids have been thriving for the last several decades.

Ambrose said...

Reminded me of Springsteen's "Growing Up:

"I took month-long vacations in the stratosphere,...."

n.n said...

Lower-class too. The cause of individual integrity and corruption cannot be reduced to extrinsic factors.

The Gold Digger said...

I had to laugh at "I am going on month-long family vacations in foreign lands...."

Why?


Because this is an option available only to people with a lot of money is why. And if you already have a lot of money, your kid is already well connected.

Bruce Hayden said...

This is interesting after our discussion this morning walking. Being upper middle class, both of us raised our kids to go to college and concentrate on graduate school. I was pushing this when my kid was in lower school, telling them what degrees this adult had, and what degrees that one had. So, by the time they got to college, they viewed it as a step to grad school, and by now, they are half way through a STEM PhD. And, my partner's son is in a similar situation, though a decade older, and with his wife, programming their boys to follow along. They gave up Boy Scouts this year, because it conflicted with second instruments.

Part of it really is programming. We programmed our kids that life essentially started after grad school, and only losers quit before that. But, we were only doing what our parents did for us. I remember asking for a car on my birthday almost 50 years ago. My father responded by asking me if I preferred a car, which would be junked in a couple years, or a college education from a private school, which would last a lifetime. Not surprised, looking back, that most of the kids who got cars in my high school never finished an undergraduate degree. Definitely none of us with professional degrees had their own cars back then.

Part of it is also teaching deferred gratification. Back when I was starting college, you could still earn a good living at a unionized job throughout much of the country. So, why defer all the nice things that a good job can get you? Indeed, why defer sex, one of the greatest inventions ever? The answer really is that for many of us, by deferring gratification, we greatly increase the chances of a stimulating, remunerative, rewarding careers. But, deferred gratification does not come easily to kids, and must be learned. Not easy.

Still, both of us sent our kids to private schools so that they would have the best opportunities. And, I don't regret it at all. But, then we talk about the advantages of growing up with a lot of siblings (both of us come from families of 5 kids), and you really can't do that with the sort of helicopter parenting that has become so prevalent for those like us. Two kids burns you out, and four or more would be impractical, unless one parent in a family can dedicate their lives to such, and, even then, it is hard (my partner did that for a decade, and only succeeded because of who she was).

Michael said...

Jupiter

You would lose your bet. No way most of the three thousand people killed on 9-11 were from Ivy League schools. Bond traders, runners, back of the house, clerical. Maybe ten percent from IL schools.

Freeman Hunt said...

The end is a big letdown. Preschool programs? The ones shown to have no lasting benefits? Bah.

The Godfather said...

You don't control your own life. You certainly can't control the lives of your children or grandchildren.

I grew up in an upper middle class family. My father (the first member of his family to attend college since they left Germany) was able to send my brother and me me to private school, then me to an Ivy League college and then to an Ivy League law school, and my brother to an expensive private college in the South, and didn't have to go into debt to do it (although he didn't save for his own retirement during those years). Nowadays, education is incredibly expensive, and you really have to decide whether it's worth going into debt to educate the kids. I'm rooting for my grandchildren to attend good public schools, and then let's see what's available for higher education. I don't want them or their parents to take on a huge debt to add a prestige name to their resumes.

Schorsch said...

Re: month-long vacations, we hear this a lot, having somehow made friends with trust funders. Their kids are going to be pissed mom and dad spent the whole trust.

Leigh said...

"I am going to discuss issues of the day over slow family dinners."

And why is Pearlman all FUTURE tense? She doesn't have teenagers yet -- or, as I often think of them, trans-phones (although the phone transformation isn't limited to teenagers). How I hate, hate, hate these stupid "smart" phones.

pdug said...

This isn't really new news. Upenn Sociologist Annette Lareau's Unequal Childhood's made this point that the main thing that determines whether a kid will BE middle class (regardless of income) or in poverty is how the parents approach the upbringing of the child. Poor parents let the kid "develop naturally" and middle class parents use "cultivation" to a more or greater extent.

The defining thing a kid gets from that experience is that she feels like she has some kind of 'privilege' that, if she needs help, she can expect to get it from people in her life.

"Earlier that day Katie had formulated a plan to build a dollhouse. With the help of her grandmother she’d gathered empty cardboard boxes and then set to work on the kitchen counter with scissors and glue. But by the time Lareau arrived at the Brindle’s home the project was in disarray. Lareau watched as Katie carried the ramshackle structure high over her head into the living room where her mother was watching television. Katie placed the boxes on the rug and asked for help. Her mom’s answer was short and to the point. “Nah,” she said. Standing off to the side, Lareau noted that Katie was “silent but disappointed” by the response.

When Lareau reflected on this interaction she realized that something profound had taken place. For nearly a year she’d journeyed to soccer games with middle class families, ridden the city bus with single moms on their way to collect food stamps, and hung out in suburban kitchens and working class living rooms as families went about their days. With each of the families Lareau had paid close attention to the ways that parents approached their children’s development, and after a while she’d noticed a pattern: While middle class parents rarely missed an opportunity to cultivate their children’s interests, poor and working class parents tended to view child’s play the way Katie Brindle’s mom did, as something best left to children."

rcommal said...

Predictably enough, we're IRL doing things in the margins and fissures surrounding the choices most not just choose, but make.

Todd Roberson said...

I suspect that Bruce Hayden and Mike R are different personalities of the same person. BH is the verbose, flowery, reflective one and Mike R is the snarky, sarcastic and "zinger-hurling" one. Note that they both have the same goofy mirrored sunglasses on except that BH is upside-down.

Josh said...

"[they] teach children to question authority figures and navigate elite institutions"

This is the key difference. When you can teach your children what the "right" answer is to the college admissions committee/essay it makes a huge difference in their "success".

This is true for undergraduate, professional school, and Fortune 500 companies. Admission is the hardest part.

rcommal said...

Josh:

Ah, yes. But then there's the rest of their lives.

"And" not "or": truly, none of us gets to escape that.