July 16, 2014

"What is behind this generation of hard-working, strait-laced kids?"

Asks The Economist.
[P]erhaps the best explanation for this youthful self-control is not the role parents play in young adults’ lives today; it is the way they brought those young adults up. A combination of government initiatives, technology, social pressure and reaction against the follies of the past has improved parenting dramatically.....

For much of the 20th century, children were largely ignored and allowed to roam free. If they acted up, they were typically punished with violence. Now, however, parents are expected to be intimately involved in their children’s lives.... They supervise homework; attend parents’ evenings; go to prenatal and parenting classes; read blockbusters about child psychology. These improvements are not restricted to parents working as a team: single parenting has improved even more....

What this adds up to is a generation that is more closely watched and less free to screw up. So perhaps it is unsurprising that better behaviour has not, as yet, translated into greater happiness....
I come from a time when children roamed free, and it happened because back then parents believed in freedom and self-reliance. They were not bad parents.

67 comments:

Ron said...

Maybe they need to learn new lingo to get back to old virtues...You might prefer your kids to be 'free range', for example... (minus the implied eating of same!)

The Crack Emcee said...

They're tired of the bullshit.

Predictable.

I think somebody did,...

George Sewell said...

Not just free-roaming, but almost always outside and playing with other children - and working out the rules among ourselves. We created our own fun, mine being the magical lure of a big cardboard box (and a knife to shape it into a space ship, or tank, or whatever.) Alas...

the jackal said...

A generation of young folks looking at what baby boomers have wrought might disagree.

George Sewell said...

Not just free-roaming, but almost always outside and playing with other children - and working out the rules among ourselves. We created our own fun, mine being the magical lure of a big cardboard box (and a knife to shape it into a space ship, or tank, or whatever.) Alas...

Larry J said...

In today's terminology, I would've been considered a Free Range Child growing up. I read reports like the one earlier this week where a mother was arrested for allowing her 9 year old daughter play in a park alone and shake my head. Even as young as 4 years old, I played by myself in a forest while my older siblings were in school. I climbed trees, caught snakes and did all sorts of things that taught me many useful things. The year I turned 15, I logged 52 days of camping and hiking, almost none of it with adult supervision. Today's kids aren't having those sorts of opportunities.

Henry said...

The excerpt presents a smug gloss of upper-income parenting styles that have nothing to do with the marginal behavior that drives the statistical measures in the right direction. You would think a British magazine would have a little more awareness of the construct of class.

broomhandle said...

Every young person I know who has their shit together is either a person of faith or their parents are. I can't think of any exceptions.

The Drill SGT said...

I think this article focuses on the right side of the child distribution and not the left.

Alternately, in the past, though all kids were free range kids, every adult (it takes a village) was expected to align the behavior of kids. Teachers, bus drivers, neighbors, store owners, all were free to both advise children of their faults and report to their parents. Now parents take great umbrage at hearing that their little angel is not angelic.

The breakdown of that community involvement, particularly in cities, means that many kids lack both community supervision AND parental involvement.

cue CE to complain about my racism

n.n said...

Children are libertarian (i.e. self-governing) by nature. They are living their lives despite government initiatives and are coping with conventional and government-sponsored social pressures.

Eleanor said...

Most kids today are risk-adverse, and the ones who aren't have no experience with how to do a risk/benefit analysis. They aren't allowed to fail so they have no personal resources to pick themselves up when they inevitably do. They're used to having every moment of their time programmed and supervised, and when faced with "free time", the only way they know how to amuse themselves is with electronic devices. Our fear culture has paralyzed their parents. Even close neighbors are viewed through the lens of possible child predator. If that's better parenting, then the kids will be just fine. But let's stop arresting parents who disagree.

dreams said...

In a lot of ways, we were luckier than later generations. We had one fat girl in our fifties class of slim to skinny kids. The rest of us in the class were amazed one day to hear her say that she drank six cokes a day whereas the rest of us kids were lucky to maybe have one on a weekend.

Tibore said...

"Young people... seem to have swallowed what he calls “neoliberalism”. Faced with economic crisis, they prefer to put their heads down and push through, rather than try to find collective solutions."

Leave it to an academic to decry individual initiative. Since when has putting your head down and working to better yourself been a bad thing?

Unknown said...

I was a free ranger, hitchhiked when I needed to get somewhere a bike couldn't take me, was gone for 1/2 to full days when school was out. We were aware that bad stuff could happen, never knew of it actually happening and never knew someone it actually happened to; thought of it as urban legends.

I think a key element missing from the article is either increasing danger or more distribution of information to the public about danger. (I'm not sure the world is actually a more dangerous place or if we are just more aware of the danger.) You can't in good conscience let your kids live like that anymore.

Mark said...

A generation of hothouse flowers. What could go wrong?

Andy Krause said...

I think we tend to forget the urban divide. "Free range" is not as attractive in densely populated areas. Growing up in Wooddale, the usual instructions were to get out of the house and be home for dinner. I doubt this works on 55th street.

Brando said...

The trend is moving towards coddling, stifling, and dehumanizing children to the point that they're going to be real weirdos when they grow up. When we're old and living in rest homes, and unable to do much about it, these new adults will be burning civilization to the ground.

That recent case of the mother arrested for letting her 9 year old play in the park alone is an even more egregious example--the state essentially REQUIRING the parent to be a helicopter parent. We are institionalizing this trend and we will all be worse for it.

Anonymous said...

Don't bemoan the loss of independence, contact with nature, and self-reliance free-range kids had.

Instead, let new generations run free inside the new humanism, where the old virtues live-on. During recess, let them read about the social-sciences, discovering themselves and the modern world we're creating.

As they get older and more civilized, let them discover the political economies of the world through the kinds of neo-liberal analysis often found in The Economist.

Thanks, Economist.

LYNNDH said...

Yep, "when I was a Kid" we were out all day, running, moving, getting into things. Exploring. Creating. Doing Things. Active mind, active body. Not a fat one amongst us. Sounds like kids today are controlled and not allowed to think or do for themselves.

EMD said...

I think the reasons listed in the article are BS.

I think every 'youth movement' is an adverse reaction to what came before.

These 'straight-laced' kids are simply doing the opposite of what they've seen happen in their lives and on TV.

As a teen, we lamented our elders youth because they had free love and drugs and we ended up with the AIDS scare (unrealistic but influential) and crack on the streets (again, unrealistic fears given where I grew up) We believed (perhaps wrongly) that we had to be tougher and more serious about our futures.

Anonymous said...

Suburban Feral Child says:

We East Magnolia Street Gangstas, we roll easy. I got a girl, she does my homework for remedial math for me for free, I didn't even have to turn her out or nuthin'. I told her just because she tattooed my name on her neck don't mean I owe her anything or nothing, sometimes I just gotta get on my skateboard and ride. You best walk on the other side of the street, f**ker.

Anonymous said...

Suburban Feral Child says:

My real dad, he comes by sometimes and we hang out at the park and smoke some weed. My real dad, he keeps it real, not like my step-dad who's always askin' me about school and shit. I ain't got time for talkin' about school, I'm just there for the bitches. You best walk on the other side of the street, f**ker.

Gahrie said...

Where are these kids? They sure as hell don't go to my school.

rhhardin said...

Child abuse was discovered in the 60s, and child sexual abuse in the 70s.

Before that they were not public problems, or even named. (Ian Hacking, The Making and Moulding of Child Abuse)

It turned out that child sexual abuse had the best media story legs ever, and fed back over everything.

Not least by being the model for other hysteria stories.

Anonymous said...

Suburban Feral Child says:

My real dad, he lives in a f**k-cool trailer out by the airport, it always smells like Southern Comfort and sex. Just cause you got old don't mean you can't still be a playa. You best walk on the other side of the street, f**ker.

Roughcoat said...

"Come home when the street lights turn on."

That's what our parents told us during the summer months in the 1950s, when I was growing up. Not yet seven years old, playing kick the can with my friends--often in alleys--until after 9:00 pm.

I now realize that kicking us out of our homes (for me it was a crowded apartment) and allowing us to roam free and unsupervised allowed our parents to have their "intimate moments." Hence all those big families in the 50s.

madAsHell said...

It's a crock-o-shit.
There is nothing here that can be verified.
It's all a perception by the author.
....und die Kindern sind in Deutschland.

mccullough said...

In other words, things are improving as the Boomers fade away.

surfed said...

All children should wear protective goggles when they eat in case they stick a fork in their eye. Now leave me alone while I crawl around and play in the back of my hippie van as Deb drives us to our next road trip adventure. No seat belt AND I'm hanging my ass out the window mooning everybody that passes us.

Anonymous said...

Suburban Feral Child says:

My real dad, he says when I turn twenty-one I can come and hang with him at the bar sometimes. He says there's always a woman lookin' for some action, she just may not have many teeth is all. You best walk on the other side of the street, f**ker.

southcentralpa said...

Never mind if they were or were NOT bad parents (emphasis in original) ... cut to the important stuff: did they wear shorts?

Anonymous said...

Sure there were always some good parents/fathers (my grandparents, for example), but today's fathers as a whole are leaps and bounds better than they were. I just can't say enough good things about them.

I knew a LOT of ppl with bad parents in my age group, particularly what would be considered, by today's standards, bad fathers. In those days, they were doing what was expected of them: going to work.

But when they came home, they were domineering and abusive. They were bullies a la George C Scott to the grunt in "Patton" (which I only recently saw this past weekend) or Captain Von Trap in the sound of music BEFORE his transformation. (Why do you think that movie was so popular?)

We did get to roam free more, and thank god, because we needed to get away from the house.

On the possibly negative, but necessary side, today's parents are raising designer kids because you need to so they don't drown in today's economy. They are scheduled, trained, and culturally exposed like little Olympic athletes or tiny nobility from day 1. IMO, this leaves little room for spontaneous groupings and natural bursts of pure American creativity (a la EARLY Silicon Valley, which I find far more inherently creative than today's app-alooza.)

And furthermore, get off my lawn.

David said...

Free range is for good for chicken from Whole Foods, but today's parents prefer their children caged.

We even played baseball games without an umpire or a coach.

Imagine that.

Anonymous said...

Suburban Feral Child says:

My remedial English teacher, she's kinda hot. I think she wants to do me, she just shy like that. Hit that once and - bam! -- no more homework for remedial English. You best walk on the other side of the street, f**ker.

MadisonMan said...

I don't supervise my kids, that much, they're both 18+ now, but it's hard to let go. I'm a worrier.

It would have been even harder if I had made them and their well-being the center of my life/existence and been their "friend" rather than their parent.

They both work pretty hard at their jobs, and are well-liked by some of their peers.

Kids do watch, and learn things by observing. They know what works and what doesn't. Lots of examples out there, of both.

William said...

Given my parents' propensity to screw things up, I'm very grateful that they didn't take much interest in child rearing.

traditionalguy said...

There does seem to be a cycle of generational character types. Each child has certain resources at birth and then develops a set of ways of dealing with the adult's fears among which they must find an acceptance of a role. They then carry that to maturity, procreate and pursue happiness as the cycle comes back.


I blame the generational changes on language encountered on radio, movies, and TV that function as authority figures who define and regulate acceptance. The Church groups also enable a social acceptance process as super grandparents.

Today's kids are being regulated by computer information that make the old sources of authority look useless to them.




Anonymous said...

Suburban Feral Child says:

My step-dad, he says if I don't start taking education serious I'mma gonna end up like my real dad, a deadbeat. He best not keep talkin' about my real dad like that, I'll beat his ass prison-style. My real dad ain't no deadbeat, he's got a pimp-ass trailer. You best walk on the other side of the street, f**ker.

donald said...

I like watching the parents carry the über travel baseball players equipment bags.

Anonymous said...

Get off my lawn Part 2

My mom and I recently went down to walk my old childhood canyons and beach cliffs where we saw a group of unattended kids:

Her: Those kids shouldn't be here without an adult
Me: I dunno. They're pretty old
Her: That one is 8.
Me: He's with his older brother. The older ones in the group look 16.
Her: 13.
Me: I know it's weird because you never see kids unsupervised anymore, but that's old enough.
Her: I wouldn't allow it.
Me: You did. We hiked down here alone at 9 all the time.
Her: I didn't know that.
Me: Yes, you did.
Her: What did you do?
Me: We set fires...
Her:(gasps)
Me:... to cook hot dogs. We knew our Girl Scout fire setting rules. It was fine.
Her: (gasps) See?

But can you imagine that happening today? No. Plus it's a fancy schmancy golf course /resort today, so out of the question.

Real American said...

a generation of spoiled zombies without critical thinking skills or ability to deal with adversity is not a good thing.

John A said...

More polite, or just less interested in ANY interaction outside their circle?

Or even just fewer youngsters?

Heck, even to steal a modern car you have to go to school long enough to make friends with techies who may teach you how to get around the computers and alarms that come as factory equipment. No breaking a door lock with a screwdriver and scraping a couple of stripped wires against each other.

Mugging? Yeah, if someone mugged me the haul would be a prepaid card with about $100 available, and I'd happily give up the PIN. Or use it myself and hand over the cash - and the receipt showing that is all there was. Same with holding up most gas stations, mom-and-pop groceries, etc. - a hundred bucks or less. Which may have been worthwhile in 1955 when it was my dad's pre-tax pay, but not in 2014.

Hagar said...

By today's standards, all of us kids would have been in reform school and/or CYFD protective custody, and all our parents would have been in jail for child neglect and/or abuse.

MaxedOutMama said...

Economic circumstances in one's teen years seem to be very strong influences for adult economic behavior. This is a much more likely explanation for behavior changes in the younger cohort.

I don't think parents were bad parents before. On the whole, I think they were better parents.

Unknown said...

Kids AND parents are made risk averse by media attention to danger. About everything. Parents are gullible, children are indoctrinated.

Anonymous said...

"They supervise homework; attend parents’ evenings; go to prenatal and parenting classes; read blockbusters about child psychology." And they call their college-grad-child's job interviewer to tell them Johnny is really smart, really hardworking, and will do really well if he is given the job.

Poor Johnny never has a chance to grow up.

lgv said...

I thought the title was from an Onion article.

There are already plenty of great comments, so I will STFU, to quote a great legal mind.

We are one generation away from state regulated perfect hard working strait-laced kids, then come the 60's generation all over again seeking freedom!



Freeman Hunt said...

They were not bad parents.

A lot of them weren't. But I think a whole lot of them were. Anytime someone talks about the 50's as though they were the days of ideal family and parenting, I ask, "And how did their kids turn out?" I would describe that time period as an abject failure in the realm of parenting. And I don't for a minute think that most parents were hands off because they valued freedom and self reliance. Sure, there had to be some like that. But most were probably doing it because they were happy to be left alone to do as they pleased.

Bruce Hayden said...

I was definitely a free range kid - in junior high, would ride horseback 10+ miles an afternoon, mostly on the mesa behind the house. We just had to be back, with the horses taken care of by dinner at 6.

And, my kid was just the opposite. Grew up in an era, and culture, where kids are given almost no freedom. Private school, where most of the parents were overzealous. Except for one very prominent rich family with 5 kids, where the kids did run wild, with little supervision.

But, what is interesting to me is how serious so many of those getting out of college are today. My kid is in graduate school, as are most of their high school friends, and many from college. And, those who aren't, are questioned. One kid, growing up by Aspen, went back there after graduation from college, and hasn't found themselves yet. Essentially a ski bum in the winters, and climbing, hiking, etc. in the summers. My kid, expecting everyone in their generation to be serious, questioned this. My response was that my next brother and I did something very similar after graduation. It took maybe 3-4 years before I found myself, meanwhile getting 100+ days a year on skis during that time. Aren't that many people with a free place to live (e.g. parents) that close to Aspen, and esp. knowing many of the people in town. That is the place we all wanted to live and work as ski bums, but couldn't, even back 40+ years ago, due to the costs.

And, the kids aren't aiming at graduate degrees in mostly useless subjects like English, or gender studies, but esp. in STEM, etc. My kid is in a graduate program where the number of PhD students has doubled, and the undergraduates in the department are up by at least half, in the last couple of years. Apparently, they are going to start using entrance exams for the undergraduates, so that those without a facility for math don't waste half their undergraduate years discovering that they don't have the aptitude. And, interestingly, one of the kids from high school was in my kid's TA section last year - they have a BA degree, and now are going back for a STEM BS.

I do worry some about these Millennials, somewhat reacting to the excesses of Gen Y and Gen X. So many of them are so serious about careers and the like. No time to find themselves. For many of them, their lifestyles will not be better than those of their parents. And, the amount of college debt that many are carrying is quite scary.

I do see an opportunity for the Republican party here though. Right now, these young adults still have the bloom of youthful optimism driving them to the left, towards a visions of a socialist Utopia. But, when they mature a bit, and see how much of the fruits of their efforts are skimmed off by the Dems to buy votes from the takers in society, and to pay their crony friends for getting them reelected, I think that the moralism that I see already, questioning the slackers among their generation, is likely to push a lot of them to the right. Why should those who sacrificed and worked hard support the slackers in society? Etc.

The Crack Emcee said...

I said:

Somebody could've predicted it,...

Dust Bunny Queen said...

But most were probably doing it because they were happy to be left alone to do as they pleased.

And so were the kids. Happy to be left alone to play and do as they pleased without omnipresent adults hovering over their every move and every thought.

Matthew Sablan said...

Youthful self-control? That'd be a pleasant change of pace.

The Godfather said...

Mishavior by children used to be "typically punished with violence"? Well if that means spanking, I guess so. Otherwise, no. When and where I grew up parental violence against their kids was neither typical nor generally regarded as acceptable.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Not a very insightful take, I'm afraid.
Let's see, possible confounding factors, off the top of my head:

Fewer children/couple so greater investment in and more intensive care of each child

Larger and more intrusive State restricting freedon generally and effectively disallowing unsupervised activities

Possibility that "unwanted" children would be less intensively parented, and effect of widespread access to abortion reducing number of unwanted kids

Same as above but distinction between demographic groups as opposed to wanted v unwanted - with some demographic groups being less straight-laced and those groups experiencing a disproportionate drop in birth rate

Effect of breakup of traditonal 2-parent family on childhood friend formation/less cohesive and stable neighborhoods/peer groups/etc leading to fewer local outide interactions

There...are probably others.

Sigivald said...

They supervise homework; attend parents’ evenings; go to prenatal and parenting classes; read blockbusters about child psychology.

Has this actually "improved parenting"?

Or is it the upper middle class striving for Parenting Appearances vs. other members of the same, to no great good?

Parenting "involvement" at that sort of level seems a lot more like a status competition than improvement in parenting.

Biff said...

One of the basic problems with "progressives" is that they have to see themselves as different, better, and smarter than whoever came before; often enough, they are none of the above.

Alex said...

Bruce - these young people you talk about are such a tiny % of the voting population as to not matter. The 7-11 Big Gulp demographic is always going to be FAR bigger.

Mike said...

As a guy born in '62 I was also a free ranger as a kid. Would run with the neighborhood kids -- there was always a bunch of school-aged kids out and about then -- until dark in the summer. Some days we'd get on our dirt bikes (we lived only a few houses down from the corner where vineyards stretched up to the foothills of the San Bernardino mountains) in the morning and be up in the hills all day. Other days we'd take our ten-speeds and go across town to hang with our cousins or other church folk.

And to echo others above, yes, the elders in church had freedom to rebuke us or punish us or tattle and we all knew it and it made us appear to be better citizens most of the time. If a teacher called home their word was gold and our geese were cooked. That's just the way it was. Authority figures were held in high esteem and mostly lived up to their reputations.

It was only later in the 1970s when cops would try to gin up trouble -- hoping our parents would do what they were unable to (being in the wrong) under color of the badge -- that my very straightlaced father started taking the Word of The Man with a big grain of salt. Our kids grew up in the mountains and were a little more self-sufficient than my sibling's kids raised in the "city" (hey it's still pretty rural California in the Inland Empire). And with the grandkids, it seemed that "community" had shrunk to mean whatever apartment complex they lived in at the time. They weren't so free range as we had been but they definitely have the adventurous spirit. They just don't have the same capacity for self-entertainment as we did. There's just too much professionally and amateurishly produced entertainment available from so many sources now that they haven't had to rely on themselves to fill their time and imaginations.

Alex said...

Biff - yet these progressives are churning out today's tech giants(Google, Facebook). I'm pretty sure Zuckerberg, Brin and Page come from progressive families. You can't point a single visionary tech CEO that came from a conservative Christian family.

alan markus said...

I come from a time when children roamed free, and it happened because back then parents believed in freedom and self-reliance. They were not bad parents.

Nowadays, that philosophy could get the parents arrested and the kid put in foster care:

Working Mom Arrested for Letting Her 9-Year-Old Play Alone at Park.
A South Carolina woman thought it was better than forcing her kid to sit at McDonald's all day. Now the state has taken custody.


Maybe not the most responsible behavior, but I am not sure that leaving a 9 year old with a cellphone in a busy park justifies this reaction.

In that article, is reference to a woman who was cited for leaving her child in a car for a few minutes:

“Listen,” she said at one point. “Let’s put aside for the moment that by far, the most dangerous thing you did to your child that day was put him in a car and drive someplace with him. About 300 children are injured in traffic accidents every day—and about two die. That’s a real risk. So if you truly wanted to protect your kid, you’d never drive anywhere with him. But let’s put that aside. So you take him, and you get to the store where you need to run in for a minute and you’re faced with a decision. Now, people will say you committed a crime because you put your kid ‘at risk.’ But the truth is, there’s some risk to either decision you make.” She stopped at this point to emphasize, as she does in much of her analysis, how shockingly rare the abduction or injury of children in non-moving, non-overheated vehicles really is. For example, she insists that statistically speaking, it would likely take 750,000 years for a child left alone in a public space to be snatched by a stranger.

“So there is some risk to leaving your kid in a car,” she argues. It might not be statistically meaningful but it’s not nonexistent. The problem is,” she goes on, “there’s some risk to every choice you make. So, say you take the kid inside with you. There’s some risk you’ll both be hit by a crazy driver in the parking lot. There’s some risk someone in the store will go on a shooting spree and shoot your kid. There’s some risk he’ll slip on the ice on the sidewalk outside the store and fracture his skull. There’s some risk no matter what you do. So why is one choice illegal and one is OK? Could it be because the one choice inconveniences you, makes your life a little harder, makes parenting a little harder, gives you a little less time or energy than you would have otherwise had?”

Later on in the conversation, Skenazy boils it down to this. “There’s been this huge cultural shift. We now live in a society where most people believe a child can not be out of your sight for one second, where people think children need constant, total adult supervision. This shift is not rooted in fact. It’s not rooted in any true change. It’s imaginary. It’s rooted in irrational fear.”

Smilin' Jack said...

I come from a time when children roamed free, and it happened because back then parents believed in freedom and self-reliance.

Screw freedom and self-reliance. If it takes Big Brother to keep the little brats off my lawn, so be it.

Howard said...

The now generation is different from the Me generation. Free range is a euphemism for the greatest generation drinking, smoking, partying and philandering. The boomers rebelled and helicoptered. Kids these days!!!! Get OFF MY LAWN

Anonymous said...

I think it sucks that Althouse has to moderate the forums. There ought to be a better way. Like HotAir does it where they only give certain people access during open registration and then take away access from those who don't behave.

But I think its also a testament to her and her blog that she allows so much speech. Even some I consider absolutely deranged.

Thats a good thing. Speech is generally good. I imagine she only edits out speech that is meant to destroy her blog.

NotquiteunBuckley said...

http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_26143481/toddler-mauled-by-pit-bull-commerce-city

Scott M said...

Biff - yet these progressives are churning out today's tech giants(Google, Facebook). I'm pretty sure Zuckerberg, Brin and Page come from progressive families. You can't point a single visionary tech CEO that came from a conservative Christian family.

You're suggesting that Google and Facebook are good things. In the years to come, we may look back and wonder why we were willing to sacrifice so much of our personal time, info, and privacy to such online "tech giants". At that point, the fact that the founders of those concerns came from progressive upbringings might engender a "well, of COURSE they were progressives" response.

T Rellis said...

You can't point a single visionary tech CEO that came from a conservative Christian family.


I can point to one that was attacked by the tolerant " no h8" folks.

Unknown said...

A woman is in jail in S.C for having her kid play in a park (apparently across the street form her house) all day while she worked.