Photo of the day

NYT’s photo essay feature on the Year in Photos is outstanding.  Many more dramatic than this, but I just loved it:

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA, JULY 7

A ballerina at the Mikhailovsky Theater watching the World Cup quarterfinal match between Russia and Croatia.

Anton Vaganov/Reuters

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This Christmas break, spend less time with your kids

Seriously.  Sort of.  Great Claire Cain Miller piece yesterday in the Upshot about the absurd over-parenting that now characterizes upper-middle class households.  I’m surrounded by it, of course, and probably guilty to some modest degree, but I would say the balance of the evidence is pretty clear we are harming our kids and creating excess parental stress– i.e., a lose-lose.  To be clear, spending time with your kids, especially in enriching activities, is great.  But not every moment of a kids day should be micro-manged nor should parents worry that if their kids are out playing in the neighborhood instead of going to an expensive summer camp that their kids will fall behind.  And, in fact, I think the evidence is pretty clear that, on net, helicopter parenting is bad for kids.

To rely on anecdote, my parents loved me a ton and I knew it and they spent quality time with me every single day.  But it was that constancy, not the volume or level of oversight that mattered.  Somehow I achieved pretty good success in life without every doing expensive summer camps and spending absolutely ungodly hours of my childhood watching Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, etc.

Anyway, some of my favorite parts of the article:

Parenthood in the United States has become much more demanding than it used to be.

Over just a couple of generations, parents have greatly increased the amount of time, attention and money they put into raising children. Mothers who juggle jobs outside the home spend just as much timetending their children as stay-at-home mothers did in the 1970s.

The amount of money parents spend on children, which used to peak when they were in high school, is now highest when they are under 6 and over 18 and into their mid-20s…

While this kind of intensive parenting — constantly teaching and monitoring children — has been the norm for upper-middle-class parents since the 1990s, new research shows that people across class divides now consider it the best way to raise children, even if they don’t have the resources to enact it…

“As the gap between rich and poor increases, the cost of screwing up increases,” said Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland who studies families and inequality. “The fear is they’ll end up on the other side of the divide.”

But it also stokes economic anxiety, because even as more parents say they want to raise childrenthis way, it’s the richest ones who are most able to do so.

“Intensive parenting is a way for especially affluent white mothers to make sure their children are maintaining their advantaged position in society,” said Jessica Calarco, a sociologist at Indiana University and author of “Negotiating Opportunities: How the Middle Class Secures Advantages in School.”

For the record, I don’t really buy that last part so much.  I suspect it is far more a basic psychological “keeping up with the Joneses” than an actual fear of one’s kids economic future.  Rather, if all the neighbors are parenting one way, many feel they need to do the same.  It’s just as much about pressure as is what clothes to wear in high school.  Anyways…

The American Academy of Pediatrics promotes the idea that parents should be constantly monitoring and teaching children, even when the science doesn’t give a clear answer about what’s best. It now recommends that babies sleep in parents’ rooms for a year. Children’s television — instead of giving parents the chance to cook dinner or have an adult conversation — is to be “co-viewed” for maximum learning…

Ia new paper, Patrick Ishizuka surveyed a nationally representative group of 3,642 parents about parenting. Regardless of their education, income or race, they said the most hands-on and expensive choices were best. For example, they said children who were bored after school should be enrolled in extracurricular activities, and that parents who were busy should stop their task and draw with their children if asked. [emphasis mine]

“Intensive parenting has really become the dominant cultural model for how children should be raised,” said Mr. Ishizuka, a postdoctoral fellow studying gender and inequality at Cornell.

Ugh.  In fact, I am ignoring my bored daughter right now so I can finish this blog post.  Seriously!  I really enjoy doing stuff with my kids so I do a lot of it.  But I am not here to entertain them.  And this:

Experts agree that investing in children is a positive thing — they benefit from time with their parents, stimulating activities and supportive parenting styles. As low-income parents have increased the time they spend teaching and reading to their children, the readiness gap between kindergarten students from rich and poor families has shrunk. As parental supervision has increased, most serious crimes against children have declined significantly.

But it’s also unclear how much of children’s success is actually determined by parenting.

“It’s still an open question whether it’s the parenting practices themselves that are making the difference, or is it simply growing up with college-educated parents in an environment that’s richer in many dimensions?” said Liana Sayer, a sociologist at the University of Maryland and director of the Time Use Laboratory there. “I don’t think any of these studies so far have been able to answer whether these kids would be doing well as adults regardless, simply because of resources.”

Actually, the question is not that open.  Twin studies make it pretty clear that, within a normal healthy range, parenting styles just don’t matter that much.  And, over-parenting can almost certainly be counter-productive, for children and their over-involved parents:

Psychologists and others have raised alarms about children’s high levels of stress and dependence on their parents, and the need to develop independence, self-reliance and gritResearch has shown that children with hyper-involved parents have more anxiety and less satisfaction with life, and that when children play unsupervised, they build social skills, emotional maturity and executive function.

Parents, particularly mothers, feel stressexhaustion and guilt at the demands of parenting this way, especially while holding a job. American time use diaries show that the time women spend parenting comes at the expense of sleep, time alone with their partners and friends, leisure time and housework. Some pause their careers or choose not to have children. Others, like Ms. Sentilles, live in a state of anxiety. She doesn’t want to hover, she said. But trying to oversee homework, limit screen time and attend to Isaac’s needs, she feels no choice.

Anyway, time to go help by bored daughter figure out one of her new Christmas presents.  We’ll have fun, but then it’s back to letting her entertain herself.

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