Monday, April 11, 2005

The umbilicus gets severed after birth, remember

Before I lose this link, I wanted to connect to it here. It’s an article about how the current trend in protective parenting is leading to prolonged adolescence and increased anxiety among children.

Because I work with college students, I am particularly interested in this analysis and possible explanation. When I compare advising now with that that I did in the early nineties, the differences are stark.

Many students today seem quite helpless, lacking in self-awareness and wholly unable to make independent decisions. They come to me to solve problems that students a decade ago would have done on their own (e.g. trying to track down a faculty member who is not responding to e-mail). More frightening, they look to me, doe-eyed, to make decisions about their schooling and future: “Should I take Algae or Ornithology?” “Would I be better at law school or public policy grad school?” I have had parents accompany their students to appointments with me where we discuss the merits of one career path over another – and the parents totally directed the discussion. A large minority of my appointment begin “I was talking with my parents and we…” or end with “Well let me talk this over with my parents and get back to you.”

I get so enthusiastic when the rare student says, “my parents want me to do X but I really want to do Y and so I’m just going to do it.” I never would have imagined I would be whole-heartedly endorsing someone’s moving to Nashville to break into the Christian song-writing business. But when that particular student finally came to the conclusion (after MONTHS of directionless spinning), I swear I got misty-eyed. Godspeed!

Seeing these coddled, hand-held students reminds me of how my seven year old son comes back from visits to his best friend’s house with the bottle of water they provided for the trip. Or how my two-and-a-half year old will not be allowed to ride the trikes at preschool unless we provide a helmet for him. Do they know he climbs the six foot step ladder into our tree house unassisted?

Last week I ran into Bookworm and her two older children at the local ice cream shop. While she and I chatted, her son spent some of his allowance on a cone. With his first lick, the entire sphere rolled on to the floor. Everyone stared at it for a minute and then Bookworm calmly said, “Well? What do you want to do? You have two dollars left.” My son looked on in awe as this nine-year-old decided – with disappointment of course – that he was going to use some more of his money to get the pleasure of a cone.

Never mind that the shop replaced his ice cream for free. It was reassuring to see a child asked to choose between two losses (money or food) without a parental offer to make things better. Better still was the equanimity with which this boy faced a situation that would provoke a meltdown out of others. I suspect his advisors will enjoy him ten years down the road.


Blogger T$ said...

I love this post! I completely agree with you and the article. Although I feel it probably comes from a good place,(these parents obviously love their kids) so many parents today are completely undermining their children by coddling them so! They do so much hand holding and cushioning them from the blows that they leave them with no life or coping skills!

1:25 PM  
Blogger Linda said...

Well... I wasn't particularly impressed with the examples and quotes in the first part of the article -- they all seem to imply that for a child to be allowed to hold a parent's hand is in itself the problem. Context is so very key: is the child asking for and receiving reassurance of a secure base from which to develop trust in the world, OR is the parent not allowing the child to have the freedom to take risks of his/her own choosing, and be responsible for them?

It finishes off strong though with excellent points about the micro-management of children. I wonder though why the blame for this is put wholly on the parents, when children from a very young age must spend so much time in an institution where they are not allowed to make more than the most superficial choices about the daily structure and content of their lives, must ask permission to take care of even basic bodily functions, and are judged and scrutinized by those in authority. It seems that even if parents have managed to not infantilize and disempower their kids, our school system may very well begin the process for them.

1:13 PM  
Blogger Julie said...

Great post! That Bookworm sounds like a really cool mom! And what lovely children she obviously has!

Heh heh, just kidding. That article, which I admit I only skimmed part of, seems to have some really good points, though. It drives me crazy how overscheduled some kids are that they can never just play. And I've ranted against attachment parenting elsewhere, so I won't do it again here. But I'm thinking it!!

10:34 PM  
Anonymous Willful Exposé said...

I absolutely agree with your post. (In fact, I did a Technorati search on the PT article to find you.) A good fourth of my blog has been spent ranting about the blatant emotional deficiencies of my classmates and, in particular roommate. If you're interested in this problem, please feel free to check out my "dorm life" category. This isn't shameless promotion--I just think you would enjoy the reading. Everything I have written there is true.
I hope that more and more people continue to speak up on this issue as it is a very important one. In my latest post on the subject, I ask the question, "What will happen in a generation or two? Who will raise the children then?"

10:04 PM  
Anonymous Willful Exposé said...

Oops, I forgot that categories aren't enabled on my sidebar anymore. Here's a link to my dorm life category.

10:13 PM  

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