A Nation of Wimps: The cost of over-parenting
September 25, 2008
Every parent in Aspen should read this book.
I don’t normally make such claims in a book review, so let me back up and explain my bias. Several years ago, when I started teaching at an exclusive private boarding school, I found myself shocked at the numbers of students who had been prescribed medications for issues ranging from depression to attention-deficit disorder.
And I was simultaneously taken aback by certain parental demands ” everything from a parent who wanted me to e-mail her whenever her son received a grade lower than an “A” to one who demanded I write her son a recommendation after I told him I couldn’t (he was failing my class).
Hara Estroff Marano, an editor-at-large for Psychology Today has written what she presents as the first book to connect these two trends: the rise of over-parenting and the fact that today’s children have no coping skills.
The crux of the matter, writes Marano, is this: Children who never learn to deal with problems on their own are not well-equipped to survive in today’s world. If fact, she cites a conversation with an executive who argues that she no longer hires the “fancy kids,” preferring the children of first-generation immigrants instead.
More importantly, she argues, on the basis of scientific studies, that struggle and challenge ” and the opportunity to overcome them ourselves ” are absolutely necessary for deep happiness.
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“Life plus doing something difficult and tolerating the discomfort of the process and the uncertainty of the outcome equals a shot at happiness,” she writes. “It also supplies deeper meaning and identity.”
Why the rise of overparenting now? Marano suggests what she calls “the professionalization of parenthood.” In an argument that may not win her friends among working women ” even if it does ring eerily true ” she argues that in the 1980s women began working for many years before they had children. So when they started child-rearing, they brought their business skills home, hiring consultants to child-proof their homes and ordering business cards for their children.
The problem, says Marano, is that parenting is not a job in which efficiency should be prized. Spending each day on repetitive child-rearing tasks is what convinces children they’re loved, she says.
The good news? Marano’s prescription for reform should only make parents’ lives better, too. Let your children play more ” without structure ” and play more yourself ” without your children.
Admittedly, “A Nation of Wimps,” is a book thick with studies and anecdotal data. And sometimes, as with all argument-based books, Marano appears to be bending all evidence toward her singular point. But personally, it gave me more “ah-ha” moments than anything I’ve read this year.
And I don’t even have children.