Thursday, March 15, 2012

Middle Class American Parents Need to Stop Being Wimps!

Even if one has never been a parent, one learns very early -especially in the teaching venue - that success hinges on control of the class. At any given time if the kids, or students sense weakness they will take advantage. This is why the first few class sessions are always a test of wills. It is the teacher's will vs. the class. You either enjoin them to your purpose or pay the price and it matters not whether they're 10-11 yr. olds or in their late teens.

The same can be said of parenting, perhaps moreso, and we know from many studies (e.g. John Chilton Pearce's 'Evolution's End') that the battle of wills commences much earlier than many parents believe. Chilton and others have indicated, and I've no reason to doubt based on years of observing interactions of young nieces, nephews with parents, caregivers - that it begins as young as two, maybe before. But certainly the test of wills surfaces often at the phase of the "terrible two's"

And so we had the spectacle of 2-year old Natalie Vieau pitching a tormented fit at being strapped into her seat on a Feb. 18 Jet Blue flight - demanding to be seated with mommy instead, see. e.g.

Her determined exercise of will power got her and her family kicked off the flight, with a cost of $2,000 to catch another.

Meanwhile, 11-year old Mark Garrity Shea mustered his own test of will against his mom, Ms. Brucie Jacobs, in 2000, when the two took off for a jaunt in Botswana. Young Mark had always camped in a tent by himself in his home environs of suburban Maryland and insisted he wanted to do likewise in the Okavango bush of Botswana. After all, what young man at the age of eleven wants to sleep with mom? That's the epitome of babyness.

Had this middle class mom thought deeply about it, she'd have realized the pair were not anywhere near a Maryland camp site, but in the of the last real African wilderness areas left, and certainly not to be treated as a zoo. But she didn't and so allowed Mark to be in a tent sleeping by himself.

She only realized her mistake some time later, after midnight, when she heard her son's frantic screams as he was dragged away by a pack of hungry hyenas.

Some lessons are simply learned too late, and way too painful! Had the mom established the parameters of her will many years earlier - maybe as young as when Mark was two (Natalie Vieau's age) - this might never have transpired. Mark would have understood at his mom's initial 'No!' that this is what she meant and it was no use pressing or pushing her to change her mind and let him camp out alone.

But according to studies disclosed in a recent WSJ piece ('A Field Guide to the Middle Class U.S. Family', p. D2, March13), this is the nature of the American middle class now: perpetual wimps - giving in to anything their kiddies want, and worse, sometimes even acting as their slaves.

The study of interest was conducted by researchers at UCLA's Center on Everyday Lives of Families (CELF), and geared to 'in vivo' or real life observation, rather than in labs. The studies, using video cameras to record family interactions in middle class America, Samoa and Peru's Amazon, showed how widely children are treated across cultures.

In Samoa, for example, children serve food to their elders and wait patiently until these elders have had their designated selections and started eating before they eat. They can't come to a table and just lunge or grab at food like many American kids. In Peru's Amazon girls no more than 5 years of age are required to climb trees to harvest papaya, and must also help (along with the boys) to haul logs thicker than their legs to stoke fires.

In other words, these kids aren't waited on, they aren't treated like "pals" and they are not permitted to exercise their own wills other than in limited domains.

Meanwhile, the CELF U.S. videos showed parents doing most of the house work and not asking any kids to help out - even to clean their own room. In one video scene, an 8-year old named "Ben" is shown sprawling out on a couch demanding his dad to untie his shoe, then when he does - to put the shoe back on and tie it up again. The dad complies each time like a trained chimp, whereas the first time I'd have tried a stunt like that with my own dad, he'd have asked: "WHAT did you say?" as he reached for a belt.

Thankfully, even this wimpy LA dad eventually reached his limit of being pushed when the kid then demanded the dad bring him his coat from the closet and the dad responded, "Get it yourself!" Wow! Rough, tough and hard to diaper, there!

The CELF videos trained on middle class American families also revealed that in 75% of the families, mother "gyrate around the house" - bouncing between kids, their homework, groceries, dinner and laundry. Is it any wonder so many American married women are totally neurotic and more than 70% can't get a decent night's sleep without a pill? Cripes!

And what about the kids in all this? You know, the same ones who at age 5 in Peru would be harvesting papaya by climbing trees and who in Samoa would be cooking AND serving the food to their elders? According to Dr Elinor Ochs, the anthropologist in charge of the CELF study (ibid.):

"The kids are oblivious to their parents' perspectives"

In doing their cross-cultural analyses the CELF researchers concluded the reason for this state of affairs was for the tendency in U.S. society to focus on children, rather than teaching children to focus on others.

In other words, American middle class parents appear to be raising a bumper crop of narcissists and egomaniacs. And the likely outcome from them when they will, at some point - have to acknowledge another's will (even if it's just a demanding, no-nonsense physics teacher)? Well, either prison for antisocial behavior, or more likely, a borderline personality disorder which will follow them through life with endless altercations, job firings, divorces ....whatnot.

What I found most interesting was the primary reason parents offered for not making demands on their kids: "It's just too much trouble, it's easier to do it ourselves"!

Really! Well, just bear in mind that you were warned ...when those egotistic little bastards come hurling themselves right back in your arms at age thirty-plus and demanding you do everything for them but change their nappies!

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