American parents are over-paranoid

Helicopter parentIN 1693 the philosopher John Locke warned that children should not be given too much “unwholesome fruit” to eat. Three centuries later, misguided ideas about child-rearing are still rife. Many parents fret that their offspring will die unless ceaselessly watched. In America the law can be equally paranoid. In South Carolina this month Debra Harrell was jailed for letting her nine-year-old daughter play in a park unsupervised. The child, who had a mobile phone and had not been harmed in any way, was briefly taken into custody of the social services.

Ms Harrell’s draconian punishment reflects the rich world’s angst about parenting. By most objective measures, modern parents are far more conscientious than previous generations. Since 1965 labour-saving devices such as washing machines and ready meals have freed eight hours a week for the average American couple, but slightly more than all of that time has been swallowed up by childcare. Dads are far more hands-on than their fathers were, and working mothers spend more time nurturing their sprogs than the housewives of the 1960s did. This works for both sides: children need love and stimulation; and for the parents, reading to a child or playing ball games in the garden is more fulfilling than washing dishes according to the Economist.

The other popular parental fear—that your children might not get into an Ivy League college—is more rational. Academic success matters more than ever before. But beyond a certain point, parenting makes less difference than many parents imagine. Studies in Minnesota and Sweden, for example, found that identical twins grew up equally intelligent whether they were raised together or apart. A study in Colorado found that children adopted and raised by brainy parents ended up no brainier than those adopted by average parents. Genes appear to matter more than upbringing in the jobs market, too. In a big study of Korean children adopted in America, those raised by the richest families grew up to earn no more than those adopted by the poorest families.

This does not mean that parenting is irrelevant. The families who adopt children are carefully screened, so they tend to be warm, capable and middle-class. But the twin and adoption studies indicate that any child given a loving home and adequate stimulation is likely to fulfil her potential. Put another way, better-off parents can afford to relax a bit. Your kids will be fine if you hover over them less and let them frolic in the sun from time to time. You may be happier, too, if you spend the extra time indulging your own hobbies—or sleeping. And if you are less stressed, your children will appreciate it, even if you still make them eat their fruit and vegetables.

One thought on “American parents are over-paranoid

  1. Hello this is kind of of off topic but I was wanting to know if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or
    if you have to manually code with HTML. I’m starting a blog soon but have
    no coding knowledge so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience.
    Any help would be greatly appreciated!

Leave a Reply