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The Relentlessness of Modern Parenting (nytimes.com)
124 points by laurex 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 157 comments



I had a so-called free-range childhood. It’s impossible, as only one data point, for me to extrapolate its impact and given the diversity of “free-range” I suspect it’s pretty difficult to link to definitive characteristic traits. That said I do observe certain differences in my character to those of friends who were factory farmed: greater emotional resilience, (despite) greater emotional volatility, worse table manners.

I have children of my own now and I struggle with the idea of letting them roam as I did. Yet I grew up in dangerous times - as an anecdotal aside once whilst on an adventure, I ran into a group of young and armed militia soldiers. As protection, my friend and I were carrying a cow femur (not sure where we acquired it) and a kitchen knife. I guess we were about 10. The militia, who were by the way a different ethnic group to us, could have caused us some serious problems. But instead we hung out with them for a few hours and they let us play with their AK47s. Man, right now I’m even struggling to believe that happened. I’m still friends with my childhood buddy. I’m going to check in with him and see what he remembers.


May I ask: where and when did you grow up? Thanks.

I grew up not too far from south-central Los Angeles, California, in the 1970s and early 1980s, and was shot at on two occasions by gangs.

Raised by my grandparents, I was a full 'free-range' child.

Thanks for your reply.


Southern Africa (although not South Africa). Just before the end of apartheid, everyone was gearing up for a fight and everyone was pretty angry. Two men talked the region off a precipice, Nelson Mandela, literally a prince of peace (he was a prince). And secondly Desmond Tutu. And maybe the humanity of young men like those we encountered, who could just as well shot us. It happened elsewhere and at other times.


It's also possible the impact (however small) of free range children such as yourself, helped the militia men you encountered find their own humanity.


Thank you for pointing that out. It could also have been their free-range childhoods. These soldiers would not have been press-ganged. I’ve read that elsewhere in Africa, child soldiers are forced by older soldiers to commit atrocities together (rape etc) in order to form a sort of perverse bond or espirit de corps which is otherwise not present when you’re forced to be there.


I knew you were going to say South / Southern Africa before I even read your answer. Just the way you described the scenario told me where you were from. Glad everything turned out well for you.


I assumed former Yugoslavia in the 90s.


Also consider the isolation present in the western world. It is a huge factor but kind of invisible because we swim in it.


Do you got the impression they were out to get you, or were you caught in cross fire, or was it more of a "get the fuck away" kind of shooting? Just curious on someone who was there to live it. I just viewed it through the lens of MacGyver episodes from a great distance. :-)


One was a pretty typical (for the time) drive by; someone in my after school youth group wore enough of the wrong color of clothing to catch the eye of the 'other' gang. We just had Saturday game night, and so were walking to Taco Bell for our unofficial after games social. As we stood at a corner waiting for a crosswalk to turn green, two or three gangbangers in a passing car opened fire with fully automatic machine pistols. I don't talk about the results.

Another time I was hanging out near a chain link fence chatting with a couple of friends when some other guys came by on the other side, talking shit. We talked some shit back, and they threatened to come back with a shotgun. We blew them off, ignored them and continued with our chat. Well, one of them did indeed come back with a shotgun. Fortunately the weapon was loaded with bird shot, so we were only slightly injured.

An 'amusing' story:

My grandpa, who raised me, along with my grandma, listened almost nightly to the police frequencies. We heard a helicopter circling above one night (a not uncommon thing), and the cops were talking about chasing an armed suspect on foot. The 'copter was circling one street over. It's easy to tell because their floodlight constantly points to whatever the action point is below.

Suddenly, from outside, we heard a fully automatic rifle fire a long burst. Seconds later, the 'copter reported that they were taking fire, and so were forced to orbit at a higher altitude.

Crime in Southern California in the 1980s was no fucking joke.

When my grandpa passed in 2003 (grandma in 2000), my dad sold that 850 square foot house for something $500k.


I grew up somewhere where many law abiding citizens carry pistols in public. What is your opinion on arming oneself for defense?


My opinion is that it’s good in sparsely populated areas and becomes progressively worse as density increases due to the probability of random altercations getting out of hand.


I consider myself politically and culturally progressive, tempered with a wide but reasonable streak of pragmatic. So enough code phrases: I usually vote Democratic, even though I'm a strong believer in broad rights to bear arms.

(I wasn't going to make this a political response, but it's sneaking in, so here goes.)

To directly answer your question: I generally support the right of most citizens to carry properly registered weapons if they so choose. At the same time, I've read (can't cite them right now) studies that show carrying a weapon greatly increases the chance that a given criminal conflict will escalate to bloodshed. If I recall correctly, it even makes the bearer statistically more likely to be seriously hurt. If accurate, this invalidates the whole reasoning behind "arming oneself for defense". My personal experiences and observations mirror this finding: statistically speaking, it is almost always safer to not carry than it is to carry.

More to the point: I would personally rather be seriously injured in a criminal conflict than remain uninjured if that required me to kill someone.

(In case you haven't noticed, I'm not a fragile snowflake, quite the opposite.)

Of course I'll state the obvious: in both of the incidents I reported above, things would very likely have been worse if any of the people on the receiving end of violence had been armed.

So...why do I support the right to bear arms? It's not really about the 2nd amendment for me. I just tend to default to freedom unless there's a very compelling reason not to.

Guns are here in the United States, and no matter what, they aren't leaving. The only way for gun regulation to have a material impact on gun violence is to somehow get rid of most of them, which isn't going to happen.

There have been and are now many countries with many guns that don't have anything like the levels of violence that we experience in the US.

Guns aren't the fundamental problem. In my opinion, the most fundamental problem we have as a society is that we're extremely afraid. Inappropriately afraid. This problem isn't only in US, but it seems to be especially concentrated here.

There's a million nuances that I must gloss over in order to complete this reply in a reasonable amount of time. I'm very much not emotionally tied to my thoughts on this issue, as so many people are, and I'm quite open having my opinions modified with strong evidence based arguments.


> MacGyver episodes

See my other post for a substantive reply.

I watched MacGyver quite a bit as a teenager, it was fun.

But...how does MacGyver the TV show relate to violence in southern California? Thanks. (:


MacGyver was a volunteer at a boys & girls club in LA (based upon a real club):

http://www.macgyveronline.com/pages/challengers


Yeah, what aidenn0 said. Thanks aidenn0 for finding the exact episode and everything. And thanks for the other answer ... fuuu... that's as you said, no joke.


Out of curiosity, where was this?


South London :-)

[Edit: just joking, see response above]


Response above does not really give an answer as to where. And I could have sort of have believed South London except that I was under the impression that AK-47s are not very prevalent there. :) I was thinking Yugoslavia, some conflict corner of Africa or such things. But could see Detroit too...

edit: found your answer.


Relentless really is a good word to describe it. It is just endlessly time consuming raising kids. I don't even feel like I am doing anything special, just making sure they do their homework, are entertained and safe. By the time their bedtime rolls around I am exhausted. Yet the thought of doing less does not even occur to me as I would see that as short changing my kids whom I care greatly for. I don't do it as some sort of fear of my kids not succeeding in a world with limited resources, I just see it as the natural duty of a parent to do everything I can to ensure my kids get the attention they need.

Just a personal note, I found it irritating that the author felt the need to write “Intensive parenting is a way for especially affluent white mothers to make sure their children are maintaining their advantaged position in society.” I am pretty sure the mothers just want their kids to have the best lives they can, as do all parents regardless of the color of their skin. I don't think they approach it from the view that they are participants in some great racial struggle. Of course they want their kids to do as well or better than them, all parents do, or should. Seemed like a pointless, finger wagging thing to say.


Interesting observation. There is a personal angle, and a group identity one. Some people tend to view personal decisions through the lense of group identity, especially as it pertains to power struggles between groups.

Class struggle was a common point of analysis, and still is, though intersectionality tends to emphasize racial and gender struggles.

For a mainstream news source, The nytimes leans heavily left and often will analyze social phenomena through the framework of group identity and power structures.


I remember the trope about "tiger moms" which was about Asian mothers. I wonder if it's still a thing.


It’s the children of the winners of the meritocracy being crammed into enriching activities on the false premise that it will help their children in the tournament for their generation in both cases.


Why do you think it's a false promise?


Ironically we end up creating a ton of anxiety for kids. And unless we’re giving kids the love and tools needed to process that anxiety, well, then we’re missing the forest for the trees.

I have three kids under five years old, and man it goes fast. My philosophy has evolved to this: they’re their own people, not extensions of our own ego, and in the limited time we have influence over them we can help them develop core habits that will be useful throughout their lives.


"Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bow from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrow may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable."

- The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

I got the above from an HN comment on the topic of raising kids. I noted it in my personal wiki and this changed the way I think about this topic.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=11006199

Gibran's The Prophet was published in 1923 so it is now (2019) in the public domain in the USA.

http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/58585


> they’re their own people, not extensions of our own ego

So true. I feel like a large portion of all the conflict that arises between parents and children stems from a failure to understand this.


>My philosophy has evolved to this: they’re their own people, not extensions of our own ego, and in the limited time we have influence over them we can help them develop core habits that will be useful throughout their lives.

Well said. This is basically the philosophy my wife and I developed for our now 11 year old. The temptation to hover and guide at every step is strong, but our ultimate goal is to release a fully functioning human into the world. We really can't change the core of who he is, but we can help him develop habits that work for him. We need to help him develop the tools, but he needs to succeed and/or fail on his own more and more as he gets older. Our role becomes one of reinforcement and guidance.


How do you do this?


Not the person you replied to, but re: forming good habits: I make a point that instead of saying e.g. "Wow, you're so good at drawing" to my kids, instead I say e.g. "Wow, you're getting so good at drawing because you keep practicing so much! It feels so good to practice and improve!" Works great so far :)


Thanks!


“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.”

I guess especially affluent mother of color don't do this? NYT conflating race and class to divide people again.


Agreed. Affluent mothers feed their kids well too. And give them proper medical care. And live in places safer for kids to grow up. It's actually the reason we try to make more money. Its not a game; we earn so we can live better. That's how its supposed to work.


Perhaps all children should receive good medical care, good food, and safe places to live.


There is some minimum societal level of care that we could attain of course. Enlightened self-interest and whatnot. What is the limit? Are we there yet? Doesn't ever seem to be part of the discussion - just hearing ivory-tower claims that everything is possible and nothing is too much.


Yeah, that's upsetting. If I were paranoid, I'd consider whether it were intentional brainwashing designed to perpetuate the superiority of the white race. Of course, I'm not paranoid, so I don't think it's intentional at all.

But, I do think it may have that unintended effect.


Oh come on. They’re just doing the traditional American thing of dividing everybody into two groups and acting as if that’s all the important diversity politically. Before the groups were white and black. Now they’re black and not black. NYT reporters read Asians as white in every important sense.

http://www2.law.ucla.edu/volokh/asian.htm

> Asians are now white.

> Don't believe me? A recent MSNBC news headline announced a "Plunge in Minority University Enrollment" at the University of California, with UC Berkeley reporting that "minority admissions had declined 61 percent." Actually, the total percentage of racial minority students at Berkeley, Asians included, fell from 57% to 49%. If you exclude the burgeoning group of people who decline to state their race, the minority percentage fell only three percentage points, from 61% to 58%.


I agree. As a former reader of the NYT, it infuriates me how they are portraying different groups in America and playing off the identity game. If the citizens of this country primarily identify as American then the NYT would have nothing to write about /s

The Asian American point is a very interesting thing I too have been following the past few years.


> Oh come on

I'm a little confused. Are you disagreeing with me? If so, I'm still not clear in what way.

Edit: In case my original point wasn't clear, here it is restated. When people talk about "white, affluent people" as some type of special group, when they really just mean affluent people, it connotes that white people are more likely to be affluent, which can become a self-fulfilling prophecy (see: impostor syndrome).

And, yes, white people today are more likely to be affluent for a host of reasons. But I think it does a disservice to all of us to interject that at times when it's completely irrelevant.


I think it's become a meme, something many writers use without considering whether both affluence AND race are significant in a given situation. They often are and so I suspect some people use them together without thinking in situations when they're not.


NYT isn't conflating race and class here, Jessica Calarco is.


You're responsible as a publication for what quotations you choose to run and how they are framed


Key quote: "As the gap between rich and poor increases, the cost of screwing up increases. The fear is they’ll end up on the other side of the divide."

In 1970, failure was a job on the assembly line at Ford in Detroit. Until 1974, the auto companies didn't require a high school diploma. Union job, good pay. Now it's homelessness and drug addiction.


I'm relatively young and have to say that awareness of that increasing gap has significantly influenced some of my life's decision-making. By the time I was coming up, the trend was clear and so factored in goals and plans. I think I've made it to the side of the divide where I'm not at great risk of falling over, but it's unfortunate to see some of my peers who were less informed or less cynical finding themselves on the other side with progressively less opportunity.


So there were no homeless or drug addicts before the 90s?


Overdose deaths have quadrupled since the '90s alone, suicide rates have increased by about 30%, as have alcohol related deaths.


I was interested in this statistic and how it compares to say the 1960's and 70's. If you look without adjusting for population you just get an exponential increase that overwhelms the signal. But the statistics adjusting for population still back up your claim here: https://www.statista.com/statistics/184603/deaths-by-uninten...


There were significantly less before the 80s.


I believe Animats meant academic failure.


Not surprising considering for the past 2-3 generations we've been seeing kids often worse-off than their parents.

Crippling student debt, insane healthcare costs, soaring housing prices in major cities. People are anxious and things are more competitive. All while worker productivity continues to increase with stagnant wages.

If you look at adjusted median household income over the past 20 years its either stayed roughly the same or declined. Median home prices dipped during the recession, but have already outpaced median wage growth again.

We don't want our kids to be subject to this, so we push them to be better than their competition. Being the top 50% isn't often a comfortable life anymore so we're pushing them to squeeze into the top 10-20%.

The wealth gap in this country is squeezing all the joy out of life for every penny its worth.


Look at the graph of spending on children, look at how the lines for the bottom 3 quintiles have gone down since the '80s and '90s. That's very disheartening to see, parents are going to try their hardest to give their kids the best chances, and yet 60% of families have been squeezed by the economy into providing less for their children than previous generations. This despite inflation adjusted per capita GDP nearly doubling since the early '80s. The economy is growing, wealth is being created, but it's being funneled into a tiny portion of the population. For so long "the rich get richer while the poor get poorer" has been a common refrain without being strictly true, but now it's become true.


I don't know that the graph tells this story.

It could be that the very slight decline in spending for the lower quintiles is from getting help that isn't counted (free preschool for example) or from products being more affordable (measuring money is not equivalent to measuring the value gotten) or from more people being able to avoid childcare expenses by being home.

It could be that the major increase in spending for the top quintile is wasted. Maybe the kid wants to own a horse. All sorts electronic things eat up money while delivering little value.


Yeah, you're probably right, I'm sure it's just horse ownership and free preschool rather than income stagnation, exploding debt in the under 35 age bracket (much of it due to student loan burden), and massively increasing housing costs.


Free preschool isn't incredibly widespread, but I wouldn't be surprised if increasing daycare costs are causing more people to drop out of the workforce to care for their kids. It's certainly complex.


My suspicion is that a big part of this is declining family size among all income brackets. The reported numbers are per household rather than per child (excluding households with no children).

Amount spent per child might be flat or even still even be slightly rising for these groups (though obviously nothing like the booming spending of the wealthy).


Well put. I personally would opt out of having a kid if I knew they were going to end up outside of the top 20%. I just don't want that life for them and I'm not sure I can guarantee that they end up in the top percentiles.

> The wealth gap in this country is squeezing all the joy out of life for every penny its worth.

Every capitalist society needs a periodical wealth tax, otherwise the natural accumulation of wealth results in such a gap.


Even if you are a millionaire your kid might end up penniless (cf. Great Depression or any number of squandered fortunes throughout history).

Even if you are are born in a eastern european village you might survive a world war and end up in a comfortable American middle upper class lifestyle).

You can’t guarantee anything in life, all you can do is do your best for your kid and let them fly as well as they can.

And, agreed about the wealth tax :)


Sure but the Great Depression and squandered fortunes are extreme examples. The median in the US is being completely hammered without any extreme circumstance at play.


I don’t think we disagree? My point was just that there is no guaranteeing safety and success for your offspring.


Geometric increase in population does a pretty good job of eroding the accumulation of wealth.


If that were true wealth wouldn't becoming more concentrated. People love to jump to population as an issue, but in most cases it's not a problem. On a global scale there's still more than enough to go around.


Doesn't seem to be the case in this century


It seems the pendulum is starting to swing back as we see the unintended consequences of over parenting. Especially bulldozer parenting. Check out the book, "The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure" for a deep dive into this.

I think it's helpful to look at it this way: The job of a parent is to put themselves out of a job.


I imagine there's a better way to phrase that - i.e. "You're trying to raise an adult, someone with full capacity to make educated decisions, problem solve, improve their skill set, etc. In other words, be fully autonomous and capable." That's much wordier, but I think there's a lot of ambiguity in "putting yourself out of a job." It's a cliche, so it has some meaning to it, but I don't like how it leaves room for interpretation of how you put yourself out of that job. There's a million ways to reach that objective without actually doing a good job as a parent or ending up with a responsible grown up offspring. Least of all, you probably don't want the relationship to end, nor do you want to stop being available if they want emotional support or a little wisdom.


If you wanna know how you can help your children, leave them the fuck alone!

- George Carlin


Are you a parent? You're never out of a job :). I'm 58, my parents are in their 80's, and my daughters are in their 20's, so my opinion in this matter is somewhat informed.


Sure there are aspects of parenting that continue forever, but I’m sure glad my wife and I are both out of the “diaper changing” job. There are hundreds of other parenting “jobs” to work oneself out of, by teaching your kids to manage the world, confidently, by themselves.

I think the larger point may be that some so-called “helicopter parents” might never work towards this, to the detriment of their children’s mental health - and their long-term family relationships.


Well said, thank you.


My wife and I are in our early 50s, and we have one teenage son. Her parents are dead, and mine are in their mid 70s, though my parents had no hand in raising me, my dad's parents did. They are both long passed.

> my opinion in this matter is somewhat informed.

Good deal...and so is mine.

> > The job of a parent is to put themselves out of a job.

> Are you a parent? You're never out of a job :).

Context matters. You and the person you're replying to are talking about different things, and if you didn't realize that, I'd be fairly surprised, given your experience.

The person you're replying to is talking (roughly) about getting their children on their feet and self supporting. You're talking about other kinds of support.


I agree with OP. You do the best you can to put yourself out of a job, then you eventually die, and your family copes.


Then by all means, please share your opinions


I think over-parenting can be disastrous, particularly emotionally. I had what you might call a "strict" father (mother passed away when I was young), but he was never a helicopter parent. My sister and I were always expected to do things well, but we were never handheld along the way. I finished second in my high school class, and everyone always seemed so surprised when I told them that I never had any help with homework or school projects. I was just told to do my best (whatever grade that might result in). And while my dad was probably a little on the overprotective side when it came to safety, the ability to "figure things out" myself helped drastically when I finally went out on my own.

My wife on the other hand... I hate to use the word "coddled", but I am absolutely astounded at how many basic tasks and life skills were never taught to her. She never learned that you can't dump all of your clothes in the washing machine and set it on hot. She never learned that not watering the yard will quickly kill all of the grass. When I was talking about scheduling a prostate exam, she asked if I could schedule hers too, and I had to explain that women don't have prostates (when she was a kid, she was horrified the first time she had her period because no one explained what that was either).

She doesn't want to get a job because she says she won't have enough vacation time for visiting family, so she's currently living off my income (we don't have children). Her brother finished his PhD over a year ago but has not applied to any jobs and lives in the basement playing video games. I love my wife a lot, but it somehow slipped my attention before we got married that her parents failed her in a big way by doing absolutely everything for her and her siblings. It's translated into a lack of basic adult skills, and I often feel like I'm not a husband in the relationship, but a parent. When I eventually have kids of my own, "figure it out yourself" is going to be a common refrain, because "I'll take care of it" apparently results in a disaster.


There's a significant gulf between "I'll take care of it" and "figure it out yourself". I'm not really disagreeing with anything here, to be clear. But I think there's a place for useful instruction too.


This is exactly my wife of 25 years. I felt I had to raise her at times too. Please please be vigilant with your kids. We had huge issues there for a while. talk talk talk :) and good luck


I didn't realize it until I read this article, but this is what keeps me up at night and motivates me to spend so much time and effort on my children. Making sure my kids are successful adults and maintain the economic lifestyle my programming career currently affords them is why I send them to camps all summer long and martial arts classes in the afternoons to improve their focus. It's why my wife and I spent hours working on our son's application to the gifted program recently and stress them out over getting their homework done each night. The future feels uncertain and unstable. My kids need to be prepared for anything.

Are we over-parenting? Absolutely. But if I let my kids go free-range and they have a hard time as adults, the same exact people who accuse us of over-parenting will be right there accusing us of under-parenting. The same childless people who sneer at us for keeping our kids challenged and engaged are the ones who sneer at us when we give the kids an hour of screen time at the end of the day or when one of our children has an age-appropriate temper-tantrum. We parents are damned if we do and damned if we don't.


Counterpoint: There's definitely an argument for letting kids figure some things out on their own. Giving them autonomy helps them mature faster in a number of ways.

If your life is micro managed down to the minute you won't learn the self discipline to do things without an authority figure looming over you.

Learning to solve disputes amicably between each other without requiring an authority figure is very important and helps kids make friends.

Learning to test your own limits and push your own abilities in unsupervised activities will improve their confidence more than in a structured sanitized program where everyone gets participation trophies.

Helicopter parents won't be around forever. I've seen many young adults completely melt down and go off the rails when they leave their home and go to college because they never learned real self discipline. They simply can't handle the vacuum that opens up in their lives without the micromanagement.

Every kid is different though, some need more structure and some need more autonomy to mature into responsible adults.


> I've seen many young adults completely melt down and go off the rails when they leave their home and go to college because they never learned real self discipline.

Absolutely. And it's not a new thing, just different reasons. My dad, who was born in the 1920s, came from a puritan Christian background (Plymouth Brethren). We asked a few friends of his to speak at his funeral, and one talked about how, when he got to university, he discovered he enjoyed alcoholic drinks. However, because control had always come from outside - The Church - he had no internal limits and would regularly drink until he passed out. Even in his later life my mum would need to tug his sleeve during parties when he was starting to go from merry to drunk.

Having said that, it's very difficult to get the sweet spot between giving kids leeway and leaving them open to turning feral. A colleague's kid recently got drawn into a gang and was arrested for credit card fraud despite attentive parenting.


> Learning to solve disputes amicably between each other without requiring an authority figure is very important and helps kids make friends.

Yes yes yes. When you fix everything for them, all they learn is "go talk to whoever is in power when I have a problem." They don't learn proper boundaries, how to negotiate, etc.


On the other side of it, the 3 years older, 50 lbs heavier bully is just teaching them how to be afraid.


[flagged]


Say what? Authoritarian politicians are on the right! Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro isn't a leftist.


GP was deleted so I don't know what it said, but authoritarianism happens both on the right and on the left. [1]

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authoritarianism


Before Obamacare, I had a choice in health insurance providers, and could choose not to buy it. After Obamacare, there is only one insurance provider left in my county, and I am forced to buy it by law.

That's authoritarian.

I'm also paying more than double than before Obamacare.


> My kids need to be prepared for anything.

If by "anything" you mean "any upper middle class knowledge work career."

Let them hang out with some poor kids and get into fights, then they'll really be prepared for anything.


Martial arts is not as good as unstructured play for executive function/focus.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-love-wisdom/2015...

> Our findings offer support for a relationship between the time children spend in less-structured and structured activities and the development of self-directed executive function. When considering our entire participant sample, children who spent more time in less-structured activities displayed better self-directed control, even after controlling for age, verbal ability, and household income. By contrast, children who spent more time in structured activities exhibited poorer self-directed EF, controlling for the same factors.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/articles/200301/the-overb...

> "Middle-class children in America are so overscheduled that they have almost no 'nothing time.' They have no time to call on their own resources and be creative. Creativity is making something out of nothing, and it takes time for that to happen," says Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D., a developmental and clinical psychologist and professor at The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. "In our efforts to produce Renaissance children who are competitive in all areas, we squelch creativity."

> Early-childhood-education specialist Peggy Patten, M.A., agrees and notes that children today have many wonderful opportunities, but they need time to explore things in depth. When they are involved in too many different things, they sacrifice breadth for depth.


Speaking as an over parented child I had a rough time self correcting in college. I have a brain that’s literally hardwired for anxiety and autonomy has driven many of my life decisions.

As a new parent I plan to provide a healthy balance between experiences/activities and boredom/self direction.


> It's why my wife and I spent hours working on our son's application to the gifted program recently

>My kids need to be prepared for anything.

I think your overall approach sounds good. My only concern would to make sure that you're not doing everything for them. Because kids need to learn how to push and strive for stuff by themselves. You can't prepare your kid for everything...


I guess people are different, and my own experiences are by no means generally applicable, but if you had been my parent, I'm convinced that you had me done a massive disservice.

I consider myself to be relatively successful, financially and otherwise. For example, I make significantly north of what you would consider a good salary even in the silicon valley (I do want to retire early), doing an interesting job that very few in the world have the opportunity to do, and have meaningful (and fun!) relationships to people. And I attribute a lot of this to the fact that I was able to be my own person and follow my own activities and passions in my childhood.

My parents were fairly mundane German parents in that they did raise me, set limits, instilled morals, sent me to school and all that, so they were by no means anti-authoritative. But in my free time after school and on weekends for example, I was freely able to choose how to spend my own time. By that I don't mean that I was able to do whatever I want, but that, within the limits of what was considered acceptable behavior by my parents, I was pretty much completely free-ranging.

On my own, I played inside and outside, I met with friends, sometimes I would just play video games for days, sometimes I would watch TV, and sometimes I would lock (not literally) myself in my room for days and tinker with computers or read technical stuff. I grew up discovering the world and having a great social life, with several deep-seated passions on top that shaped the life that I now have in my 30s.

On the other hand, I saw plenty of people growing up for which it was painfully obvious that what they did was out of some sort of obligation instilled by their parents, and it really wasn't a guarantee for success. You are never going to outpace someone who does what they do because they really like to do it, and if you could, to what end?

In my case, I am almost certain that your parenting would have make me hate the interests you force instead of thrive in them. But then I do realize that people are different. Some people, given the free time to do whatever they please, chose it to fill basically all of their life with World of Warcraft, so the correct answer for some person may not be the correct one for another one.

In my case, though, I will take my childhood as a successful model and will make sure that while my child grows up to be a well-adjusted, moral and (sufficiently) disciplined person, they have the ability to grow into their own.


Oh, and just to drive the point home: My wife had a closer experience to what you describe, and "catching up" for a childhood and adolescence that she feels she never had is a significant part of our shared life (and it's a pretty big topic when it comes to parenting for her as well).


Good parenting should feel more like judo than boxing.


Can you expand a bit please? I feel there is some depth here, but I don't grasp it.


> This is the core of the philosophy of judo. Do not waste! Do not waste your mental, physical and spiritual energy on things that do not accomplish your goals. In Judo we try not to waste our energy when trying to throw someone. There is a correct timing and position to executing a throwing technique. If done correctly, the technique will work with almost no strength…like a hot knife through butter. If done incorrectly, then you will find the technique difficult to accomplish and requires a tremendous amount of energy.


This is brilliant, thank you.


Overparenting got me pretty upset with my parents as I got older. My time got so structured and I was shuttled about so much that I felt like I couldn't breathe as I had no personal time and therefore no real agency. When I was home I withdrew to my room and shut the door, as I felt like those few hours at home in my room was the only time I had to myself. I stayed up late, extending those precious hours, and got little sleep as a result. Yet that private time was also to be booked for homework technically, and that suffered as well as it competed with my actual personal interests.

I think good parenting is just stability during the early years, and honest advice for the last few. Beyond the top 10 schools in the country, having decent enough grades and ACT should get you into a pretty decent college to start a pretty good career. By college, you certainly understand what is at stake if you get all Cs versus all As, because you are surrounded by peers and the only way to compete with them is through your own agency and discipline, that's something that took me a while to learn and my grades suffered initially.


I actually just had a conversation with my wife over whether we were over protective. my kids are 7 and under and I don't let them ride bikes on the street without me. Other kids in the neighborhood zoom around all day long without helmets on bikes and scooters and are fine to this point. Many of their parents are also... not great. We agreed that we are probably over protective and that may have a slightly negative effect in regards to their independence but I could never forgive myself if they went out without me one day and did not come back, or got hit by a car.


There were a couple families on my street with kids who disappeared to who knows where when the bank foreclosed their homes, yet these kids were some of my good friends and I had a blast hanging out at their houses. At a certain age, you don't pick up on class, especially if you have kids your age. Accidents can happen at any time, you know. Knowing how I was as a kid, seeing those kids ride freely would only breed contempt.

When I was able to ride my bike well, my dad printed out a street map of our town to give to me and I explored the shit out of everywhere that I could. Naturally, the first thing I did was ride to the municipal pool across town, but it turns out you can't go very far very quickly on a single speed kids bike. That 10-minute car ride to the pool must have been close to an hour on my bike, so I never really rode that far again!


>>> We parents are damned if we do and damned if we don't.

This pressure has always been present, especially for moms. Today it's magnified by social media. If you admit to any uncertainty or weakness, you will be attacked. As a result, people go overboard in the other direction, showing off their perfection and the accomplishments of their (always) gifted children. This in turn makes the rest of us feel like we're failures.

But oddly enough the pressure is inconsistent. If someone's kid flunks out of college or can't get a good job, it's attributed to "bad parenting." But when a bunch of CEO's trigger an economic meltdown, nobody mentions the possibility of "bad parenting."


You shouldn't be worrying about future possible criticism. Claiming that, as parents, you are persecuted is not a good look, because parents aren't exactly an oppressed minority.

Also this: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/annehelenpetersen/mille...


What makes you think that camps and classes are going to be what helps them be prepared for anything?


I think over prepping is bad. It can be suffocating. I think kids needs a few key points at pivotal times, between these they'll probably hover around fine in the herd.


I have a great deal of sympathy for that “damned if do, damned if you don’t” problem that really engaged parents describe, and I feel like I have observed this issue with an outsider perspective. My spouse and I live in SF now (I’m a programmer, she’s an engineer) but we’re not exactly from here in either the geographic or social-economic sense. She grew up in northern Idaho and Montana, I grew up in Alaska. Her parents were military and mine were sort of hippies, and we both had more or less what would now be considered a free-range childhood experience. I think I would have preferred to be raised the way you describe.

I had some pretty seriously bad experiences and set backs that were probably unnecessary, and that I now understand many parents would have intervened to prevent. I would gladly trade being street smart in my twenties for having spent more of my life the way I get to spend it now.

We were moderately more interventionist with my stepson, but he doesn’t want to be an engineer or an academic, and we’re not trying to make him. I think one of the toughest things about parenting late teens/young adults is that whatever experience or skills that I have don’t necessarily have any bearing on their preferences or goals. My parents didn’t really understand what I needed for my career because it wasn’t part of their experience, and I don’t assume I will understand how best to achieve the goals of young people interested in fields that aren’t like mine. I try to figure it out collaboratively, and often refer young people to others who are more experienced in the desired area.

I hear people talking about class in this conversation, in the sense that people might need to be prepared for different things. The things is, you’re starting from where you are, not where someone else is. And who’s goal is it to be downwardly mobile? Who wants to spend their youth learning things the hard way by being isolated, unprepared, and having bad shit happen to them for no reason? A comment down thread remarked that if you “hang out with some poor kids and get into fights, then they'll really be prepared for anything.” This won’t prepare them for “anything”, it will prepare them for fighting with poor kids, and then probably being interfered with by the state.

One of my favorite younger friends had an upbringing more the like the kind you have given your kids. He was home schooled, studied Jujitsu, went to U. Chicago, and last I heard from him, was working in fintech in New York. He once managed a fighting retreat from a gang-initiation/mugging in south Chicago. This after being home schooled in a small university town. That’s certainly better then I could have ever done, no thanks to my free range parenting.

I sometimes have a sensation of class dysphoria. A construction boss once told me: “You’re kind of daydreamer. You should get a job using your mind.” It wasn’t a compliment, and that was my last day on the job. My parents (and most of my grandparents) were college educated professionals of the middle or upper-middle classes. I am now told I look like a convincingly San Francisco programmer shaped object, but I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere. If I drink too much I get a Texas accent. I don’t complain about the cops anymore (my spouse told a black friend I don’t like to deal with cops, and the friend assumed I was black; I’m not). I had to ask what the foie gras was at the office Christmas party. I thought it was cheese.

I have seen a lack of autonomy and initiative in some of the young people I have met here. My spouse recently supervised a high-school intern who had wealthy (even by valley standards, I believe) and very involved parents. She was congenial, intelligent and highly achieving but it seemed to me that she had a peculiar inability to consult her own genuine preferences, or synthesize her own opinions or plans. I find this condition rather alien, and I suspect that it is what people are concerned with when they complain about over parenting. I think it is possible and desirable to provide structure and generous assistance to young adults without telling them what to want out of life. Obviously, this is value statement, and I reservedly respect values differences in this area. The intern’s parents seemed to believe that there are better and worse life goals, and the the correct goals for their daughter to have were to attend an ivy, and then enter a class appropriate engineering or design career. It’s not at all clear to me that if that had done everything the same except for telling her what goals to have, that she would have more natural initiative. Maybe she would have, or maybe she’ll learn that after she already has high status college degree she doesn’t really want. In the worst case, is figuring that out when your 25 really so bad? I guess I’ll never know, but it sure sounds better then what I was doing at that age.


I'm not sure you would have been better off being raised how your parent (hah!) poster described, as you kind of allude to in your last paragraph yourself. Maybe your parents were too laissez-faire and too lenient in how they treated your missteps, but I don't think that means that parents should take control over their children's free time and force activities upon them. You say that you would have preferred your current life over "street smarts", but I'm not sure how the parent poster's style would actually provide that, instead of just depraving children of organic, free-willed social interaction.


>> Maybe your parents were too laissez-faire and too lenient in how they treated your missteps

This isn't quite what I mean. I don't think they should have been stricter, or more authoritarian or punitive (although they were those things at times). Nor do I think this is usually all people mean when they talk about "helicopter parents". Rather, I wish they had been more available to help me when I had problems that were beyond my own interpersonal abilities to solve, or that involved other adults and authority figures that did not have my best interests at heart.

When my stepson had problems in school, I went to the school, talked to the teachers, negotiated on his behalf, nagged him to finish his homework, and even helped him do it. My parents weren't always available that way; they were busy, and I think they kind wrongly assumed that other adults would be sane, fair, and reasonable.

In public school, college admissions, even early jobs that one holds as a minor, there are all sorts of situations that are really difficult to handle as teenager, and I think it's often a good thing when parents help with that kind of stuff. This might sound overbearing or entitled on the part of the parents, but I think it can and should be done, in moderation, with a humble and respectful attitude. Lot's of the authority figures in my life at that age truly did not give a fuck about what happened to me, beyond their own trifling convenience. I needed someone on my side, and that's what I'm talking about.


> It's why my wife and I spent hours working on our son's application to the gifted program

Wow. My parents never bothered with any of that. I did all the college applications myself, my parents never even reviewed them. (went Ivy league)


What is the purpose of your statement? Who said anything about college?


Under-parenting is definitely a thing.


a gifted program only prepares them for being coddled.


Not necessarily, it may just prevent them from being bored. Though I’m prepared to think that’s less likely if the parents did the application.


I am not convinced that with this attitude your kids won’t have a harder time as adults.


Why? I wish my parents would have been a little more hands on with a lot of this type of stuff.


Every child is doomed to repeat the mistake of doing the opposite of the mistake they perceive their parents made with them.


Or, as Philip Larkin jokingly had it:

They f__k you up, your mum and dad / They may not mean to, but they do / They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you.

But they were f__ked up in their turn / By fools in old-style hats and coats, / Who half the time were soppy-stern / And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man. / It deepens like a coastal shelf. / Get out as early as you can, / And don’t have any kids yourself.


So I'm following a more constructive approach: I take what I think went very well from how my parents raised me (which may not even have been conscious on their part).

That the resulting parenting is in some ways almost the polar opposite of OP's approach does not mean that it's the better answer in general, though, but given that my child is likely to have inherited a significant share of my traits, it's probably the better answer for them.


alternatively paraphrasing someone else: there is no point in properly raising kids. they just copy their parents anyways


My kid used to say that until he got to college and realised that his classmates were comparatively less able to figure things out.


Solid anecdata. My parents were fairly hands on, and I had a way easier time in college than most of my classmates.


I think you missed the <irony> tag in the OP.


I'm not convinced it's actually supposed to be ironic.


I'm not convinced everyone here is interpreting the double negatives the same way.


> Intensive parenting is a way for especially affluent white mothers to make sure their children are maintaining their advantaged position in society

Urgh. Really?

I think intensive parenting is an arms race, more or less. I don't know if it "works" but I think it's increasingly common mainly due to a feedback loop of parental anxiety.

I don't think it has a thing to do with race, though.


If only we’d fix structural and societal problems so that parents don’t feel as though they need to undertake a Herculean task to help their child navigate a world with few opportunities and many roadblocks.


The policy we are taking is to have specific expectations, but vast freedom outside of those expectations. We specifically are interested in allowing our child (~2) to have highly unstructured play, within specific limits.

- Child does go to specific play groups, 1-2x/wk. - Child does have to sit still and have a book read to them, several times per day. - Child does have to treat the cat right. - Child does go out to eat with us- and has to behave correctly in the restaurant.

On the other hand, child is supplied with several kinds of blocks, toy buses & trains, dolls, stuffed animals, and other bits for an imaginative play; maybe 70% of child's waking life is undirected play; 10-20% of that is parent by the side.

Child is naturally athletic & enjoys music and we plan to take them to games & orchestra - probably enroll in kid gym?.

The notion we're aiming towards is autonomy & judgement, with adequate exposure to make good decisions. Child will be administratively exposed to many things; but this mass scheduling of life and running hither and yon constantly is for the birds. Child needs to be able to put their feet up and dream languorously, thinking thoughts that aren't poured into them.


Kinder gym followed up by a couple years of artistic gymnastics is a great base for any active kid. They will quickly age out of it (unless they want to seriously compete) but the base skills will help them in their other athletic/active pursuits.

Also, in our experience, individual sports/activities, such as, dance, figure skating, gymnastics seemed to teach [our kids] a lot about personal responsibility. In the individual sports/activities, it seemed their coaches/instructors really made it a point to enforce/promote individual personal responsibility more than team based sports/activities. In hindsight, this is unsurprising, I guess. I say in hindsight, because at the time I was mildly concerned they were missing out on not being interested team sports.

Don't forget clubs too. FIRST Robotics was a big win for my girls.

And most importantly, good modeling by parents and other family.


It's easy to forget that the purpose of parenting and raising children isn't to baby sit them for 18 years, cram them full of "information" and then turn them loose on the world. The purpose is to incrementally transform them from children into adults-in-training into full adults. That necessitates allowing minors responsibility, agency, and autonomy prior to becoming adults, otherwise they will have no experience (and no mastery) of those things when they become adults. And that necessitates risk, because without risk there is no true responsibility, agency, or autonomy. Kids are going to make mistakes, but it's important that they be their mistakes, otherwise they can't learn, they can't have ownership of their lives, they can't grow in their sense of self and in their emotional maturity, they can't acquire resiliency, etc.


"The new trappings of intensive parenting are largely fixtures of white, upper-middle-class American culture, but researchers say the expectations have permeated all corners of society, whether or not parents can achieve them."

We raised two girls in the Pacific Northwest of USA. Many of the families participating in same extra activities as us (e.g, gymnastics, figure skating, dance, ballet, gifted programs, swimming, SAT training) were immigrant families.

We spent a lot of money but the result was worth it and the ride was fun as hell. However, I was raised free-range in a poor single-parent household and that worked out too.


Looking back on my own childhood, I'm skeptical how much anything alleged to "enrich" the children actually made a difference. I recall most of all piano lessons. When I was a kid, every kid had to learn piano. Today, no adult I know ever plays piano; they forgot how because they don't like it and no one wants to hear it because it's boring. I know one serious professional musician. He taught himself guitar for our high school punk band and got super interested in guitar technique.

Now, you could say they learned "discipline" from the piano lessons. But how do we know? I don't see any relationship between who took the most piano and who became a doctor, etc. My view of piano lessons, and other enrichement, is that they are sort of homeopathy for parents' anxiety about their kids' future. Even when there is nothing to do for someone's medical condition, lots of people will turn to quack treatments out of anxiety, and these quack treatments involve a host of immeasurable concepts like "toxins" proposed to imitate the kind of causation we know of for better-known treatments. Same with piano lessons: your parents are too anxious about you to sit on their hands, so they make you practice piano and tell themselves, and each other, that you're learning "focus," some magic property that will stay in your brain one day even when they're not around. I don't buy it. Nobody made their kids take piano because they read a bunch of studies proving it makes your kid choose to go to med school or whatever; they clung to it automatically because they wanted to believe in it.


I didn't start piano until I was about 13, which I gather is relatively late (my parents thought I wouldn't want to go, I was a naughty child; mainly because I was bullied, but that's a different story). The piano was an absolute lifeline for me as a teenager, for catharsis primarily.


Don’t get me wrong. I think the actual activities parents get their kids to do can be wonderful experiences, especially if you undertake them on your own. What I’m skeptical of is that these experiences hydraulically translate into success as adults, which is what the parents are often trying to accomplish.


As a 20 something without kids, my parenting idea would be to just not give them any trauma and let them be their own people


That's like saying that all programmers have to do is make the program and not make any bugs ;)

The how is the important part!


How to draw an owl: a step-by-step buide.

Step 1: Draw two overlapping circles. Step 2: Draw the rest of the fucking owl.


You won't know until you have kids, though the way that you and your spouse were raised will be a good indicator. If you were raised differently, some reconciliation will be needed otherwise control will revert to the more "activist" parent. And having one kid won't tell you what it's like to have two, though your relationships with your siblings may be predictive.

I'm now of the opinion that behavior is driven by genetics to a considerable extent. Self disciplined parents with perfect control of their emotions will have self disciplined kids with perfect control of their emotions. These are also the people for whom all parenting methods work. For everybody else... good luck.


When do you consider a child to be their own person? What about all the years before that?


Day 1. Birth. My experience is they come with personalities from the first day. They just need more help early on. My goal is to mold them into autonomous agents to act. Each kid is on that path. Age is just a number, but I'm shooting to be mostly done by the time each hits 18.


The book "Selfish reasons to have more kids" by Bryan Caplan is a good antidote to this attitude


If the motivation is economic anxiety, then forget piano and soccer practice; enroll the five-year-old in something directly related to making and managing money. I'm only half kidding.


The soccer and piano practice is to get into Harvard.


STEM club?


Its like we are engineering super workers for modern society. At some point, human happiness really needs to come up over trying to maximize production.


responding to a few points raised in the article:

children sleeping with parents is not monitoring them, but it is related to attachment theory (i think that is the term) where children who are very close to the parents in the beginning are actually more independent when they are older.

in other words parents and children sleeping together is enabling free range parenting.

babies sleeping alone in a room instead are more likely to develop anxieties that later make them much more dependent on parental support.

watching TV together with the children is not needed to enhance the learning, but to protect the children from violence and many other things that passes as childrens TV nowadays. (tom and jerry is almost harmless in that regard. i am looking at power rangers and many others that i consider just unacceptable for kids to watch. heck even lion king shocked me when i saw it the first time. the cruelty displayed in that story is not something i want to subject my kids to. i'd rather let them run unsupervised into the forest, where they may stumble and get hurt, but won't be traumatized by an unrealistic and cruel story)


I used to take the city bus for a quarter to the public library in the fourth grade, 2 miles away. My mom's the one who taught me to use the bus. I know it was fourth grade because we moved to another city when I was in the fifth grade. That was in 1988.

My wife would barely let the kids play in the front yard despite us living in signficantly wealthier, lower-crime neighborhoods.


My oldest daughter still claims PTSD from my wife's reaction one time as a ~10yo she was caught playing outside in the cul-de-sac w/o permission while we were not home -- with boys no less. The horror.

I wasn't home, and my wife swears she doesn't remember the incident, though younger sibling has offered corroborating evidence.


I've often wondered if a contributing factor to teen suicides is the parents' effort to remove all hint of failure from their kids' lives. This is possible when they're young, you can do the "everyone's a winner!" thing and it works.

But the kids fail to learn to cope with failure in the small things, and by the time they're a teen the parents can no longer protect them from the consequences of failing. They have learned no coping skills, and cannot handle it.


I'm surprised to not see any reference to "Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials," a well-supported account of the interactions between parenting norms and the economy. In a sentence: there is more and more pressure on parents to train their kids, so they enter the workforce more valuable to employers.


I wonder how this relates to the rate of divorce and general healthiness of today's relationships.


That graph with quintiles is a nice illustration of the 80-20 rule.


As someone in a high cost of living area, I looked jealously at that top quintile on the chart.


It basically validates all those parents’ efforts to get their kids into the top 20%, because otherwise you’re treading water or sinking.


It seems more and more that having kids perpetuates the original Ponzi scheme of life between the young and the old. One that exists via billions of years of evolution producing powerful psychological selective pressures to reproduce.


I believe it is no business of the Government to dictate how we bring up children. Period.


Are you speaking to any particular aspect of government control when it comes to raising a child?

I believe it is the government's place to ensure a bare minimum of responsibility and accountability when it comes to parenting and the welfare of children as it helps provide a benefit to others in society who will undoubtedly interact with this person you're raising as well a protection to the child themselves.


Given that there are 300+ million people in the U.S. and it isn’t feasible for all of them to live off the land it’s good that we organize ourselves into a society. The structure for this organizing is government and society’s wishes are in principle reflected by the laws enacted by government. We all live in communities and it’s in everyone’s interests that certain standards are upheld. Society is right to enforce standards of care.


I think this is an easy and satisfying absolute to declare, but absolutes are often poison.


I believe it is no business of corporations to dictate how we bring up children. Period.


Parents should smoke, kids need sugar, toys bring kids happiness and parents peace.... Lies by thieves.


> I believe it is no business of the Government to dictate how we bring up children. Period.

How do you feel about "lock em in the closet until they are an adult" style?


Very cool.


Fortunately no policy of the US government has ever had an impact on how children are brought up. /s




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