The Lost Art of Parenting

I’m annoyed with your child.

It’s fine, I’ll get over it. Also, my kids are probably annoying on account of some lack in their upbringing, and the following is certainly not meant to be a thinly veiled self-congratulation for my superior parenting skills.

To get to the point, my eldest daughter has just begun ‘Grade R’ — a preparatory year before the rigors of Grade 1 — and she has been accepted into one of the better government schools around, full of the best suburban children the Peninsula has to offer. Yesterday was her first ‘show-and-tell’ day, and she decided to take this pretty lilac handbag that she had bought for herself. I thought it was a really good pick — she loves it, she bought it with her own Christmas money from Gran and Gramps, and there’s a little story to it, because she discovered it at a car-boot sale when we were last there.

When she got home, she was incredibly disappointed, because all the children, even her best friend so far, had said that it was a boring thing to bring.

All the items with good ratings were things like skateboards with flames painted on the wheels (OK, so that is a bit cool), and Hannah Montana books. So we grow our kids up rude enough and media-saturated enough and stupid enough to know that they’re supposed to denigrate someone who isn’t ‘cool’ enough to big-ups Hannah Montana for show-and-tell? How exactly did we grow fully developed high-school attitudes in our 5-year-olds?

I’m glad my child is not (yet) straight out of the sickly Disney cookie machine and that she loves things because she loves them, not because she’s supposed to love them. I’m glad that she isn’t trained to be in step with in-group sameness. I really hope that she doesn’t immediately amputate those things that make her her just to fit in. I also hope that she doesn’t go the other way and aim at being different for its own sake, which is, after all, just the other side of that same coin.

Do us all a favour though, parents. How about thinking of one way in which you can ensure that Disney gets a little less of your money today, and one way in which you can stave off early-onset oafishness in your little darlings.

<End Rant>

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9 thoughts on “The Lost Art of Parenting

  1. kloppenmum says:

    Rant read.
    I can’t stand that level of cynicism in an adult let alone a bunch of five year old children. I agree with all you’ve said. I hope your daughter manages to stay a child for as long as she really needs to. What has happened to childhood?

  2. Hephaestion says:

    In spite of an industry churning out books on parenting there is actually very little evidence to indicate that any of it works to change the way that children behave OUTSIDE the home. In The Nurture Assumption, Judith Rich Harris shows that the strategies children develop at home for getting along with their parents and siblings are likely to be useless in the world outside their home, the world in which they are, as adults, to compete.

    The biggest impact that parents make on their children is through their genes, and deciding where to send their children to school. While it may seem that an alcoholic father brings up his child in a way that encourages alcoholism, it is more likely that the child inherits genes that give rise to a predisposition to alcoholism. Similarly, a professor of linguistics may credit the hours of babbling to their infant with the fact that their child is also a linguist of note, again missing the role that inheritance plays. These are examples of “blank-slate” fallacies. In other words, children’s behaviour is often credited to parenting when it is actually more likely due to the parents’ genes.

    The fact is that heredity accounts for roughly half (45%) of the variance in adult personality traits, with the rest mainly due to the broader environment. The environment in which the child must compete (for resources, for mates, etc) has much more of an effect on the child than parenting technique. An example given by Steven Pinker in The Blank Slate is that of accent. Children of recent immigrants quickly, and without any prompting, adopt the accent (and language) of the broader environment and not that of their parents. In agreement with Harris, Pinker observes that “A child’s peer group is a far greater determinant of its development and achievements than parental aspiration.”

    Harris hypothesizes “that children would develop into the same sort of adults if we left them in their homes, their schools, their neighbourhoods, and their cultural or subcultural groups, but switched all the parents around.” The null hypothesis is that “How the parents rear the child has no long-term effects on the child’s personality, intelligence, or mental health.” So far, no evidence has been collected to reject the null hypothesis, making it a wholly sensible, though perhaps counter-intuitive, position.

    Of course, knowing that peer groups matter more than parents gives parents the opportunity to exert more influence over the child by consciously determining the peer group.

    Ultimately, all parents can do is provide their children with love, food, education, shelter and security, and then laugh and cry as they do their own thing.

  3. kloppenmum says:

    In response to the above comment: interestingly, the degree a child feels attached to their parents is indicative of the peers they chose to be with – when they leave the nest. Children tend who get into the ‘wrong’ crowd usually are attracted to them because they have the same level of emotional processing otherwise known as emotional intelligence or maturity. Therefore the ‘wrong’ crowd for the parents is actually the unintended crowd…we didn’t think that’s how we were raising you, but we did all the same.

  4. Mark says:

    Clearly, the parents of these children are failing to instill proper values in their children. One would think that the child of any self-respecting person who lives in Cape Town’s southern suburbs would know by the age of 5 that items bought at flea-markets, “farmers’ markets” and such like are so the IN thing. What do they mean, “not cool”? Media products, such as Hannah Montana, 80s music, TV programmes and the internet, are to be enjoyed in the privacy of one’s home, but one should at all times proclaim the joys of “authentic” and “non-commercial” cultural artifacts. Really … such bad breeding …

    • Jordan Pickering says:

      Totally. Next time anyone gives her lip, I’m going to tell her to throw a hemp-sack-full of organic veg at them.

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