This one will be short, as there are workmen apparently drilling 1,000 tiny holes in the apartment floor above me, then hammering them for good measure, and I'm going to go crazy from the noise if I don't get out of here soon.
But anyway... Time magazine had a fascinating Po Bronson back page essay a few weeks ago pointing out that there are two schools of parenting. There's the Baby Einstein school, and the Barbie school. The Baby Einstein parents get written about a lot in books like Hothouse Kids and the Overachievers. They're the ones allegedly hovering over their precious kids, scheduling every minute, trying to make sure that not one single potential IQ point goes down the drain. But of course, Baby Einstein racked up $200 million in sales last year. Barbie? $3 billion. Barbie represents the vast majority of parents, for whom the question is not whether they're spending too much time with their kids, but whether they're spending enough with both parents working, or in single parent situations. The question is not whether school is too rigorous and the college application process too crazy, but whether school is preparing kids for college at all.
Given the split, why do Hothouse kid parents get all the press? The answer is that journalists who write about parenting issues and education tend to come from the Baby Einstein camp. So it makes sense to them that all parents are seeing their kids get caught up in the AP rat race, the college admission crunch, etc. We all suffer from a bit of myopia from time to time. Now it appears that pediatricians are falling for this line as well (makes sense; they're upper income and highly educated too, just like journalists). The American Academy of Pediatrics released a report the other day calling for more unstructured play time for kids. The message? We need not be super parents, dragging kids to karate, scouts, music lessons, etc. Just playing is fine.
Which is true. But I read the report after re-reading a book called "American Dream" by Jason DeParle about the recent welfare reform bill's effect on a few families. There were some successes. The moms landed reasonable jobs in nursing homes and worked full time, often two shifts to earn some extra cash. But that left the children with hours and hours of unstructured free time after school, the supposed gold standard that the pediatricians are pushing. Trust me, it didn't turn out so well for the children involved.
The truth is, the vast majority of children are not spending their afternoons in karate, scouts and tutoring. And even the ones who are often don't have the 'pushy parent' problem. I heard from one mom recently that her little girl (who's very gifted) was in five after school activities in part because school wasn't challenging her. If the AAP is worried about children's development, meaningful school reform would be a better report topic than the supposed epidemic of super parenting.