Deep-seated Fear

We’re reading Unequal Childhoods by Annette Lareau in my Soc of Ed class. In the book, her grad students and her report on their findings from having carefully studied several middle, working class, and poor families. The vignettes are centered upon each family’s nine or ten year old child.

She contends that middle class parents practice “concerted cultivation” by which she means they consciously supplement their children’s schooling through numerous extracurricular activities. In contrast, working class and poor families aren’t nearly as “child-centered”. Instead, they let their kids informally play with peers and rely upon, what she terms, the “accomplishment of natural growth”.

Lareau argues there are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. I agree with a few of my students who have suggested the best approach is probably something in between.

When reading Lareau I can’t help thinking about the parenting approach L and I have taken over the past 17 years. I think we’ve made a good team which is another way of saying I’m proud of the young women our daughters have become.

But Lareau’s analysis has also got me thinking about my childhood. My parents were middle class when I was 9 or 10, but they took more of an “accomplishment of natural growth” approach than a “concerted cultivation” one. Maybe in part because I was the fourth of four, but I don’t think birth order was as significant a variable as the larger ethos of the time.

Even though the Vietnam War was raging (I iced-skated at Kent State once a week and was surprised to see the downtown burned down on one trip to the rink) and the counter-cultural revolution was in full bloom, parents didn’t feel they had to keep an eye on their children all the time.

I spent my summers biking a mile and a half (clubs on handlebars) on fairly busy roads to the nearby nine hole par-3 golf course and Olympic-sized outdoor pool. One summer my friends and I set up a schedule where I taught golf on M-W-F and they taught swimming and tennis Tu-Th.

I played organized baseball, but everything else was “pick up” in the hood.

Flash forward to a swim-meet conversation I had with a friend last week. The more she talked the more obvious it was that she’s afraid for her daughter. Among other revealing statements, she confessed, “I’m just so glad it’s a closed campus.”

Contrast her with my sissy who let her then 17 year old drive across several states with friends one summer. Throw in a ski boat, cabin, and I think boys for good measure. I remember asking her, “Are you crazy?” To which she replied, “She’s never given me a reason not to trust her.” Trip went off without a hitch.

My guess is my friend is far more typical than my sis.

The question is, why? How much of it has to do with nonstop national media coverage of horrific abductions and/or murders? Unlike my sister, maybe my friend spends her evenings watching those handful of cable television channels that cover (and sensationalize) crime nonstop. Is Nancy Grace to blame?

Negligent parents deserve criticism, but why don’t we challenge the increasing number of overprotective , fearful parents, to consider the costs of their sometimes obvious overcompensating?

2 thoughts on “Deep-seated Fear

  1. Having two young kids, ages 6 and 3, as an older father who was born in 1960, I’ve been rather fascinated by the changes that take place. I think back when we were kids the “natuural” approach was far more common. I know I did a couple of organized things, but if I didn’t like it, my parents didn’t push me. I also started reading later (kids now learn to read in Kindergarten), and academics weren’t quite as important in the early grades. When I was 16 I went backpacking with friends in the blackhills for a week, 350 miles away from home, camping under the stars with no adults along — and that wasn’t seen as a big deal. To be sure, it was a group of males, but my sisters also had considerable freedom. By age 12 I was riding my bike all over Sioux Falls, exploring the town and even heading off on roads out of town.

    I do think its the times that have changed, at least for middle class folk. The 80s ushered in the yuppies, and the sense of having to compete and be on top. It went from the post-Depression post-War “let’s have some normalcy for our kids” to the post-boomer “our kids need to compete and be on top.” Not that everyone thinks that, but such attitudes create a new culture of organized activities and fear not just of abductions, but of kids not being successful (perhaps a selfish fear).

    I also compare notes with friends who teach at nearby “top notch” universities like Colby, and there is a huge difference between students there at those at a more working class “public liberal arts” school like UMF. Our students are in some ways more willing to take direction, more thankful for support and guidance, while the “spoiled” students often (according to anecdotes) see faculty as there to serve them. So I think class and time/era make a big difference.

  2. Nancy Grace is one of the most visible of an army of notorious fear mongers within the Fourth Estate. Fear sells, and these terror peddlers are getting rich as they rip our social fabric with traumatizing images and stories that reduce the moral and intellectual growth of our young people. Society needs a way to shine through the fog of fear with clear and true information about real risks, probability and how to recognize terror purveyors like Nacy Grace. Our kids deserve a chance to live without unreasonable, crippling fear.

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