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?