Two big parenting stories have hit national headlines in the last two weeks. One, “Why French Parents are Superior” was published in the Wall Street Journal. Author Pamela Druckerman extolled the parenting virtues of the French, that avoiding tantrums, saying ‘no’ with authority, and teaching children patience was what was needed to set American parents back on the track.
On the other side of the spectrum, Tommy Jordan took some shotgun justice to his daughter’s laptop after she made a “disrepectful post” on Facebook. Jordan posted the video to YouTube and by the next morning, some 21 million people have viewed it.
As you can imagine, views on each story are mixed. Many Americans don’t even like hearing the French are better at something than us, while others wish that France would come occupy the US. Similarly, manyparents think that Jordan’s daughter got a dose of the right medicine, while others screamed child abuse.
But no matter where on the spectrum the response fell, all conversation seemed to revolve around a common topic: are Americans parenting their children correctly?
It’s not a new topic. There are literally hundreds of parenting methods out there. All have been scrutinized, and many parents subscribe to any number of them. But are “methods” really anything of the sort? Aren’t methods, really, just a result of social environment? The “French” method at best is nothing more than a reflection of its society. It’s not as if the French hand out a parenting book to all new parents and say, “this is how you will parent your child.”
Similarly, “American Parenting” is nothing more than a reflection of its society. America, on the whole, is more eclectic, and frankly, less top-down than French society. France is an old society. And while maybe less formally now than previous, it still has an oligarchical structure. Personal mystery is cherished. And silence seems to be more appreciated.
On the other hand, there seems to be a sentiment, even among Americans, that American parents are too permissive with their children, not stern enough, and raising children who “don’t respect”. Perhaps this, then, helps shed some light on the 73% of Americans who (albeit unscientifically) agreed with Jordan’s method of taking a shotgun to his daughter’s laptop. Jordan said, “If I did something embarrassing to my parents in public (such as a grocery store) I got my tail tore up right there in front of God and everyone, right there in the store. I put the reprisal in exactly the same medium she did, in the exact same manner.” Parents overwhelmingly agreed with him, saying it’s time that “someone stood up to these spoiled kids.” Many others were critical of our society’s tendency to involve ourselves too much in our childrens’ lives and therefore offer them too much leniency without corresponding discipline.
And perhaps that’s true. I work in higher ed. “Helicopter parent” is an extreme I deal with on a regular basis. But there are–at the same time–children who get ignored by their parents, who lack any basic parenting. And perhaps the best answer is the simplest, that there’s some middle ground there. Maybe, just maybe there’s a method of getting through to children of the post-millennials that’s more than being completely permissive and taking a shotgun to a laptop–without necessarily becoming French.
One of the quickest things I learned about parenting was that parenting guides are just that, guides. I’ve yet to meet a newborn that knows how to conform to a manual. Parenting is combination of understanding things that contribute to a healthy upbringing and adjusting them to fit the needs of your child.
And as much as it may be hard to realize, our children are being raised in a different society than we likely were. Complaining about your parents used to be something you did to your friends over the phone or in person. If Terry Jordan caught his daughter being disrespectful in 1995, he still could have taken the phone out back and fired buckshot into it. But it’s unlikely he could have had 20 million people watch him do it by the next morning. And perhaps it is there where reality exists: that parents and children often have to learn to navigate society together. Maybe we’re not raising “spoiled brats”, but simply children that have access to things that we didn’t. We parents like to think that our children have it easy. That they didn’t have to worry about this or that, and the world they live in makes it so easy for them. But couldn’t it also be overwhelming? For a teenager, Facebook serves as a way to connect more easily to others, to broadcast their lives in ways we weren’t able to do. But when they do something like every teenager does–complain about their parents–their parents ultimately find out about it, too.
Maybe the happy medium, then, is an understanding that our children–and therefore our parenting–are products of society. A progressing society. And one that might be best served with children and parent as partners. I was raised in a family where I got to steer my own ship. But my parents were the captain and navigator. They helped me keep it between the buoys. And the result was a self-dependence supported by parents who would never let me run ashore.