November 24, 2008

DT Freakout Monday? The New Yorker Looks At Overparenting

So you want to prep yourself for Thanksgiving table discussions of the Overparenting Crisis, but, what with the baby yoga and Mandarin playgroups, you don't have time? No problem. Joan Acocella has summed it all up for you in this week's New Yorker magazine. She compiles the shocking findings from both books by leading academics and NY Times trend pieces.

Brain plasticity and the 0-3yo overstimulation industry? "A scandal." Baby Einstein and the infant video market? "A scam." "You should hear Honoré on the subject of today's high-end birthday parties." Too much self-esteem? "Every doodle ends up on the fridge door."

Nine percent of DC students getting time limits waived on their SATs? Their higher scores were "sent out to colleges, with no notice of the dispensation." Overparents tracking kids with GPS-enabled cell phones and buying second homes in their kid's college town? The inevitable result of parents who aren't satisfied with the "foremost technological adjunct of overparenting." Ivy League application consultation? "forty thousand dollars," italics in the original. And on and on.

Until the last paragraph, where she literally dismisses the entire Overparenting trend as just another example of a much larger trend. "For the past three decades, Mintz writes, discussions of child-rearing in the United States have been dominated by a 'discourse of crisis,' and yet America's youth are now, on average, 'bigger, richer, better educated, and healthier than at any other time in history.'"

Which is fine, if your goal is population-level research. But most parents who read the New Yorker--or who buy overparenting books--are not seeking to raise average kids.

BOOKS | The Child Trap | The rise of overparenting. [newyorker]


Yes, bigger children is certainly a wonderful development.

Not only that, but the population research is missing a few key stats such as: stress levels for the average child today are higher than those of kids in psychiatric care in the 1950s, or that anxiety and depression are on the rise, fastest growing group-- young children.

I don't want to jump on the bandwagon attacking helicopter parents. I think they are as much a symptom of the larger culture as a cause of these problems. My goal as a child psychologist is to teach these parents how to manage their own anxiety (usually about failure) and foster resilience in their kids. My new book, Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking: Powerful, Practical Strategies to Build a Lifetime of Resilience, Flexibility and Happiness does just that. I devote an entire chapter to the topic of teaching kids how to manage failure, disappointment, losing and jealousy. Parents learn right along the way with kids that these events needn't be avoided like the plague, but rather are necessary stops on the road to success. To see an excerpt, please go to

Is there a bandwagon attacking helicopter parents? I thought there was just a group of us snickering at their eccentricities. Which is kind of fun.

Plus who cares about whether the research supports buying a second home at your kid's college town? The craptastic economy will do more to put a dent in this outrageous and pretentious parental behavior than the work of an army of well-credentialed child psychologists. Hey, a bright side to our current fiscal woes!

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