Today’s adults are the product of modern parenting

There’s a great episode of South Park where Cartman’s mother gets so fed up with her son’s unruly behaviour she enlists the help of a “dog whisperer”. He basically trains Cartman as he would a dog, zapping him every time he steps or says something out of line. Within a short time Cartman is a perfect little gentleman. However – and this is IMO the real genius of the episode – Cartman’s mother doesn’t like it, because she no longer has anyone to fuss over and dote on: her son is now independent of her. She then undoes all the dog whisperer’s work because her sole reason to exist is leaping in the air whenever her spoiled brat son says “jump”. Without this, she is lost and lonely. Matt Parker and Trey Stone have got modern parenting nailed to a T.

I don’t have kids and no longer get asked why, but back when I did I would flip the question around: why do you have kids? You’d be surprised by how many of the answers were effectively to fill a void in the mother’s life. Quite a few would talk about receiving “unconditional love”, and after a while I’d reply that you can get that from a dog. I was only half joking: if you need unconditional love then you are perhaps better off getting a pet than having a child.

I’ve spent the past decade or so observing my friends and colleagues starting families and raising kids, plus I trawl through online forums such as Mumsnet occasionally, and I try to compare it to my own childhood. The difference is vast. Now I don’t think our household in the 1980s was typical, my parents were old-fashioned and our upbringing was probably more in line with the 1950s or ’60s, and perhaps if I’d seen a more typical childhood my views would be a little different now.

Probably the biggest difference between then and now is that in a lot of modern families the kids run the household. This is by no means universal, but in a lot of cases the kids say something, shout out, or demand something and both adults stop whatever they’re doing to appease the child. This happens every few minutes, hour after hour, day after day. The kids have the adults wrapped around their fingers, and are clearly the ones in charge. A power play has taken place, wills have been tested, and the parents have been found wanting.

I’m fairly sure it wasn’t like this a couple of generations ago. I seem to remember when growing up there were “kids space” and “adult space” and I’m not just talking about physical space. There were conversations between adults that kids knew they were not allowed to intervene in, activities they ought to stay away from, and things they mustn’t touch. Sure, the kids would test these boundaries but they were rigorously enforced, leading to a separation of adult and children’s spheres. If the radio was on and my parents were listening we generally knew not to come in an make a racket. If we did, we’d get a bollocking, not be indulged. Nowadays there is no adults’ world and children’s world: everything is the children’s world, up to and including what is to be watched on TV.

A lot of modern parents seem unwilling or unable to set boundaries, which involves disciplining the kids. I have seen some do this well, some do it half-well, and some just let the kids do as they please. When it comes to disciplining kids, a lot of mothers I see simply can’t do it. They can’t bear to see their kid upset so they don’t maintain the boundary. A typical example is two adults speaking about something important and the kid comes running up:

“MUMMY MUMMY MUMMY! MUMMY MUMMY MUMMY! CAN I PLAY WITH MY LEGO?! MUMMY MUMMY MUMMY! CAN I PLAY WITH MY LEGO?!”

Mummy’s response is: “Listen Toby, we’ve told you not to interrupt when adults are talking. Of course you can play with your Lego, darling! But don’t make a mess!”

Then Toby responds in an excruciatingly whiny voice: “But I can’t find it! I don’t know where it iiiiiiiissssss

A conversation then ensues about where Toby has put his Lego. By the time this is over, the other adult – if he’s me – has wandered off and poured himself a whisky. For all Mummy’s insistence that Toby shouldn’t interrupt adults, she is allowing him to do just that. Multiply this across a hundred different scenarios and Toby clearly has the run of the place.

What Mummy should have said is: “Listen Toby, we’ve told you not to interrupt when adults are talking. Go away!”

But then Toby would have cried and wailed and sniveled and Mummy’s heart would have broken and she’d have caved in, and I’d be off trying to find some whisky anyway. The problem is too many mothers – and an increasing number of fathers – want to be friends with their kids, and think their job is to smother them with love and affection and avoid all instances of them being upset. Their actions seem to be more about getting their kids’ approval and make themselves feel good instead of raising their children to be functioning adults.

It’s not about discipline per se, it’s more about consistency and resolve. I’m not saying parents should whip their kids, but if they’re going to tell them not to do something or give them a bollocking, it needs to be consistent and sustained. I was in a house some years back when a four year old boy hurled a framed photo to the floor. The adults made their shocked faces and said he was a naughty boy and sent him to stand in the corner. Within five minutes he was making faces at the same adults who were laughing with him and calling him cute. Within ten minutes he was eating a chocolate ice cream. What do you think the little brat learned from that episode, then? He should have been sent to his room for two hours minimum, permitted to scream his head off, and given the cold shoulder afterwards. But parents lack the resolve to do it.

One of the things I hear most often is darling Toby is “a fussy eater”. I am relatively certain that this is a modern phenomenon. I didn’t like some of my mother’s cooking but I was hungry so I ate it. I am sure the generations before me, and people in other countries, simply couldn’t give their kids choices. It is not unusual now for mothers to make separate meals for each child because “he just won’t eat it”. I’ve suggested not giving him anything else, and every mother says “Oh, I tried but he screamed and screamed and just wouldn’t eat it.” I bet this went on for all of twenty minutes before she caved in, whereas my mother would have kept me there until bedtime and then had another go with the same stuff the next day. As millions of children in poor households demonstrate every day, kids will eat anything if they’re hungry enough.

Kids refusing to eat are simply testing their parents’ will (unless they are genuinely ill). When a child pushes a plate of “strange” food away and says “I don’t want it!” he’s probably overfed. Guaranteed he’ll be eating chocolate before bedtime, and likely had a packet of crisps an hour previously. When I grew up the whole family ate together, sat at a table. When we’d finished we had to ask permission to leave the table and that was only granted if everything had been eaten. The table was the only place we were allowed to eat, and mealtimes the only occasion. Most households I walk into noadays has a kid walking around the house snacking on something, leaving a trail of detritus behind him.

Now this might all seem like unfair criticism, and I don’t mean it to be. If this is how parents want to raise their kids, good luck to them. I don’t have kids so it’s easy for me to sit and carp from the sidelines, and if I was raising a tribe perhaps I’d be equally guilty. But this is what I have observed, and it’s amazing how defensive people get when I simply describe what I’ve seen (and I fully expect to receive plenty of responses to this along the lines of “Oh but you don’t understand, with my Toby I really did try everything!”) But that isn’t the point of this post either.

Rather, it ties into my previous post about the modern generation being both unwilling to moderate their behaviour and unable to cope with the consequences, such that they demand to be protected from them. They can’t communicate, and nor are they prepared to compromise. They expect immediate delivery of even their most whimsical and petty desires, and the whole world ought to stop and fall over themselves to bring it about. The reaction of so many supposedly functioning adults to the Google Memo – the author of which has now been fired – is ample proof of a society whose young and even not-so-young adults have the mental strength and capacity of infant children. And have a look at this article:

Why Professional Cuddling Is Booming Under Trump

The reasons one seeks out a professional cuddling experience range from average adults seeking connection, those on the autistic spectrum, those healing from sexual trauma, adults dealing with sexual dysfunction or for older virgins to practice touch in a safe environment. The elephant in the room during some of these sessions, though, is the current state of the country’s affairs. Since November – and the election of Donald Trump – professional cuddling services have seen a spike in client interest.

These people are not functioning adults. Of course, every generation thinks the next one is soft and society going to the dogs, but the difference then was the next generation wasn’t wringing its hands and whining about how difficult life was. This isn’t the previous generation complaining about the next, it’s the current generation complaining about the world as they find it.

So whose fault is it? It’s tempting to blame technology, just the same as TV, rock ‘n’ roll, and video games were used to explain why previous generations opted for delinquency. This article seems to think the iPhone is to blame, but as I said in my previous post, I think that’s a symptom rather than a cause: kids are using the iPhone to help cope, rather than a handset making them useless.

I think the fault lies squarely with the changes in parenting. An early sign of this new approach was when parents started shouting at teachers for chastising their brats, rather than clipping the brat himself around the ear for making the teacher yell at him. With both parents now working, perhaps they feel guilty for not spending enough time with their kids and so strive to make every moment “special”. Perhaps households being much wealthier has simply given them the luxury of being run by kids: the family would die if they tried this in a developing country.

Whatever the cause, I feel confident there is a link between children raised in such a way and the propensity of young adults to struggle to cope with the world and hanker for a patriarchal authority to regulate it such that they don’t have to. I’m not necessarily saying modern parenting is wrong, but if people are wondering why so many of today’s adults are rather wet, they might want to look at how they were brought up.

I’ll wrap this up with an anecdote. When I visited Lebanon in 2010 I attended a family party at my host’s house, a small affair so only about 60 people. The women sat at one side of the room and gossiped while drinking wine, the men sat on the other and gossiped while drinking Johnny Walker, and the children played on the floor. Young boys were permitted to join the men, and eat at the adults’ table, around the age of 14 or 15, and it was a big thing for them. They had to demonstrate the maturity to do so, and I saw them sat around with bum-fluff moustaches trying their hardest not to come across as infantile children. Their immaturity was obvious, but their parents and relatives set them expectations as to how to behave “now they were men” and they tried their best. Young boys looked forward to being accepted into the ranks of men, and strived for it.

I can’t help thinking any clash of civilisations will be won by those whose method of raising children produces the most successful adults. At this rate, the West is going to struggle.

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60 thoughts on “Today’s adults are the product of modern parenting

  1. Yup. Yup. Yup.

    I make my kids do stuff. 16 year old is in charge of family laundry. And some of the cooking. Her friends are aghast. She is very grounded.

  2. “With both parents now working, perhaps they feel guilty for not spending enough time with their kids and so strive to make every moment “special”. ”

    I’m starting to think the “two working parent” thing is mostly a bad idea. Now, I know there’s a lot of talk about the cost of mortgages, but it really isn’t all that. Apart from extra childcare costs, hiring cleaners and various clubs to look after kids, working mothers really look after themselves. They replace the old, working car with a new shiny one. They upgrade their wardrobe and handbag. They buy iPhones instead of cheap Androids. They go out for dinner a lot more. They spend more money on exotic holidays. And none of this is doing anything for their kids. My wife teaching my daughter how to sew or taking them to brownie camp does a lot more.

    I also think there’s an interesting boomer/greatest generation split with people. I find people about 10 years older than me obnoxious. They were boomers. They have no sense of responsibility, little pioneering about them. And their kids are awful. The kids of boomers next door to me never washed the car and got a fiver for it like mine. The youngest is a total waster. She has a masters degree in nothing. Barely works. She’s a bright girl and actually quite talented in some craft. But I get the feeling that they never have had conversations with her of either the angle of “so when are you going to get a husband?” or “so, when are you going to make something of your life?”. It’s the same with people who give up jobs to write novels.

  3. As a parent, I didn’t feel like this hit the mark exactly. Lock a child in their room for 2 hours? Really? They’ll just resent you and learn nothing. The best you can do is make sure they know what they did wrong and why, and that this feedback is consistent over the years. This won’t be a miracle cure but odds are they will emerge as functioning and pleasant adults. The worst you can do is try and mollify children by giving them a chocolate to calm them down whenever they cause trouble, without taking the time to point out the problems in their behaviour.

    I’m not convinced that the graduates that enter University now are much more shit than my generation (I graduated about 20 years ago). What I think has changed is that Universities are now molly-coddling them. I don’t know why this has come about, but it is possible that it is a development in progressive thought that has spread like a virus throughout academia. They are doing their students significant harm.

    At Google, again, I think this is just what happens when management hires a group of largely like-minded people then give them a license to engage in unproductive discussions about fake concepts like diversity. I’m not convinced it is a symptom of wider societal problems. The regulators should see this episode as cast iron proof that Google is earning above normal (in the economic textbook sense) profits. Split the company up. Not very libertarian right? If it acts like a state, smells like a state…

    I understand why you might hesitate having a child but it is not a decision I myself regret. You do genuinely feel a ‘new’ emotion towards your child, and they have given my many occasions of pure happiness, which I never felt before. I would also point out that having only one child is much less work than having two or more. Even though I have two, I have a sneaking suspicion that having one is the sweet spot. Admittedly, it is a high risk venture. If the child turns out to be deficient or unwell in some respect, or just unloving, that will take a lot of the pleasure out of it, and also increase the amount of work. You just need to convince her to give up tennis, then go for it.

  4. Lock a child in their room for 2 hours? Really? They’ll just resent you…

    If avoiding resentment is your aim then no, don’t do it. But that’s kind of my point.

    …and learn nothing.

    When it happened to me I learned that if I do it again I’ll spend another 2 hours in my room and if I wanted to avoid that, I’d not do it again. I’m not convinced explanations as to why something is wrong works on young boys, it certainly didn’t on me.

    What I think has changed is that Universities are now molly-coddling them.

    I’d say that’s a symptom, not a cause: they’re demanding to be molly-coddled because that’s all they know. Many graduates in 1996 were shit as well, but I think the rot had already set in by then.

    I’m not convinced it is a symptom of wider societal problems.

    On the contrary, we’ve seen SJW behaviour establish itself in academia, move to the state bodies, and is now in corporations. What’s left?

    I understand why you might hesitate having a child but it is not a decision I myself regret.

    Not that I disbelieve you, but nobody would ever say otherwise.

  5. Food: what you don’t like, leave at the side of your plate. There is nothing else. (The nothing else was not just a disciplinary measure, but a matter of what my parents could afford…. they could not afford to provide alternatives.)

    Elbows off the table; use your knife and fork properly; you can leave the table when everyone is finished.

    ‘Don’t interupt adults.’ No further reasoning or explanation.

    ‘Can’t find anything to play with or do? Would you like to go to bed instead?’

    Discipline: ‘I’ve told you once, I won’t say it again.’

    ‘If you don’t stop that whiney crying, I’ll give you something to cry for.’

    Adults come first; children last. ‘Go outside and play.’

    Working Class… 1950s.

    The rot set in in the ‘anything goes’ 1960s with the Hippie culture turning out parents determined not to subject their kids to the same rigour and discipline as they had had as children. This developed into everyone has Rights, nobody has responsibilities of the 1970s and 1980s so we have now children whose parents and grandparents, political class and teachers have the emotions and maturity of Kevin the teenager.

  6. One great advantage I had from my upbringing was that I never ate a school dinner: I’d cycle home for lunch, or run over the neighbouring pasture if the footing was good. My father would come home too. He was a clever, well informed, and opinionated chap who turned weekday lunches into a running tutorial-cum-debate embellished by the occasional shrewd remark from my mother.

    My, it made university easy. Tutors cowered before me.

    I also had the advantage of my mother’s literary recommendations, most memorably when she advanced into the sitting room one day, held out a Penguin paperback by a corner, and said “bet you can’t finish it”. It was Lady Chatterley’s Lover. How right she was.

    It’s a pity the old boy was reluctant to talk about his war: I knew the outlines but it had been hard work getting much out of him. He did tell me once about seeing Belsen: he never mentioned it again. No bloody wonder.

    Children today? It’s a miracle they’re not worse.

  7. One great advantage I had from my upbringing was that I never ate a school dinner

    I ate lots, and whatever they served up in the Army Cadets too. It was awful, but what choice did I have?

    My, it made university easy.

    Same for me, food wise!

  8. Spot on, I’ve been saying this for years.

    Kids require two things to be happy and to function well – structure and emotional support. If they can only get one of the two then structure is by far the most important.

    You’re going to get a lot of useless parents explaining to you how their particular case is different because of blah blah blah. Whatever, your kids are awful and you’re responsible for it. At least have the decency to hang your useless head in shame.

    Yesterday I had lunch at the Dutch seaside, (it was quite nice which was somewhat of a surprise). Sitting at the table next to us was a grandmother, a mother, and the daughter who was about 10. She sat at the table and quietly engaged with the two adults the entire meal, a smile on her face, and evident enjoyment of the occasion in her expression. She was quite simply beautifully behaved.

    At a certain point she asked to be excused and then ran and played on a sand dune for a little while, just a young girl having fun. Then she returned and had her dessert with her family. It was such a joy to watch. I quietly complemented the mother and her own mother as I was leaving. They beamed with pleasure. I have to say that well behaved and well functioning children like this seem to be much more prevalent here in Holland. Something in the water perhaps?

  9. We’ll have to agree to disagree. Not much that I see as a parent suggests that, in the middle class at least, children are hugely spoilt and expect to have all of their whims satisfied. It could be that this was not true when the current bunch of graduates where being raised (from about 1998). I find it much more likely that what we are seeing at Google and elsewhere is an aspect of the ‘long march through the institutions’ of progressive thought.

    “Not that I disbelieve you, but nobody would ever say otherwise.”

    This isn’t true. I’ve met a couple and there are others where it is obvious that this is the case. As I said, it is objectively a high risk decision to have a child with a large chance of it being a mistake, from a happiness perspective.

  10. John B; I can remember all that from my childhood.

    Which was twenty years later.

    And Tim’s anecdotes are very similar, and I think he’s 8-10 years younger than me.

    There’s definitely something going on, and it smells very bad by now. But my grandparents were blaming hippies 30 years ago, and blaming them, or the boomers, or the CM scum, is too pat an answer to help in giving a solution.

    It’s becoming a tad concerning.

  11. Sitting at the table next to us was a grandmother, a mother, and the daughter who was about 10. She sat at the table and quietly engaged with the two adults the entire meal, a smile on her face, and evident enjoyment of the occasion in her expression. She was quite simply beautifully behaved.

    When I was in Baden Baden in June I met a Russian woman with a 5-year old daughter (the American father/husband wasn’t there). The kid was an absolute delight, impeccably behaved and very polite. I told the mother several times she should be very proud of herself.

  12. Tim, I’d be interested in your observations, as a resident of France, about this. I’ve read interesting things about French parenting–suggesting that they are generally stricter and in essence more traditional in their parenting than Americans or Brits, for instance. My one and only anecdote is about the two wonderful children, now teenagers, of a friend who married a French woman. She’s damned firm with them and always set high expectations, with outstanding results so far.

  13. Gene,

    I haven’t had too much exposure to French kids but from what I’ve seen they seem to be fairly well marshalled by their parents. I have a mate here who is English but married to a French lady and they have two daughters: they’re a handful in some ways as kids are, but they do what they’re told and both parents make the effort to keep them in line. When they have to, they can be strict. Certainly, I’ve got no problem spending time with them. I also know a single mother in Paris with a 6-7 year old daughter, and plenty of families could learn a lot from her about how to manage a household and raise a kid.

    In general, I find the French to be a bit more traditional, more conservative, and less inclined to molly-coddle them than other parents. They certainly know how to sit and behave at a restaurant, anyway.

  14. Nailed it Tim

    I have made the same point to colleagues with children, and they look at me strangely.

    But child centred education has been a total failure and there is no reason to suppose child centred parenting will be any more successful.

  15. My 1950s childhood meal times were supervised by my mother and a severe aunt.
    “You can’t go out to play unless you clear your plate”
    “I’m full. And I don’t like it.”
    “You can’t go out to play unless you clear your plate, as I said. And don’t you realise that there are starving blacky niggers* who would be very grateful for what you are wasting?”
    “Send it to them then! I can’t eat it! Now, I wanna go out to play!!!”
    “Impertinent child! Go to your bedroom – now!”

    *blacky niggers were so called to distinguish them from sand niggers and rice niggers.

  16. “You’ll eat what your given” was a necessity when the food bill was nearly half of household income.

    A mere tenth of the behaviour I see from middle class brats, completely out of control in public places while their parents smile indulgently on, would have earned me a clip. And they are nearly all middle class, but maybe that’s just the places I end up in.

  17. “Starving blacky niggers”

    I think my grandfather favoured “starving xxx”, at least when my grandmother was out of earshot, but can’t really remember what xxx actually was. Wasn’t coons, and I doubt it was spades. Never heard “rice niggers”, did hear “sand niggers” for the first time about ten years later, which was something along the lines of “just call them sand niggers and we’ll know what you mean”. Must have been some sort of Forces connection in the conversation then, but “raghead” seemed to be the preferred term anyway.

    It’s funny, and a bit O/T, but it ties into a post Tim made a couple of days ago, and for all the language used back then, the real hatred was always for Plod. Which Tim has also posted about recently. Curious coincidence, now I think of it.

  18. No one is an expert in parenting, let alone Tim. You take it as it comes.
    First child we were paranoid about so was in and out of A&E like a jack in the box.
    3rd haas never even been to the GP except for the vaccinations.
    As for discipline, I suspect it’s an only child problem. Once you’ve got 2+ just organising means you have to discipline.
    I’m not a believer in chastisement but go in to any supermarket in France and you’ll see some parent whacking a two year old. My house is now full of teenagers (presumably whacked) who seem perfectly normal and know not to raid the fridge without permission.
    Absent Dads? Not sure about this either. Many on military service.
    Were parents better in the old days? That would show that all those new parenting manuals from Dr Spock onwards are total crap.

  19. Anyway, back on topic;

    “A lot of modern parents seem unwilling or unable to set boundaries,”

    and

    “It’s not about discipline per se, it’s more about consistency and resolve”

    Pretty much nails the failure. Harping back to last night’s dog programme, there was a retriever puppy who had to be, literally, dragged round, sometimes on it’s back, it’s walk. The owner had ended up with the behaviour/reward sequence arse about face. Easy to do, we’ve done it ourselves (tho’ not that badly), but it’s really easy to fix, *if* you realise that’s what’s happening. There’s a reason our parents keep saying “Dogs. They’re just like children”.

    Now, back over at TimW’s place last week, I think it was Jim left a comment about people treating much of life as a black box. I think he’s right, and I wonder why. It’s possible that microprocessors appearing in just about anything, that is, domestic automation, have created the expectation of consistent behaviour, and more importantly, that happens with very simple interaction. You just hit the button. Just the once. And this breaks down very badly indeed with dogs and children.

  20. Every now and then, people look back on their childhood and say things like, “How I hated that food [spinach, semolina porridge, giblets, fish, whatever], and my parents would still make me eat it because, you know, it’s good for kids. The memory still makes me cringe.”

    Sure enough, most children will eat anything if hungry enough. So will adults. Faced with starvation, humans will start eating slugs and caterpillars (if available). These are healthy foods – almost pure protein without the murderous cholesterol. I say, give these fussy adults no meat, no fish, no beans, and they will absolutely learn to love slugs. Man, will they adore a good ole caterpillar.

    People are fond of saying, “this is how I was reared and look how well I’ve turned out,” and the way they say it implies causation. The problem is, you can never tell why you’ve turned out they way you have. You’re also likely to be blind to the flaws in your upbringing. My theory of parenting is only slightly more optimistic than Larkin’s – “They fill you with the faults they had // And add some extra, just for you.” There’s probably not much you can do as a parent apart from being a decent person. Try not to set a bad example, try not to hit them where it hurts (you may leave them crippled for life – I don’t mean the body of course), and be patient.

    But if you think you can make a difference after all, and you want to raise a high-IQ, creative, serious but socially adept child, I doubt you should be looking at working-class families for guidance.

  21. As you’ve witnessed, Tim, we have loads of the little fuckers.

    Why? Perm a couple from this list if you want;

    – Far too many stupid people are having lots of kids. It’s time to redress the balance for the species.
    – You are effectively telling your millions (?) of genetic ancestors that their struggle ends here and was in vain.
    – If well-behaved (and as commenters above have pointed out; that’s in your gift to influence) kids are loads of fun.
    – It’s hugely rewarding to teach them something useful or noble and see them put it in action. I’m currently listening to my 10 year old teach chess to my 6 year old.
    – Malthus was wrong and remains so. Everything the modern left told you or inferred about overpopulation was a lie and one only the (apparently) smarter and richer people bought. See also, climate change.

    By the way, there’s a great short free PDF from a 1970s essay which I think any parent with a misbehaving brat should read before it’s too late. I won’t put the link in here, just Google “On the folly of rewarding A and hoping for B”.

  22. “But if you think you can make a difference after all, and you want to raise a high-IQ, creative, serious but socially adept child, I doubt you should be looking at working-class families for guidance.”

    How very curious.

  23. The problem is, you can never tell why you’ve turned out they way you have.

    That’s fair enough, but I’m not quite doing that. I’m looking at the finished product and trying to work out what the hell has gone wrong; looking at their upbringing might be a good place to start. My theory maybe flawed, or even wrong, but I’m tossing it out there for discussion anyway. I’m open to other suggestions.

  24. I think it’s early onset old age, Tim.
    All old people think the world is going to hell in a handcart.
    But the world gets richer, and by and large happier. (anent a few FUs on the way.)

  25. james,

    I addressed that in the post: it’s not the older generation thinking the new one is soft, it’s the current generation telling us they can’t cope.

  26. ” it’s the current generation telling us they can’t cope.”

    But they do. some of them even pay off their student loans. As for the girls, they spin on a dime when they realise their husband is going to be taxed at +40%

    Complaining about the world is as old as the world. Genes do it, probably (according to Dawkins).

    Meanwhile, juvenile truancy and criminality is declining, tenants are a bit wiser, chaps get better paid staight out of uni. There are fewer delinquents despite the government’s effort to make more of them.

  27. Meh.

    The introduction of various types of contraception and the lack of societal expectations vis-a-vis marriage mean that people are no longer forced to have kids, so they have them because they want them. I haven’t seen much evidence that this has long-term effects on my generation (23 years old, by the way), and I don’t see much evidence in this post.

    Beyond this point, I had been doing a big commentary of the entire article, but I’ve scrapped that, in favor of this:

    “I seem to remember when growing up there were “kids space” and “adult space” and I’m not just talking about physical space.”

    I think that me and my family have lacked this separation and it hasn’t really impacted either me or my sister’s success in the long run. I can’t say that it was as easy for my mother as it might have been for yours, but I can say that it made her very happy and made us kids very happy as well. It’s probably true that you can find examples of people going overboard in spoiling their children, but it’s not like you couldn’t already find that throughout history – more like, no one could afford to do it except the wealthy. I honestly think that you have a preference for the culture in which you are raised, which is fine, but I don’t think you’ve made a sufficient case for it being superior, beyond trying to tie it in to cultural trends which are, in all likelihood, not connected to current parenting styles.

  28. I can’t say that it was as easy for my mother as it might have been for yours, but I can say that it made her very happy and made us kids very happy as well.

    I’m glad your mother’s parenting style made her happy, and you too. But I fear you may have missed the point of my post, particularly this bit:

    Their actions seem to be more about getting their kids’ approval and make themselves feel good instead of raising their children to be functioning adults.

    That’s not to say you’re not a functioning adult – I hope you are – but citing your mother’s happiness, or your own, does nothing to support that.

  29. “That’s not to say you’re not a functioning adult – I hope you are – but citing your mother’s happiness, or your own, does nothing to support that.”

    Absolutely! What should support that is the following sentence, which was my previous post:

    “I think that me and my family have lacked this separation and it hasn’t really impacted either me or my sister’s success in the long run.”

    I think there’s probably something to the idea of some parents seeking the approval of their children to the exclusion of their well-being, but I wouldn’t say that’s a widespread phenomenon either. I guess I can’t really speak to it, since all I have is a limited experience and so do you. That said, the trump card I can play here is that most research shows that parenting doesn’t really matter and genes will out, but even if we leave that aside (since I don’t feel like going and getting citations), I don’t think this type of bad parenting is a society-wide problem either.

  30. “I think that me and my family have lacked this separation and it hasn’t really impacted either me or my sister’s success in the long run.”

    Not grammer school then. But I share your basic point.
    Children are happy to be farmed out to nannies and au pairs, up to a time when they really do need to connect to the original DNA.

  31. “They certainly know how to sit and behave at a restaurant, anyway.”

    Glad to hear that’s still the case. Always something that stood out on my trips, how good the children were (compared to the UK) in restaurants. Perhaps because of the total lack of anything like a ‘kid’s meal’ on the menu?

  32. The reality for a parent is that not one of them know what they are doing after they create their first child. They learn from trial and error and future children and this is as true today as it ever has been and always will be.

    The family unit needs a pecking order starting with the alpha male, where guidance is given on what is wrong and what is right. Children dont know the differences between this, they need to be taught and they need to have respect for their elders. How you react to situations in your own life might also affect your children quite strongly. In my view if you can engender dependency and trust in your child then you will have succeeded as a parent.

  33. “Listen Toby, we’ve told you not to interrupt when adults are talking. Go away!”

    Or as they say near me, “What part of ‘fuck off’ don’t you understand?”

  34. That said, the trump card I can play here is that most research shows that parenting doesn’t really matter and genes will out

    I was under the impression absent fathers and/or unstable households were key factors in determining whether a child will go off the rails or not. Whereas kids from awful parents who get adopted into normal households tend to do okay.

  35. From Mr Tim’s comments:

    “I understand why you might hesitate having a child but it is not a decision I myself regret.

    Not that I disbelieve you, but nobody would ever say otherwise.

    Actually, in an online response to what was a disappointment to them in life, one man actually said: kids. His summary of the delight that everyone loves?

    “It was meh.”

  36. Cartman’s mother doesn’t like it, because she no longer has anyone to fuss over and dote on: her son is now independent of her. She then undoes all the dog whisperer’s work because her sole reason to exist is leaping in the air whenever her spoiled brat son says “jump”. Without this, she is lost and lonely.

    That’s pretty much the textbook definition of codependency, and it ties in to my response to Tim and tehy5: the evidence is overwhelming that being raised in a single parent – by which we mean single mother – household regardless of socioeconomic status, culture, region, etc. drastically increases the likelihood of poverty, incarceration, drug addiction, high school dropout, and just about every other societal ill.

    Curiously, although the sample sizes are far too small to be compelling, all of those effects are present but starkly diminished in single father households.

    One final point to tehy5: of course you think there’s been “no impact on you or your sister’s success”. You have no basis for comparison and no longitudinal axis yet, and by the time you do it will be too late. Everyone always thinks they “came out just fine”, even when the converse is transparently obvious.

    (I have a friend, raised by a single mother with three successive husbands, who shacked up in a polyamorous common-law marriage with a woman nearly twenty years his senior and spent near $90,000 on in vitro so she could get pregnant at the age of 50. When I pointed out that all this indicated serious mommy issues, he went apeshit and refused to speak to me for a week.)

  37. Tim

    You are right and wise in this post.

    I think you would make a very good parent, and I urge you to reproduce. The UK – the world – needs people like you.

    I was a reluctant father. We had tried for a child for several years without success. Then in 1985 I had an horrendous road accident – off work for six months and had to learn to walk again. Unfortunately, during those six months, my wife conceived (cue vast ribbing by my work colleagues!). We considered a termination, as I could barely walk; but soon rejected the idea. Fortunately, I recovered completely, despite the pessimistic prognoses. Then my wife gave birth two months prematurely, suffering a massive haemorraghe, and was told she could have no more children.

    All that said, rearing my daughter is the most rewarding thing I have ever done. I found myself living for another very vulnerable person. Yes, we were strict – the TV room had a lock in it, as homework came first; bedtimes were enforced; curfews etc…Yes, it was not without stress and conflict…But the reward is seeing a successful woman (City lawyer) married to a lovely man (a City lawyer, musician, computer programmer), both of whom thank their parents for their firmness. My daughter’s loving gratitude fills my life with a golden glow.

  38. Lots of interesting comments here.

    As a dad of two, I can only really offer personal experience and anecdote on raising kids, and I suspect those data are only of interest to me, and wouldn’t affect anyone else’s views on the subject. I’ll thus refrain on that front, but offer the following.

    Most of the comments here treat kids as a sort of homogenous bunch- like Nissan Micras or something. I think that there’s abig variation from one to the next. Without getting into personal anecdata- both of mine are as different as can be, and what works with one fails with the other.

    On Tim’s diagnosis, I broadly concur- modern parenting does seem to involve more collaboration (in both senses of the word) with the kids, and less (I want to say ‘brutal suppression’…) traditional parenting. I rue this.

    I think that modern parents, of whom Mrs Square is one, need to understand that spare the rod and spoil the child had an absolute point- a bit of discomfort now may well result in a better outcome- like dieting. We are in danger of raising a bunch of metaphorical fatties, who’ve never learned lessons hard and early, emerging from it better people.

    So- confession time: I’d love to raise my kids in a more traditional manner , including proper discipline (or at least, the flavour of discipline I experienced as the eldest of four).

    But, and I’m being honest here, it’s not worth the endless arguments with my wife. What I have noted is, when it’s just me and the naughty one, he’s as good as gold. Presumably because he knows that four years of (postponed) disciplining will land all at once if he puts a foot out of line.

  39. “I was under the impression absent fathers and/or unstable households were key factors in determining whether a child will go off the rails or not. Whereas kids from awful parents who get adopted into normal households tend to do okay.”

    I think it’s just absent fathers (probably also mothers) which do this, though maybe unstable households are a problem too. It’s tough to really dissect this, and I mostly go off of what I hear researchers saying without really looking into it myself. If you want, you can go looking into it yourself, or maybe I will.

    “One final point to tehy5: of course you think there’s been “no impact on you or your sister’s success”. You have no basis for comparison and no longitudinal axis yet, and by the time you do it will be too late. Everyone always thinks they “came out just fine”, even when the converse is transparently obvious.”

    Well, obviously such a belief is entirely subjective and cannot be proven one way or another, especially since it can only really be compared against other theoretical versions of yourself. I’m confident in my success thus far and my ability to keep it up.

  40. I think it’s just absent fathers (probably also mothers) which do this

    That’s not true. I am literally writing a book based on a woman who went off the rails, almost certainly in part due to bad parenting. Both of her parents were around, and paid attention. They were just clueless.

  41. Data please!
    It can’t be hard to measure the number of great English who were in fact raised in single parent households or stepfather households vs greats whose parents both survived perilous times.

  42. I’m looking at the finished product and trying to work out what the hell has gone wrong…

    You’re treating the defenctive product as a new problem, but what’s particularly new about “the propensity of young adults to struggle to cope with the world and hanker for a patriarchal authority to regulate it?” As you say, “these people are not functioning adults,” but there’s a good share of pathetic losers and of people who can’t handle life in every generation. Their self-medication used to be drinking and sometimes fighting and beating the weak.

    What seems to be new is one can be a successful, much-envied well-paid professional and a delusional child at once. But even this isn’t necessarily novel: what if previous generations were simply better at faking maturity? Especially when it was required – when getting called a sissy was an indelible mark of shame, young men would rather get wasted and start a fight to ease their fear and pain. The best would shut up and bear the burden “like men.” Still, in their souls, they would go on “complaining about the world as they find it.” It’s a rather old genre, according to the Book of Job.

    Speaking of the Googlers, there’s no way they can “have the mental strength and capacity of infant children” or “expect immediate delivery of even their most whimsical and petty desires.” Most of them, if I understand correctly, are coders or developers, and hardly the worst ones in the trade. A good coder is a like a good musician: you can’t become one without self-discipline and lots of practice. Plus, it’s a long-distance race. To stay on track, you have to learn patience, prioritization, and delayed gratification. These Googlers could be mature adults in some respects and spoilt kids in others, but it’s a much more complicated picture than merely spoilt kids. It probably has less to do with their upbringing than with the thinking habits of mathematicians, engineers and natural scientists outside their professional realms.

  43. Most of them, if I understand correctly, are coders or developers, and hardly the worst ones in the trade.

    I’d be curious to know how many of those calling in sick, allegedly fearing for their safety, and calling for him to be fired fall into that category.

    It probably has less to do with their upbringing than with the thinking habits of mathematicians, engineers and natural scientists outside their professional realms.

    I reckon I know quite a lot of engineers. None act like that.

  44. I have 4 young ones and no complaints regarding behavior and discipline after some fairly traumatic moments is quite easy. Other children I know seem by and large pretty well behaved too so no idea why many others apparently are not.As for why I had them and what they do for me and my life,well I just wouldn’t know where to start but I do know every second I’m here with them is an experience that beats all that happened to me before and I enjoy mapping out our future as a family and their growth as people.

  45. So- confession time: I’d love to raise my kids in a more traditional manner , including proper discipline (or at least, the flavour of discipline I experienced as the eldest of four).

    But, and I’m being honest here, it’s not worth the endless arguments with my wife.

    Good God almighty.

    A man can no more discipline his children if he cannot first discipline his wife.

  46. @teh5 “I think it’s just absent fathers (probably also mothers) which do this, though maybe unstable households are a problem too.”

    As someone mentioned earlier genes trump patriarchal effectiveness but when parenting is studied in its own right, the fathers relationship with the male child is the most important for the sustainability of the overall family unit. A young mothers son must become the fathers son as a separation process for proper human development in a male to continue successfully. The mothers son in absence of a father and who did not come of rite to be a male will have notions of omnipotence, this son can then become a dysfunctional father and the proper ongoing human development cycle is broken.

    O J Simpson is a classic test tube example of this syndrome.

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