Tuesday, June 09, 2009

All Grown Up at 18

The Furstenberg Conference consisted mostly of demographers reporting on big numbers. One exception was Annette Lareau, who followed up on the children in her ethnographic study, Unequal Childhoods. She had found that working class and poor parents fed, clothed, sheltered their kids, made sure they went to school - then let them pick what they did with their time. She called this the "natural growth" approach. Middle class parents, by contrast, mobilized all the resources they could to develop the individual talents of each child, a method she called "concerted cultivation."

When she revisited the children as they got into their twenties, she found the next step of the two patterns of childrearing. At 18 the working class and poor kids were on their own. Even if they thought the kids were making mistakes, their parents did not think it was their place to step in. The middle class parents, on the other hand, continued to be deeply involved in helping their kids organize their lives, often in ways that were invisible to the children. These are the "helicopter parents," hovering over their children, who have become well known to college administrators.

Which contributed to a further difference. Both sets of parents knew that their children would be better off going to college. Most of the middle class kids got there, with parental help. Most of the working class and poor kids did not, even when they tried. The parents did not think they could, or should, push their kids to push through the inevitable roadblocks of college life. At 18, their kids were all grown up.

5 comments:

LMR said...

As I read your post, I was reminded of this article http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/31/magazine/31wwln-lede-t.html?scp=12&sq=&st=nyt , which indicates that the era of "helicopter parenting" may be over, and that maybe this isn't a bad thing. It isn't the first article I've read advocating a return to a less structured childhood with more time for free play and fewer lessons/practices.

Is it worth considering that the circumstances and worldview that determine the level of parental involvement is more important in determining whether or not a child goes to college rather than the level of parental involvement itself?

paul said...

I feel like this is one reason why college is so important for middle class kids. It gives them a nice middle ground to prepare for "real life" as they are not on their own per se (someone is providing the same basic needs that lower class parents do, namely food and shelter) but they are away from the obsessive control of their sometimes overreaching parents, especially if they go away to school. This allows them to begin making their own decisions (will I drink all night or study for my physics test?) and suffer consequences that their parents may have protected them from in the past.

As usual, I think the right thing is somewhere in the middle. It is always good for parents to do everything they can to help their children succeed, but at the same time as children mature the apron strings should be loosened and they should be allowed to make more decisions (and by default accept more consequences) on their own.

paul said...

As a side note, the more I'm on my own the more I'm becoming a "helicopter child," constantly at my mom's house or calling my dad and asking, "so what do I do now?" Which is a good thing I think. Even better is that there's no expectation that I HAVE to take their advice. This is beneficial to both sides.

Anonymous said...

G, any word from Lareau on when these updates might be published?

Carla E.

Gruntled said...

Alas, not only did she not say when her new result would be published, she did not say if they would. I will keep an eye out.