Are You Worrying Too Much about Your Kids?

I'm worried about whether parenting are worrying too much.

I'd love to worry more about it today but I have my own bloated parenting schedule. As much as I'd love to do a longer post on the matter of futile or otherwise unnecessary parental stress my kids are off school yet again and between birthday parties, athletics, laundry, purloining school project supplies for two kids in addition to conjuring up details of our long dead ancestors for one of those assignments, trying to prepare a post for the First Ever Evidence-Based Blog Carnival on Tuesday (topic: preschool) and of course my own share of parental worrying and trust me by middle school there are some real worries, I simply don't have enough time to do this crucial and timely topic right.  So consider this an appetizer, a post on by Alison Gopnik, the Berkeley neuropsychologist and author of The Philosophical Baby, What *Should* We Be Worried About.  Journalist Annie Murphy Paul wrote a post about it on her site, The Brilliant Blog with the apt title Why Affluent Parents Worry About All The Wrong Things.

If the thought of reading one more parenting article stresses you, here's an excerpt from Edge:

Much modern middle-class worry stems from a fundamentally misguided picture of how children develop. It's the picture implicit in the peculiar but now ubiquitous concept of "parenting." As long as there have been homo sapiens there have been parents—human mothers and fathers, and, others as well, have taken special care of children. But the word "parenting" first emerged in America in the twentieth century, and only became common in the 1970s.
This particular word comes with a picture, a vision of how we should understand the relations between grown-ups and children. "To parent" is a goal-directed verb. It describes a job, a kind of work. The goal is to shape your child into a particular kind of adult—smarter or happier or more successful than others. And the idea is that there is some set of strategies or techniques that will accomplish this. So contemporary parents worry endlessly about whether they are using the right techniques and spend millions of dollars on books or programs that are supposed to provide them.
This picture is empirically misguided. "Parenting" worries focus on relatively small variations in what parents and children do —co-sleeping or crying it out, playing with one kind of toy rather than another, more homework or less. There is very little evidence that any of this make much difference to the way that children turn out in the long run. There is even less evidence that there is any magic formula for making one well-loved and financially supported child any smarter or happier or more successful as an adult than another.
So I wonder how much unproductive time affluent Americans spend needlessly worrying about their kids? Gopnik, in an email, told me she didn't know of any data out there.  Would love for someone to do this study.  I bet there are some hints lurking in sociological journals somewhere but let me know if you've seen anything.  I know the "time with kids" studies have been done over and over but I've never seen anything on time worrying - of any quality either necessary or relatively unnecessary.
Get set for The Evidence-Based Blog Carnival! This coming Tuesday, will post details later.


Marana said...

My husband says that I'm such a worry-wart. If the kids are not at home, I want them to report their whereabouts and I would call them by the hour.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

Hi Marana, so how old are they? Driving age? But do you worry about them more than anything else?