What are your thoughts on the recent Atlantic article about intensive parenting (by Nate Hilger). How reliable are the studies he cites?—Hannah
This article — with its title “Stop Pretending That Intensive Parenting Doesn’t Work” — provoked a lot of feelings. It’s easy to read that title and take away “I’m not doing enough!” Which, to be fair, wasn’t entirely offset by the text.
This piece delves into the same literature that I write about in The Family Firm (if you have the book: it’s the chapter called “Helicopter, Tiger, Chicken, Ostrich”). This is a literature about parenting philosophy, which focuses in part on the level of engagement with kids. In my read, this literature finds two things.
First, some level of engagement seems good. Kids tend to do better in school if their parents are somewhat involved. We know that emotional health is supported by a stable structure at home.
On the other side, there is data that as kids get older, they benefit from more autonomy and it may be possible to “over-scaffold.”
The Atlantic article is targeted on the early years of life, and on the literature on parental engagement. I do not disagree with that literature, and, beyond that, I resonated with the last part of the article, which discusses the need for more social supports. The support for parents in the U.S. is poor, and it serves (among other things) to generate huge inequality. So that is all to the good (the book Parent Nation is excellent on these issues).
Where I differ from this piece is in the implicit assumption that if some parental involvement is good, more is better. There is no evidence cited here that would support the need to obsess about teaching letters and colors, or to worry about the temperature of your child’s room. There is no evidence cited here that would suggest that your child would be better off with you engaging for that marginal half hour rather than taking a minute to yourself while they watch TV. Big picture: engagement is good at some level. In minor details: there is no reason to think more on the margin is better.
And in my view, putting more pressure like this on parents is a mistake for them and their kids! You’re not going to be a better parent if you feel bad all the time about not being engaged enough. The extrapolation made in this article misses that point.