Friday, April 12, 2013

Cultural differences in child-rearing

One problem with family courts and child custody evaluations is that the judges and shrinks are completely incompetent to legitimate differences in child-rearing philosophies. Everyone has opinions about child-rearing, but they usually do not have any understanding about how their opinions are better or worse than others, or even how they are different from others.

Nicholas Day writes in Slate:
Sara Harkness, a professor of human development at the University of Connecticut, has spent decades compiling and analyzing the answers of parents in other cultures. They have a lot of answers, it turns out. ...

Every society has what it intuitively believes to be the right way to raise a child, what Harkness calls parental ethnotheories. (It is your mother-in-law, enlarged to the size of a country.) These are the choices we make without realizing that we’re making choices. Not surprisingly, it is almost impossible to see your own parental ethnotheory: As I write in Baby Meets World, when you’re under water, you can’t tell that you’re wet.

But ethnotheories are distinct enough, at least to an outsider, that they are apparent in the smallest details. If you look just at the words parents use to describe their children, you can almost always predict where you are in the world. In other words, your most personal observations of your child are actually cultural constructions. ...

Every society interprets its children in its own way: The Dutch, for example, liked to talk about long attention spans and “regularity,” or routine and rest. (In the Dutch mind, asking lots of questions is a negative attribute: It means the child is too dependent.) The Spanish talked about character and sociality, the Swedes about security and happiness. And the Americans talked a lot about intelligence. Intelligence is Americans’ answer. In various studies, American parents are always seen trying to make the most of every moment—to give their children a developmental boost. From deep inside the belly of American parenthood, this is so obvious it isn’t even an observation. It is only by looking at other societies that you can see just how anomalous such a focus is.
So suppose a judge or evaluator has to decide between a Dutch parent and a Spanish parents about the best interest of the child (BIOTCh). It is impossible.

Currently the hottest NY Times article is about an experiment on the benefits of talking to babies:
The disparity was staggering. Children whose families were on welfare heard about 600 words per hour. Working-class children heard 1,200 words per hour, and children from professional families heard 2,100 words. By age 3, a poor child would have heard 30 million fewer words in his home environment than a child from a professional family. And the disparity mattered: the greater the number of words children heard from their parents or caregivers before they were 3, the higher their IQ and the better they did in school. TV talk not only didn’t help, it was detrimental.
I suppose that this is a polite way of saying that black people don't talk to their kids, combined with a naive leftoid belief that social problems can be solved by teaching blacks to talk more. Pres. Obama is even babbling about Head Start again. No, that doesn't work either. I would like to tell you that there is scientific evidence on good child-rearing, but it is not much better than common sense, and the usual advice from experts is worse.


Anonymous said...

Spoken like a true American, like intelligence matters! Maybe if you hadn't been subjected to so many words before the age of 3 by your stay-at-home mom, you and your kids would be couch potatoes channel surfing together right now and scarfing up Big Macs. Don't knock it, that's what makes kids happy and sociable.

Not sure what being black has to do with anything. Condoleezza Rice and Willie Brown have genius IQs.

George said...

I agree about Rice and Brown. Willie Brown is the smartest politician in California.

A great many blacks are excellent talkers. The article seems dubious to me.