Nov 19 2010

Deconstructing “Good Parent Mistakes” article

Cracked.com, that bastion of factoids in little bite-sized digestible doses, has an article up about the “7 Things ‘Good Parents’ Do to Screw Up Their Kids“. I disagreed so much with this particular article that it gets its own post, where I shall rebut most or all of their points with phrasing I think more accurate.

7. Giving Your Kids a Creative Name
should be
7. This Point Is Yet Another Attempt to Spread Subtle Sexism and Xenophobia

The article claims that “kids” who have “unusual” names are more likely to commit felonies as adults, etc. One, the “unusual names” they mention have at least two that are not that uncommon — in other cultures. Don’t give your kids unusual names, folks, they might think they have something in common with a global community instead of just the neighborhood kids! (That was sarcasm.) The second concerning point to consider here is that people have been giving females unusual names for a while now, and last I checked they are just as much a part of the workforce as males. But strangely, this point, while mentioning “kids”, “adults”, and “workforce” only uses male name examples. How tiresome!

I come down on the side of giving kids names that THEY can mess around with in terms of shortening it, nicknames, wacky spellings, etc. Don’t give them a “creative” spelling of a traditional name yourself, and don’t try to be too clever. Go ahead and put some effort in to avoid names that will be obviously and instantly made fun of by nasty-minded peers, but don’t overly worry about that either — peers can be more inventive in their nastiness than you can likely guess ahead of time. Giving your kids the self-confidence to withstand name teasing is probably far more useful parental effort than worrying about whether the name you picked out is too weird.

6. Teaching Kids to Be Themselves
should be
Don’t Teach Your Kids One Side Of Anything

Really? This point seems to imply that peer pressure is the main or only way that kids learn accommodation and making compromises. Um.

There’s nothing wrong with teaching kids it’s okay to follow their own drum and resist going along with the crowd just because the crowd does something. (Though I understand why that attitude is threatening to the current dominant paradigm.) But “good parents” aren’t going to stop with that lesson. Empathy and compassion are just as vital skills to learn for getting along with groups of people, and those are skills best taught in the home and larger social environment of the child — not just at school. Going along with the crowd without question through peer pressure doesn’t teach a kid compromise, it teaches them not to think.

5. Making Kids Play Sports
should be
Don’t Ignore the Pressures (and Needs) of non-Academic Subjects

This point focuses on the endemic cheating in many members of athletic programs. Sure, forcing a kid into a sport they don’t want to play is asking for trouble, and not just of the cheating kind. But this point mentions neither how you handle a kid who has a genuine calling toward a sport (back to teaching ethics in the home again, gosh that sounds like work!) nor the need for kids in general to stay active in some way for physical health. For the latter, there are plenty of physical activities that don’t involve the level of competition or pressure that many school-level sports have. And recreational sports are another way to get exposed to group dynamics that isn’t home or normal school, so worth incorporating if carefully assessed and chosen.

4. Starting Them In School Early
should be
Don’t Start Your Specific Child Too Early

In general, I actually agree with this point. I think most kids need to get to the point of being physically able to sit still and hold focus for extended periods of time before they’re required to do that in school, and the average kid isn’t likely to reach that point before 6 or 7. But bell curves have outliers, and this blanket statement is no more universally true than believing all kids should start at preschool. I think there should be more available options to parents for both homeschooling a kid longer who isn’t ready for the larger social swirl, and for starting a kid early in external school who has mastered the grade-level-appropriate basics and who needs or wants the extra stimulation of a different learning environment from home. And again, “good parents” will make the effort to monitor their child for anxiety issues resulting from such choices, and make needed adjustments accordingly.

3.Warning Them About Strangers
should be #6 again,
Don’t Teach Your Kids One Side Of Anything

This point mentions that most crimes affecting kids are committed by someone they know instead of a stranger. Again, “good parents” don’t teach their children in this either-or mentality. Teaching your kids to be wary of strangers doesn’t mean you can’t also teach them about the fact that danger can come from anywhere, even close to home. Better yet, teach your kids about how to determine dangerous and creepy behavior and how to avoid or report it, rather than focusing on a specific source of the danger which could miss the larger issue.

2.Heaping Praise On Them
should be
Praise Do-ings, not Be-ings

Positive reinforcement is vital to rearing well-rounded, compassionate, capable humans. However, it is worth paying attention as parents to what you choose to compliment in your kids. Common compliments such as “you’re so pretty” or “you’re so smart” reward genetic attributes or other factors not really under the child’s control. I could indeed see how this might lead to attitudes of entitlement as they grow older, as well as existential crises when they are no longer as beautiful or find something they aren’t clever in. However, there are plenty of opportunities on a daily basis to find legitimate and healthy positive things to say about and to your child; just have a care to your phrasing. Statements like “you did a great job on that project” or “I really appreciate your helping out with this chore” or even “my, you look especially nice today, great outfit choice!” all complement specific actions or choices the child made, thus rewarding them for taking more independent control of their lives (another goal of “good parents”).

1.Showing Them Educational Videos
should be
Quit With the Mono-focused Advice, Already

Argh. Again, educational videos for little ones, however vastly annoying they may be on the 30th repeat for the parents, are not in and of themselves evil or making your child stupid. It’s a tool just like any other, and can be used well or poorly. For example, a video a day is not likely to damage your child’s mind as long as they are also getting other forms of interaction and learning. A video to occupy the child with pretty flashing pictures for a couple of hours while you get some much needed work or cleaning or whatever done is also a smart use of the available tool.

What this point actually refers to, and unfortunately generalizes to meaninglessness, is the trend of some parents to behave as if by providing educational videos they somehow get a pass out of the more interactive parts of child rearing. Again, “good parents” don’t adhere to this sort of inflexible either-or thinking! If your toddler’s educational video diet is taking up the equivalent of a school’s 5-6 hour day, then yeah, I’d bet that your kid isn’t getting enough stimulation from actual people to grow their brain to its full potential. Educational videos do not excuse you from your parenting job, they supplement it at best.

In conclusion, I think that “good parents” would be able to pretty easily see the flaws and generalized thinking in this article and not get trapped into worrying that you’ve somehow damaged your child’s brain by letting them watch Baby Einstein. I’d love to hear what you think about the article. Please, feel free to elaborate on these points of mine or share your own thoughts in comments!

5 responses so far

5 Responses to “Deconstructing “Good Parent Mistakes” article”

  1. Chris Loyon 19 Nov 2010 at 9:25 am

    I think the whole issue with most things cracked does is it is indulging in the same kind of thinking that it is trying to expose, single-sided biased. they just slide to the other end of the spectrum about whatever subject they are being biased at the moment.

  2. Allysonon 19 Nov 2010 at 11:42 am

    I have always said that having an unusual spelling of my name scarred me for life. 😛 (Okay, not really, but it gets pretty annoying to have people misspell my name ALL THE TIME. College professors. My own father, even ugh.)

    And I have known some parents who forced team sports even when their children had other physical activities to keep them occupied and healthy, and no interest in said sports. Ugh. Painful to see.

    Then again, it feels like parents are damned if the do, damned if they don’t. My friend Erin was chastised by her daughter’s pediatrician because the daughter is underweight, but also chastised IN THE SAME VISIT for giving her daughter whole milk rather than 1%. Geez.

  3. Nathaniel Elioton 20 Nov 2010 at 2:13 pm

    Allyson:
    It’s because parenting is highly situational (the same answer won’t work the same for different kids, or even the same kid at different ages), because offering firmly worded advice without knowing the whole of the situation is an easy trap for the well-meaning, and because parent guilt drives parents to worry far too much about the ill-informed opinions of associates and authorities. Part of good parenting is developing a thick skin to such things . . .

    All of those rules eliminate situations which were bad for someone specific. But this list is every bit as arbitrary and generalized as every other list parents have had presented with over the centuries. Slavishly following it could produce far worse situations, all in the name of “saving the children”, a pattern that has been simultaneously lamented in retrospect and encouraged in prospect by every generation (since the dawn of mass communications, at least).

  4. Rodney Keaneon 23 Nov 2010 at 8:03 pm

    I feel the need to point out that Cracked is meant to be a humor magazine, and not at all serious (emphasis on “meant”: even as a kid I always thought Cracked was a waste of $1). Their online attempts at humor focus on finding wierd news bits and blowing them totally out of proportion, like suggesting naming a boy Malcolm will send him straight to jail.

    The first paragraph focused on boys’ names because the article they were mocking was about imprisoned men. In fact, all seven of these points were each meant to make fun of a specific study about peer pressure, naming kids and how starting school too early makes a child “drop out from higher education facilities, smoke weed and play guitar badly.”

    I normally don’t address misunderstandings of (attempted) humor, but this leads to an interesting question, namely shouldn’t writers, whose whole purpose is to convey ideas clearly, be quicker to recognize satire than the average reader? I thought it was glaringly obvious that this was meant to be tongue-in-cheek. After all, it did start with the use of Michael Jackson as the example of how normal a man with a “proper” name is.

  5. Reesaon 23 Nov 2010 at 8:15 pm

    Mr. Keane — I am well aware of Cracked.com’s attempts at humor and inattention to actual facts. I’ve even laughed at a few of their articles. This one not only failed worse than most on the fact-o-meter, it also failed at being funny. This rant was actually inspired because someone on my FB page posted it with the comment “These are all true!” and I was fairly appalled that anyone would think so, therefore this rebuttal. I had quite a lot of fun writing it and several readers have been moved enough to comment and share their thoughts and differing opinions , you included, so all in all I’d say it was a successful post.