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Sunday, January 22, 2012

American bratiness

Ever since I read it, I've been thinking about Judith Warner's essay about Pamela Druckerman’s new book, Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, wherein she contemplates Druckerman's suggestion that French kids learn to be polite and to socialize on a level that is completely missing from American kids, very much to our detriment.  I have to admit, I've seen many examples of what she's suggesting - a shocking level of self absorbsion and discourtesy on the part of kids, encouraged by their parents.

Some excerpts:

I don’t happen to believe that French parenting is necessarily superior, overall, to what we do in America. I don’t think French children are, overall, better or happier people — such generalizations are silly. But it is true that French kids can be a whole lot more pleasant to be around than our own. They’re more polite. They’re better socialized. They generally get with the program; they help out when called upon to do so, and they don’t demand special treatment. And that comes directly from being taught, from the earliest age, that they’re not the only ones with feelings and needs.

. . .  Like Druckerman, I’ve often noted wistfully how French children know how to handle themselves in restaurants. I’ve envied how French children eat what’s put in front of them, put themselves to bed when instructed to, and, generally, tend to help keep the wheels of family life moving pretty smoothly. But the difference that struck me the most deeply, when my family moved to Washington, D.C., from Paris, and my older daughter began preschool, was how much more basically respectful French children were of other people. Indeed, how much emphasis French parents put on demanding they behave respectfully toward other people. And how that respect helped make life more enjoyable.
. . . 
was disheartened time and again by the ways parents in the U.S. often did just the opposite. American parents assiduously strove to make sure that their children’s wants and needs came first, no matter what. This sometimes had a name — “advocating for your child” — and was clearly predicated on the belief that if you didn’t yourself do it, didn’t teach your child to “self-advocate,” no one would, and in the great stampede for resources and rewards your child would get left behind in the dust. 

. . . This lack of parental empathy was brought home to me much more recently, when a mom in my then eighth grader’s class complained to me about an incident in which another girl in the class had had a panic attack — a full-blown panic attack — just as the doors closed on the bus that was to take the class on a camping trip. Without a word of sympathy, the mom vented to me, “Like [my daughter] really needed to see that.

This lack of compassion and empathy, I’ve found, is rampant in today’s hypercompetitive parenting culture in which almost every child is eternally being groomed to look out for No. 1, cheered on by parents who view other children more as potential impediments to his or her full flowering than as comrades-in-arms — or friends — united in the difficult task of gracefully growing up. As American parents, we parrot a certain amount of knee-jerk politeness, urging our kids to say “please” and “thank you,” but I don’t necessarily have the sense that all this is aimed at doing anything more profound than making our kids (and ourselves, by extension) look good



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