Thoughts (Mine and Others’) on Raising Kids

February 10, 2004 | 42 comments
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I had thought I’d write something about Mormonism and lawyers today (look around: they’re everywhere!), but as it turned out, all my blogging time and energy was taken up by a discussion, started by Harry Brighouse over at the group blog Crooked Timber, dealing with child-rearing, commercialism, and the degree of control one can (or should) exercise over the environment in which you raise your kids. Harry’s post, to a certain extent, is a follow-up on another intra-blog discussion (in which I also participated) dealing with a much simpler question: why don’t kids walk to school anymore? But the current dialogue is going way beyond that, dealing with a whole range of matters including tv watching, popular culture, neighborhood planning, PBS, computer games, and much more. There’s even some pretentious (yes, me again) thinking about the connection between religious belief and the intellectual capacity to resist the demanding, materialist, careerist tempo of modern life. It’s been one of the most thought-provoking online discussions I’ve ever been involved in. (Warning: we’re all a bunch of liberals and leftists over there. However, part of what makes the discussion intriguing is that Harry begins with the premise (which I think is obviously correct) that devoted Christians have by and large done a good job shielding their children from the ugliness of the dominant culture, and that leftists could learn from them. Anyway, read it and see for yourself.)

Does it have anything to do with Mormonism? No, not really. So why am I mentioning it (and providing all the links) here? Three reasons. 1) I greatly value the insight and advice of my many fellow parents here at T&S, and would love to read, in the comments either here or there, what you all have to say about managing your childrens’ time and environment, particularly as regards the media, but also in connection to other things (play dates, unsupervised play, etc.). 2) Why else? Pride and priestcraft. 3) Nobody has posted anything new all day, and as impressed as I am by the intellectual fireworks to be found in certain threads, I thought it might be helpful to provide a slight distraction from such important, intense, ethically fraught subjects as abortion, same-sex marriage, euthanasia, etc. So anyway, enjoy (or not).

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42 Responses to Thoughts (Mine and Others’) on Raising Kids

  1. Julie in Austin on February 10, 2004 at 11:52 pm

    You think this isn’t ethically fraught? Some of the worst showdowns with other people I have had haven’t involved SSM (which doesn’t tend to come up much in mommy conversation) but ‘you let your kids watch what?!?’ and the inescapable conclusion that you are, of course, a rotten parent.

    Before I get into this more, I’d like to recommend a book, Gavin de Becker (not LDS) _Protecting the Gift_ which is the only bit of sense I have ever read on protecting your children from predators without scaring them to death. It’s an easy read, and one of those books that every one should read.

    I don’t have reason to substantially doubt his stats that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys are sexually abused. (Even if it were 1 in 20, I don’t think I would be less careful.) For that reason, my children will be young teens before they are allowed unsupervised in public. I know moms who require their 12 year old boys to recite the Declaration of Independence out loud while using public bathrooms, with the understanding that they will be coming in if the son stops. I am not sure that I would do this, but I certainly understand where they are coming from. My boys have playdates only at the homes of people I know extremely well. I homeschool, and my boys play with other children every single day, but only under adult supervision.

    Would it be better if they could ride their bikes in the woods all afternoon? I would certainly prefer the peace and quiet! But I can’t justify some ethereal promise of unfettered childhood in the face of the reality of the dangers that are out there.

    On a side note, or perhaps not, I recently asked why the long-standing tradition of having a day time Institute class ‘for moms’ with a nursery was discontinued (the class is on, but no nursery). I was told that for legal reasons, CES can no longer allow nurseries in conjunction with classes. This is a sad commentary on our society, but I understand the need to avoid exposing CES and/or the Church to legal problems.

    TV. You never think about TV the same way again after you have a two-year-old parrot something he saw/heard on TV. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory seemed innocent; we had recently read the book out loud. If my 2.5 year old says “Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker” one more time . . . Here I put one foot in Babylon and one in Zion by limiting TV to a set amount of time; weighing my need to get things done against their need to be free from worldly influences. I don’t think any kids’ TV is completely *un*objectionable. I think it was Dave Barry who pointed out that Sesame Street teaches the dreadful lie that the world is full of helpful, friendly, racially mixed adults who all get along with each other and the meta-lesson that TV is a good way to learn things. On a more serious note, there has been criticism of Sesame Street for stunting future achievement in reading. But if I eliminate TV altogether have I turned it into a luscious forbidden fruit?

  2. Matt Evans on February 11, 2004 at 1:19 am

    Wow Russell, that was an incredible thread. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

  3. Kaimi on February 11, 2004 at 9:00 am

    Julie,

    I’m not sure how helpful it is to talk about horrific abuse statistics in the same breath as public bathrooms or other overhyped, sensationalized cliches of public abuse. The majority of abuse is not done by passing strangers in public locations, but at the hands of family members or family friends. In my observation, this can also be the most damaging abuse, because it can go on for long periods of time.

  4. Julie in Austin on February 11, 2004 at 10:49 am

    Kaimi–

    I agree with you and that is something de Becker stressed in the book: that abuse is far more likely to happen at the hands of someone who has been granted access to the child by a parent (i.e., babysitter, uncle, neighbor, etc.) than a stranger. However, stranger abuse does occur, and in the incident I mentioned, the woman was reacting to an incident that had happened at her library (stranger in the bathroom).

    Since the original thrust of the thread was allowing children to be unsupervised in public, that was the aspect that I was resonding to and hence the emphasis.

  5. Kristine on February 11, 2004 at 11:27 am

    Russell–I’ve actually been thinking for a couple of days about how to frame your discussion of walking to school for this blog, so I’m glad you beat me to it. I think it has everything to do with Mormonism.

    I started thinking about time and my children’s lives when I was trying to think about Sabbath observance. I think that a big part of what the Sabbath is supposed to teach us is how to get out of time for a little while. We lose this sense a little bit by having our Sabbath only on Sunday, instead of from sundown to sundown, so I’ve tried sporadically to have a special meal on Saturday night and to light a candle that then stays lit till Sunday evening. We always go for a walk at around sunset time to mark the end of the Sabbath.

    My kids go to a Waldorf school (I can blog about that a bit, if anyone’s interested) where they also try to build the day around a rhythm, rather than clock time. So they have the same sequence each day–outside play, art project, lesson time, snack, inside play, etc.–but the amount of time spent in each activity varies depending on weather, the complexity of the art project, the relative harmony (ha!)of the children’s playing, etc.

    We’ve tried really hard to keep this sense of rhythm out of time at home. It doesn’t always work (notably in the morning, when we really do have to make it out the door on a schedule), and it requires some significant sacrifices in terms of my husband’s and my social life (keeping a consistent and peaceful bedtime, for instance, pretty much requires that we just don’t have babysitters at that time, so we go out late or not at all).

    TV is easy–we got rid of it. It was largely a decision that I wanted my kids to spend more time in active and creative play, rather than an attempt to shield them from negative content. But even PBS has snotty little kids (Arthur, D.W.) and fast-moving, ugly animation (Cyberchase, Sesame Street–way too fast for little brains) that I don’t want my kids exposed to. We keep the TV and VCR in the garage, and occasionally haul it out for a movie which we all watch together. But I try not to freak out too much if my kids watch something at someone else’s house (although I do want to know beforehand), both because I don’t want it to be forbidden fruit and because I think the good-mommy contest is terribly damaging to everyone and I really don’t want my kids to think they (or I) need to pass judgment on how other parents manage things (within reason, of course–my kids are still little enough that PG-13 movies aren’t going to come up. I hope I get a lot smarter before we get to that stage!) Because my kids’ school also actively discourages media exposure, my kids aren’t “weird” at school, and that helps a lot. Interestingly, their lack of media exposure and general lack of sophistication makes them “weird” at church, and I don’t know how we’ll deal with that as they get older.

    I do worry about constructing this much of a bubble around my kids, and I do think it’s strange to spend so much parental time, money, and effort to make a space for my kids to have what I consider an “unfettered” childhood–it risks becoming the extreme version of Little League, I guess, trying to organize the stickball game into something that makes *parents* feel good about their involvement in their kids’ lives.

    (Sorry to be long-winded. Though you might not guess it from my participation here, *this* (not SSM) is what I spend my days thinking about!)

  6. brayden on February 11, 2004 at 11:38 am

    Anecdotal accounts of public abuse are frightening. I read a couple of newsstories this morning about horrific things happening to innocent children at the hands of strangers, and my first reaction is, “That could have been my kid!” It truly is frightening.

    But then I have to take a step back and think about things from a probabilistic perspective (sorry, I can’t help it; I’m a sociologist). What is the likelihood that something like this (public abuse for instance) could happen to my child? Not very great actually. This helps to calm my nerves and prevents me from becoming a maniacally overly-protective parent. Not that we shouldn’t be cautious when in public and take care not to leave our children alone or unattended in public spaces, but I try to give my kids room to be kids and enjoy some freedom from my protective shadow.

    In the Crooked Timber comments section to which Russell links, I commented that I try to avoid too much protective behavior regarding my kids (although I’m sure compared to some people I am very protective). I believe that allowing children to experience things facilitates conversation and critical thought about worldly and spiritual issues. Further, it helps the children develop their own opinions and views on things, independent of my own. Of course, my kids are only 4 and 2 so my parenting style will probably be more restrictive as they get older and begin the experimentation phase of existence, but at this point I tend to be optimistic that my children will learn to make the right choices and that my most important contribution is to show a good example. This encompasses a wider variety of activities than simply reading the scriptures, attending and serving in the church, etc. (although these are all crucial things); it also means that I try to read a lot in front of my children, talk about politics and current events in the home, and speak optimistically of the future. Hopefully my kids will recognize my weaknesses too and improve in those areas. Basically, I hope they turn out perfect – just a small hope I have.

  7. Nate Oman on February 11, 2004 at 11:49 am

    Yesterday, I sat through the oral arguments in a child sex-abuse case. Per court rules dealing with juvenile cases, the court room was cleared of spectators and the oral arguments began. The issue involved whether or not some of the evidence submitted was unduly prejudicial. Essentially, the question turned on whether letting the jury take the bloodied underpants of a little girl into the jury room with them unduly inflamed the passions.

    I know that it inflamed my passions. I wanted to lock my little boy away from the world for about the next twenty years. Not a workable (or even effective) solution, I know, but I understand the urge.

  8. Russell Arben Fox on February 11, 2004 at 12:25 pm

    Some (relatively) quick notes.

    Brayden: I had no idea you were the same guy as the one blogging over at CT and on your own. My apologies. Nice blog you have there, and thank you for bringing up the observation that Christianity, especially in its “spirit of capitalism” Protestant variety, may not provide very much moral or intellectual shelter from the world of commodification (let’s all (silently) say it together: “you can buy anything in this world with money”) after all. I still tend to believe that the social imperatives of Christianity can and should take us away from market temporalities; but obviously, the history is more complicated than that.

    Kristine: Many thanks for your comments.

    1) Forgive my bluntness, but how much does Waldorf cost, and how does that affect the demographics of the school? The CT thread fairly quickly came to turn on issues of media and cultural environments, but as the thread originator later commented, that’s just one aspect of the problem. Another is the issue of class and income: who can afford to stay at home with their kids, or afford to live in neighborhoods where the parental support exists for schools that allow children greater freedom? As he put it, “one thing all of the discussants seem to have in common is jobs that allow us to spend a good deal of time with our children. Not everyone has that, and many people have no choice about whether they have it.” Time-controlled, stick-’em-in-front-of-the-tv child-rearing strategies are easy to criticize, unless you’re a poor single mother who has to take a bus an hour each way to get to your ten-hour shift at Wal-Mart, while hoping your unreliable across-the-hall neighbor takes the time out from her kids to check in on yours on occassion; in those cases, such strategies may be the only ones available.

    2) Putting on my political theorist/theologist cap, I love how you connect this tangle of issues to Sabbath observance, and–as you beautifully put it–”get[ting] out of time for a little while.” Our discussion way back during the holidays on the role of the liturgical calendar is relevant here: the need to find some other temporal mode, outside the pace of the world. The candle idea is a good one. Melissa and I have talked endlessly about what is “Sabbath-appropriate” for our family, and given the role of habit in raising kids, it strikes me as an important discussion to have. (Hey, there’s a T&S blog topic right there!)

    3) While I joined others in bashing PBS over at CT, it’s probably pretty clear that Melissa and I have made our peace with a lot of what is (I think dismissively) called “prosocial programming,” especially if you record and get rid of the commercials beforehand. I actually think the animation in Cyberchase is quite inventive, and the hard, educational edge to the program is far superior to the self-esteem crap which Sesame Street pushes these days. (The show was never the same after Jim Henson died.) I’m impressed with your determination though. Us, we have semi-regular “movie nights” with the girls (most recently: “The Black Stallion”).

    Julie: I appreciate your concerns. And someday, of course, I may repent of this attitude in a state of self-loathing and horror. But at this moment in time, I have to say…I think allowing (relatively) unsupervised play and time is worth the risk. I think creating environments which allow for complete initiative, independence, and self-supervision on the part of the child is a good thing, and I am not persuaded that the risks are significantly different today than they were 30 years ago, when my mom allowed me to climb the fence and go wandering down the neighborhood. But then, of course, we live in Jonesboro, Arkansas, not Austin…

  9. brayden on February 11, 2004 at 12:36 pm

    Russell – Yep, that’s me sneaking stealthfully throughout the blogosphere. I’ve been a regular reader of CT since its inception, although I comment irregularly. I used to be Kieran Healy’s TA (for a social theory class) and he will more than likely be on my dissertation committee. The idea for my own blog came about through reading his and other academic blogs.

  10. Kristine on February 11, 2004 at 12:50 pm

    Russell, I was going to add another comment about the class thing–Waldorf schools are expensive, and since they don’t appeal to the old blue-blooded Andover/Harvard New Englanders, they’re always struggling financially and not able to give enough scholarship aid, so, yeah it’s definitely an isolated upper-middle-class bubble. I think the class issues are part of the dynamic at church, too. We’re among very few in our ward who can consider private school. For now, we feel really guilty but do it anyway. (My husband, who is fairly conservative–our first date was a Young Republicans meeting (!)–says as far as he can tell, liberals are people who act the same as conservatives, but feel really guilty all the time)

    Also, sending our kids to this school means that, for now, my husband keeps working in insurance, rather than becoming a teacher, which he would prefer, and I stay home, rather than becoming a professor, which I would prefer, because the reliable and reasonably large income is necessary to sustaining our vision of our kids’ childhood (which also involves buying them very few toys and letting them make do with rocks, sticks and seashells–the layers of irony are not entirely lost on us!). It means that Steve has less time with the kids than he’d like, and I have more. If we were doing it again, I think I’d wait five more years to have had kids, and at least have tried to be well along the tenure track before I started (yeah, in German–rrrright!)

    As for PBS, I am an unreconstructed cultural elitist snob. I grew up without TV or movies (until I went to college, I had seen only 7 movies) or popular music (with the previously noted ABBA exception), and I am determined to make my kids elitist, Suzuki-violin playing, beeswax-candle preferring, Penguin classics-reading snobs to the extent that it’s possible. Getting rid of the TV is the first step in this program. I have to have someone to talk to in my old age! (I’m kind of kidding, but only kind of)

  11. Russell Arben Fox on February 11, 2004 at 12:56 pm

    I used to want to be a snob, but man it takes a lot of work.

  12. Kristine on February 11, 2004 at 1:00 pm

    Yeah, and you have to beat the kids a lot to get them to practice ;>)

  13. Matt Evans on February 11, 2004 at 1:11 pm

    I’m a paternalist when it comes to protecting my kids from the culture. I have serious regrets about sending my first son to kindergarten this year, though we never considered doing otherwise, after seeing the enormous role peers play in his life (especially peers who’ve introduced negative aspects of popular culture). I can’t figure a better way to do it, but I really wish I could keep him away from the culture kids create until he was more self-aware and self-assured. Keep him away from that until his bond with his family — with me — were more mature. The world would be a better place if we didn’t create network-effects among immature kids.

    As for their physical safety, I’m much less protective than most. I believe almost all parents over-react to news stories. Maybe if I’d known one — one! — kid who was kidnapped, abused by a stranger, got Rhye syndrome from aspirin, was wearing a seat belt but not a booster, or died riding a bike on a dead end street for want of a helmet, I’d be more cautious. Everyone draws their line somewhere (though I’ve found some hovering parents who didn’t realize they too make compromises with their kids’ safety) and I realize mine is an outlier. I protect my kids by what I perceive as the parenting standards of 1964. I prefer the balance they struck between living and living in the shadow of worst-case scenarios.

  14. clark goble on February 11, 2004 at 1:20 pm

    I was reading _THe Blank Slate_ over Christmas and he argues fairly persuasively that while parents can open up opportunities, the two main sources of personality are genetics and peers. So controlling the peers your kids hang out with is *very* important. Having bad peers and then trying ot make up for it at home won’t work.

    At the same time though, if you protect them too much the kids will almost always overreact the opposite way when given a chance. I had a friend who did this. He was told not to go to all the parties in High School because of the alcohol and so forth, not to date non-members, because of the differing standards, and so forth. Eventually he reached a point where he ended up rebelling by engaging in those things because of the over-protection.

    The problem is that kids need a social life and I think some overprotective kids avoid that. That’s why I suspect home schooled kids have such a bad reputation. While some parents do a good job ensuring they get socialized, by and large most don’t. Social education is at least as important as intellectual education.

  15. brayden on February 11, 2004 at 1:21 pm

    I’m definitely not the snob that Russell and Kristine appear to be. I am a devourer of many pop-cultural things (although most of my tv viewing consists of news and sports and I only listen to NPR on the radio), and I have been fairly lenient with allowing my kids to partake of Disney, Nick, and other commercial media. I feel somewhat guilty after reading your comments, wondering if this is going to lead them to someday be overly-materialistic, worldly, politically-apathetic consumers. My main piece of evidence in the contrary is that I grew up as a consumer of tv, radio, and mainstream media and I somehow turned out like I did (a spiritually and politically active consumer). The reason? I think it mainly has to do with the self-correction provided by reading. If a child learns how to read and how to appreciate knowledge acquisition, he or she can overcome worldly influences (and I mean that as a Lefty and as a Mormon).

    I’m curious why the conservative contingent doesn’t have anything to say on this comment thread. Should I say something about SSM to get them to join in. ;) Just kidding. I did see your comment earlier Matt.

  16. brayden on February 11, 2004 at 1:24 pm

    In between posting my last comment and reading the preceding comment thread Clark and Matt both posted new comments making my jab about conservatives even more silly. Lo siento.

  17. Scott on February 11, 2004 at 1:31 pm

    No offense intended, but it seems to me that one who completely deprives himself of television and movies is not a cultural elitist, but a cultural illiterate. Extreme disengagement from those forms both (a) hampers one’s aesthetic development in vital arts and (b) comes at the cost of isolating one from the broader community that shares certain stories and images. In the context of child-rearing, that latter problem (i.e., isolation) seems quite significant to me, as it can easily lead to unnecessary loneliness and insecurity or unjustified arrogance.

    Scott

  18. Brent on February 11, 2004 at 1:39 pm

    It seems to me that we can do a fair amount of sheltering, but “living in the world, but not of the world” means that our children will be exposed to the world whether we like it or not. I think there are two elements of parenting that make a huge difference, and they are related.

    First, is teaching correct principles. We need to “train up a child in the way he should go”. This means providing wholesome teaching, entertainment/recreation and examples. We try to emphasize the setting a good example part as often as we can. It is a little hard to teach your child that about appropriate entertainment, for instance, when you set no limits yourself. We try to teach aand discuss with our children pure doctrines in terms they can understand. We explain the reasoning behind gospel principles and how they relate to one another. Sometimes it is over their heads, but often they can grasp what we are trying to say. I think we often shortchange our children and their abilities and/or desires to know truth. My oldest just turned eight, and it is wonderful to see her developing her own ideas about the world and embracing righteous principles. She is learning all sorts of things and she tells us about them.

    Which brings me to point number 2–communication. Effective communication has served us well so far. (Ask me how things are when my children are teenagers). We have had wonderful discussions about various issues and topics that my daughter (should say daughters here as we also discuss things with our 3 1/2 year old) has been exposed to or on which she has questions. We also regularly try and get her thoughts about what we are trying to inculcate and teach, what she is learning and doing at school, what is going on at recess, etc. I was shocked for instance, that my daughter knew all about Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake last Monday morning. Apparently, “all the kids at school were talking about it” and therefore she knew about the “costume malfunction.” That allowed a good teaching moment on a variety of topics. I have learned that I have to treat each of my children as my equal (incorporating Matt’s definition of equal moral worth from another thread) in ways I don’t think I envisioned prior to becoming a parent. Each of my children is a human being, a child of Our Father in Heaven, with a mind, personality, and spirit all their own. My job is to train them and teach them and learn who they are so that we can all make it through this life and be together forever on the other side of the veil.

    I guess, the only other comment I would have is that I have learned the importance of paying attention. With how busy life can get, it is sometimes easy to let important things slip. We try to gauge regularly where each of our children are, and where our family is in relation to advancing in our doctrinal knowledge and adherence to gospel principles. (Family councils and FHE with full child participation make a huge contribution in this area.)

  19. clark goble on February 11, 2004 at 1:42 pm

    I’d second Scott. While we must control what our kids see, the fact is that children with no access to entertainment will be unable to really socialize with many children. This will start them on a tract of isolation and will then affect their social place later on.

    For some people this is no big deal. However at that point realize that parents are thereby really controlling the kind of life children will lead in their 20′s instead of leaving that as a choice to the children.

    It is one thing to protect them from sin and danger. It’s quite an other to try and cubby hole them into a life in academics untied to the large social group. Speaking as someone who was for a long time “a geek” I’m not sure that’s wise. And, having then worked rather hard to get into the more social scene, I recognize that the limits from my earlier life made that quite hard. I’m not saying that trendy social scenes are always wise. (By and large a lot of them aren’t much different from High School social scenes) However it is nice to have the options. Also we are social beings. Having poor social skills is a huge limit to a human being and will also dramatically affect ones options in ones career. (I recognize that part of this thread is not being so caught up in the Protestant work ethics. But one hopes this doesn’t entail the complete rejection of the business and social world. Since few are able to make that as a choice in our economy)

  20. Kaimi on February 11, 2004 at 1:47 pm

    I agree that it’s a matter of balance.

    I know quite a few Mormon kids who were raised with no TV, no movies, no sugar, etc, and who have had a very hard time relating to other people their age, or “fitting in” anywhere. I don’t think we’re required to make our children cultural outcasts.

    As for me, my kids watch Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer, Thomas the Tank Engine, Shrek. They also like some of Star Wars (but that has lots of scary parts). And we play Nintendo with them.

    It would probably be better if my wife or I were always reading books with them instead of letting them watch TV. But the reality is that I have a lot of 18-hour days, she has three very energetic children, and sometimes a half-hour break as the kids watch Dora is just what she needs.

  21. Russell Arben Fox on February 11, 2004 at 1:51 pm

    Matt: Melissa and I are on your wavelength. Maybe we’re just lucky and/or ignorant, but I have never had any personal, or even second or third-hand, contact with anyone who has suffered from childhood abuse, kidnapping, home terrorism, meaningless accidents, etc. If we had, maybe we’d be different. Yes, I know there are pedophiles, and that kids lock themselves in old refrigerators, and so forth. And we do make our kids where helmets (which elicits stares around here). But basically, we’re slackers (in the context of a kind of positive “environment-creation,” such as choosing carefully where we are going to live, of course). “Go play,” we say to them, and they climb trees and wander off and we have to go beat the bushes for them. It’s working so far.

    Scott: all kidding aside, you know I completely agree with you. I admire Kristine’s resolve, but that kind of classic “snobbery” is not for me. Friends and family frequently refer to me as a “film snob”–and if I am, I owe much of it to you–and yet I’m fairly omnivorous when it comes to movies. Familiarity is a necessary prerequisite for articulating standards of taste; otherwise, your standard is merely an inherited one (which doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable–it may be very much so–but does mean you can’t really critique it from within).

  22. Kristine on February 11, 2004 at 2:16 pm

    Scott, I agree about total deprivation from TV and movies. I am, in fact, functionally illiterate in the realms of film and popular music, and that’s a problem sometimes. (I have a “remedial film school” list of movies I’m working my way through. Ditto for popular music–feel free to make suggestions!).

    I don’t expect my kids to never watch movies or TV. They’re little now (3,5, and 7) and I think giving them a few more years to form neural networks and envision stories by themselves is healthier than letting them be passive recipients of other people’s visualizations. I think they’ll be better able to make choices when they’re older. And we do watch some movies (my daughter is, at this very moment, belting out “Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang we love you! Our fine four-fendered friend…”). And, as I mentioned, they go to a school where most children watch little or no TV, so the social effects of that choice are mitigated for now. We’ll undoubtedly have many opportunities to change and refine our ideas as the kids get older, go to different schools, etc.

    And yeah, being a snob does make me feel weird sometimes–I’m definitely isolated from many people by my experience and my tastes. (I’m isolated from many people by being Mormon, or even simply by not drinking, too, and I don’t think anyone here is going to suggest that that’s a problem). I’m not very good at having fun doing the things most people think are fun. And I’m regularly tempted to self-righteousness :) But would I trade what I feel singing Bach or playing Mendelssohn or listening to Dvorak for better social skills and an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music? I don’t think so.

    Clark, the school my kids go to is also very low-key academically; they’re not spending the time they’re not watching TV doing flashcards or being groomed for hyperintellectual geekdom. I’m just letting them play. Also, you suggest that parents should not play too large a role in determining children’s social lives; how do you think that a young child could possibly be equipped to make wise social choices??

  23. Kristine on February 11, 2004 at 2:26 pm

    Kaimi (and all), I should add that the disappearance of TV in our house is a recent phenomenon (less than a year ago). Until recently, I couldn’t make it through the day without at least a half-hour break from the electronic babysitter–some days it was a full hour or even two. We would never have eaten dinner when the kids were 1,3 and 5 without Clifford the Big Red Dog. This summer, when I was working sort of full-time, they watched a ton of TV. I don’t want to seem like some ideological purist–parenting little kids is brutally hard, and you do what you have to!!

    And we eat LOTS of sugar ;

  24. Kristine on February 11, 2004 at 2:29 pm

    Scott, I said above that being functionally illiterate in film is a problem sometimes–that sounds not serious enough. I actually think it’s really bad and embarrassing that I’m so little acquainted with a major art form. But there’s not time enough, or at least I haven’t found it, to be expert in very many areas, and I think the idea of balance is maybe too much valued in Mormon (and American) culture. Maybe it’s better for me to really know music and be a film neophyte, than to dabble at both. Balance can be the enemy of excellence.

  25. brayden on February 11, 2004 at 2:41 pm

    I’m okay with being movie-literate and musically-literate (as long as you don’t force me to listen to rap or boy bands), but unfortunately being pop-culturally literate means being versed in Friends, Will & Grace, and ew, reality tv. I can’t think of any redeeming qualities that shows like this have, and frankly, I hope my kids can avoid them. But I know I’m fighting a losing battle, particularly because my wife really enjoys Friends.

    I think it’s also important to remember that one person’s snob is another’s cultural match. In many ways it pays off to be familiar with Bach over Biance. I imagine our cultural tastes adjust somewhat to our occupational sphere. In my professional world, knowing a great deal about sit-coms doesn’t generate high returns in scoring social capital with colleagues.

  26. Aaron Brown on February 11, 2004 at 3:05 pm

    Kristine,

    By all means, be an unreconstructed cultural elitist snob if you want to, but please, for your children’s sakes, spare them from the horrors of the “Suzuki method.” I’m a recovering Suzuki-student myself — and as a result, I play well by ear, but know no music theory, and can’t read music well to save my life…

    Aaron B

  27. Russell Arben Fox on February 11, 2004 at 3:08 pm

    Brayden: Real friends don’t let their friends watch Friends.

    Aaron: Having experienced Suzuki (violin), and having a daughter (and next year two) taking Suzuki piano presently, and knowing what I know (and what my daughter is learning) about reading music, I suspect your experience might have more to do with your instructor(s) than the method itself.

  28. Greg Call on February 11, 2004 at 3:12 pm

    I’m glad you brought this discussion to T&S, Russell. I was getting tired of going to your blog, CT, then brayden’s blog, then cutting an pasting it all into an email to send to my wife so we could discuss it later.

    This discussion is especially timely for us as we are trying to decide whether to enroll our toddler in a part-time preschool next fall, or just have him stay home (he’ll be 3 in October). Most of the parents we’re friends with are definitely “on the clock.” Some have told us we’ve basically blown it by not already securing a place in a good preschool. We’re told that we you should have got on the waiting list when our little guy was still in utero. When we lived in New York, our friends would tell us how their 2-year old performed poorly in a pre-school interview, and they had to really work with the little one to be more social or smart or whatever. Its all very depressing to me. Even more so for my wife, who grew up in Switzerland, where she basically played in the forest every day until she started kindergarten at the neighborhood public school. (No TV? That’s nothing. Try no central heating!)

    On the other hand, I’ve known a lot of people who are products of “on the clock parenting”: due in no small part to the hard work of the parents, those kids went to Dalton, Choate, Brearley, Stuyvesant, then on to Swarthmore, Brown, Princeton. And they don’t seem the worse for it. They are not all materialistic money grubbers. They are public defenders, professors, and scientists with values similar to mine. So sometimes I wonder whether by giving my kid a relaxed, tree-climbing childhood, I am perhaps just doing what _I_ think is ideal (and easier), and somehow foreclosing certain possible life paths, or “limiting his potential” (to use on-the-clock-speak).

  29. Greg Call on February 11, 2004 at 3:15 pm

    Brayden, It’s _Beyonce_, with an accent over the second e. C’mon now.

  30. brayden on February 11, 2004 at 3:23 pm

    LOL, whoops…my bad. See, I’m a cultural illiterate.

  31. Kaimi on February 11, 2004 at 3:25 pm

    Greg,

    Every decision you make will close some paths. You didn’t become a chess grandmaster, and now your child will not learn grandmaster-level chess at home, etc.

    You and I are both evidence that one can, at the very least, get into an Ivy law school, get a prestigious clerkship, and even get an actual paying job, all without the benefit of preschool at the 92nd Street Y. So my kids and yours won’t be attending kindergarten with Barry Diller’s kids — so what?

  32. clarkgoble on February 11, 2004 at 3:26 pm

    Kristine, by equipping a child I think that entails social skills (having lots of friends, knowing how to interact with them), having good study skills, having good health/fitness skills, and then intellectual. (i.e. the greatest advantage you can give your kids is to teach them to read early — academically speaking)

    The big concern I have is that parents (not necessarily any here) tend to neglect one of these while embracing some of the others. (i.e. don’t be too smart or you’ll be unpopular, or don’t be popular etc.)

    What I tend to worry about is that for children entertainment issues and some “fads” are important to fit in. Learning how to fit in significantly determines ones peers. Learning how to not simply embrace everything because it is popular also does this. (Important in adolescence in terms of sex, alcohol and drugs)

    What I’ve seen is that some parents bring their kids to home schooling because of the fear of peers and in doing so end up harming them.

  33. Aaron Brown on February 11, 2004 at 3:33 pm

    Russell,

    You may be right, although I’ve met others who’ve been through the method and claimed to have similar experiences to my own.

    Then again, maybe I’m just lashing out indiscriminately, since I’ve had one too many experiences playing my respectable rendition of the Maple Leaf Rag, only to be subsequently asked to play hymns in church (“Surely if you can master Joplin, you can play the hymns”), and then having to decline and confess, seemingly implausibly, that I can’t handle “Called To Serve” without advance notice and practice. How embarrassing.

    (Sorry to take this otherwise very interesting thread on a silly tangent. Not having children yet myself, it’s all I have to offer.) :>

    Aaron B

  34. Kristine on February 11, 2004 at 3:41 pm

    Aaron–it’s true that pure Suzuki method can leave major gaps in music-reading and music theory knowledge. Most teachers, at least in the US, teach significantly modified Suzuki. The method is great for teaching little, little kids (3-6) who have the desire and attention span to do it, but once kids are reading, or close, it’s useful to introduce some notation skills, I think.

    My snobbish goals have been significantly modified by contact with my actual children. When I was in high school, I planned to have 12 children–first a string quartet, then a pianist, then a wind quintet, and finally a string bass player and a percussionist. (I was really that specific in my plans, and they all had matching names: Robin, Megan, Tristan, Morgan, Justin…eek, you get the picture. However, I think I failed to give enough attention to the problem of transporting such a brood and their instruments). My first child rapidly disabused me of all such plans (though, in fairness, I had already decided to give up on the bassist and the percussionist). He is the stubbornest and most independent child I have ever seen, utterly uninterested in my agenda. I’m really glad he came first, because my second child is much more compliant and eager-to-please and would more easily have fallen victim to my schemes.

    Anyway, there’s no Suzuki in our house yet, because there’s not a chance that Peter would sit through a lesson. After 10 minutes he’d tell the teacher he knew how to play the violin and could do the rest himself. He knits and plays the recorder. I adore him.

  35. Greg Call on February 11, 2004 at 3:46 pm

    Kaimi,
    I am not so worried about a name-brand education, or whether my kid gets a upper middle class job as opposed to lower middle class job. Most people don’t know or care what a clerkship is, let alone whether its prestigious according to law-geeks.

    I just worry that I am rejecting competitive, on-the-clock parenting out of my own laziness rather than out of thinking about the best interests of my kid. Even for a left-leaner, the protestant work ethic dies hard.

  36. Kaimi on February 11, 2004 at 3:53 pm

    Greg,

    Laziness is as good a reason as any to reject the unrealistic expectations that are placed on children. :)

    (However, I understand your concern — your laziness may be helpful in one setting, but hurtful elsewhere.)

  37. Russell Arben Fox on February 11, 2004 at 3:58 pm

    Hear hear! In regards the demands and presumptions of modern life, two cheers for laziness! (Or as I call it on my blog, “slackerdom.”)

  38. Adam Greenwood on February 11, 2004 at 10:34 pm

    “As far as I can tell, liberals are people who act the same as conservatives, but feel really guilty all the time.”

    That was the funniest thing I’ve read on this blog, perhaps because it was so unexpected. Oh, my.

    What’s your husband’s name, Kristine? I’m adding him to my quote book and want to give credit where credit is due.

  39. Mardell on February 11, 2004 at 10:57 pm

    School is merely a tool for parents to teach their children how to deal in the real world. It is a controled enviroment, which is usually safe, where kids can interact and practice social skills on each other. Then when problems arise they will usually tell their parents. Then parents can give them advice how to solve the problem (when they get older this does not happen), and they can go try to solve them. The acedamics are important but not the only reason that kids need to go to school. Having first hand experience with kids who are home schooled and then start going to school in high school, they are either outcasts, until they figure out how to get friends, or they quit.

    And about deciding what school to sent your child to it should not be the local gang school but it does not have to cost $20,000 and year either.
    Having a kid that is ahead of his class in almost every subject, I have found that suplemmenting at home is a great way to keep him busy. We do lots of art and science projects at home. I try to take the things he learns at school and put them into practical applications. He also knows that if he asks me any question I will tell him the answer or if I do not know we will look it up or call dad. Consequantly he knows what the speed of light is and what a seven sided shape is called and lots of other trivial facts not many 6 year old know.
    He also loves to learn new words and often suprises his teacher, and mom with words they do not know the defeniton of (that is Kaimi’s fault, him and his big vocabulary). I have found him reading his dictionary quite a few times.
    So to sum up the parenting is so much more important than the school you put your child in (just make sure he has a positive learning experience). You really control your child’s education when they are young.

  40. Nate Oman on February 12, 2004 at 11:39 am

    On TV: My wife and I have accidentally backed into a no-TV lifestyle (see caveat below) and quite enjoy it. When we arrived in Little Rock, we never got around to calling the cable company and in the end we decided that we liked not having access to television. We continue to watch a fair number of movies on video and our son has videos that we watch. We like having control over what he sees. The other thing that we have fond is that it is much easier to be productive when you can’t simply flip on the TV. I consider myself a fairly geeky, bookish kind of guy, but I have been able to get a lot more read since we moved.

    Of course, as March Madness approaches I can’t help but feel a certain sense of longing the return of television…

  41. Adam Greenwood on February 12, 2004 at 11:46 am

    Nate,
    You have unwittingly stumbled across my patented solution for integrating with my ward. I love sports, but don’t have television either, so I try to watch games over at the houses of people in the ward. Its a good way to spend time with people and gives them something in common with me.

  42. Gayle on February 12, 2004 at 10:25 pm

    Greg: About preschool–you might ask yourself what it is you want for your child and for yourself by enrolling them. My older daughter has attended four different preschools in two time zones. When it is socially pleasurable, artistically encouraging and even ethnically and socioeconomically diverse, count yourself lucky. However, if/when it becomes a mere playgroup or academically bland, religiously unhelpful, or too costly to justify, think twice. For us, this all seemed to depend on the season of our lives. In grad school, we were at a university with an amazing international community, and the co-op preschool with two paid professionals and a volunteer parent a few hours twice or three times a week seemed ideal and invaluable: our daughter was best friends with kids from Turkey, Taiwan, the Philippines, Norway, etc. Not only did preschool mean a global community at a low price, but it also meant my husband and I could both plan our teaching and course schedules around the hours our daughter was at preschool.

    Now let me tell you about our small town experience. I naively expected that with a university in our midst we would find a similar experience awaiting us. Not so. The on-campus facility served as a dual preschool/daycare set up primarily for undergraduates with children. It is large, impersonal, and monocultural. The town itself offered nothing but religiously affiliated private preschools and Head Start. At Lutheran preschool #1 my daughter seemed overwhelmed by the 25-kid-large class and when she was reprimanded for saying the class’s dead pet hamster would resurrect someday, we decided to move her down the church road and enroll her in Lutheran private preschool #2. Here my daughter learned all about infant baptism and brought home all sorts of funky “cross” of Jesus artwork like a glow-in-the-dark keychain. Downright sacrilege for this Mormon girl. Now this ultimately led to many splendid conversations about our religious differences to theirs, what we believed and why we believed as we did. She became intensely interested in the first vision because it helped her envision both Jesus and Heavenly Father with bodies like hers. But finally, when I wasn’t given teaching this semester—I’m an adjunct—I determined to just enjoy the next precious six months I have with my daughter and she has with me and her sister before kindergarten in the fall. It became too much for a pre-K child to have to make sense of. (Although I smile to myself remembering the day she came home to say, “Mom, they just don’t know a whole lot about the Book of Mormon, do they?”)

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