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Are middle-class parents enablers?

'dependency dilemma' in child-centered families

The American model of raising children, where they come first in every regard, is spoiling them. This may not be a novel idea, but after anthropologists studied 35 middle-class families, they arrived at some stark conclusions.

In child-centric families, the kids are less helpful around the house and not as independent compared to their peers.

Kids are 'oblivious' to their parents

American parents feel guilty

Ochs and her team concluded Americans have a highly idealized way of spending time together. Often, a "family night" does not include anyone but the immediate cohort. It's a time when no work is allowed, and the activities are focused on the children. This puts unnecessary pressure on the parents, and the reserved time can easily be ruined by a child's temper tantrum or something else that does not go exactly as planned.

After 10 years of studying the average middle-class family "in vivo," or shall we say at home, one thing was clear: These kids are spoiled. An article in the Wall Street Journal last month detailed a University of California-Los Angeles project that looked at the dynamics of middle-class families, even scrutinizing the products in the refrigerator. The families had a very child-centered focus, which may help explain the "dependency dilemma" seen among American middle-class families, according to the study's chief researcher, Dr. Elinor Ochs.

"Parents intend to develop their children's independence, yet raise them to be relatively dependent, even when the kids have the skills to act on their own," Ochs said.

Ochs has studied family dynamics in countries as far away as Peru and Samoa. She said those children were expected to contribute substantially to the community, do more work and come second to their elders. American children, by contrast, seemed more helpless. The Los Angeles parents focused more on the children, dumbed down language when speaking with them and did most of the housework. Also, American parents seemed to quickly intervene when children displayed problems completing a task.

Children are taught to focus on objects, not people

Researchers noticed when the fathers came home, 86 percent of the time at least one child didn't pay attention to him. "The kids are oblivious to their parents' perspectives," said Ochs.

They theorized that this behavior stems from the tendency in U.S. society to focus on the children, rather than teaching kids to focus on others. Americans encourage children to pay attention to objects more than faces, emphasizing colors and shapes, for instance, over people, according to researchers.

We do our best

American parents have been criticized as of late. Pamela Druckerman's book, Bringing up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, made a big splash earlier this year. The book claims American parents focus too much on their children. But in true American spirit, many parents just want to make sure their kids have the best childhood possible. And sometimes that means tying shoelaces more often than not or co-sleeping with the baby to make a child happy.

More on parenting styles

The problem with helicopter parenting
Is attachment parenting right for you?
Slow parenting: The hands-off approach

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