Op-Ed: Nation of Wimps? Thoughts on the idealized childhood of America

Posted Jun 24, 2008 by Paul Wallis
Some people will take a bull by the horns. Some will grab whatever other parts of its anatomy happen to be available. There’s a lady called Hara Estroff Marano, who’s been picking apart the obsessive, “smothering”, childhoods created by parents.
Bronze Bull Statue
Bronze Bull Statue
Digital Journal
This has been a sore point in America’s culture for a while now. Even the most liberal and conservative have expressed concerns about where a childhood can be driven by social imperatives.
Marano isn’t too impressed by sacred cows, either. TIME Magazine:
In her provocative new book, A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting (Broadway), she writes, "Behold the wholly sanitized childhood, without skinned knees or the occasional C in history! Kids need to learn that you need to feel bad sometimes. We learn through experience, and we learn especially through bad experiences. Through disappointment and failure we learn how to cope."
Vague, isn’t it? Marano’s theme is developed much more fully as she explains how she began to discover this pan-social Wimpification at work, on campus. Marano feels that these kids have never had to cope, and just don’t know how, so they’re crashing and burning in record numbers.
I would point out that this is a clinical analysis of a whole generation of kids in real time.
Marano’s calling the score, not the ideology, in her work.
Her views aren’t closed verdicts, either. (For once! How many omniscient idiots can we fit on one little planet?) She’s looking at an ongoing process, the evolution of the Digital generations, and seeing a lot she considers dangerous.
I hope I’m not misinterpreting her here, or giving other people the wrong idea: This is what I think she means, and it’s a little complex.
She refers to the traditional “name brand” careerism as a case in point, the blind faith in things like Ivy League colleges, the relics of respectability of a previous generations, as the certainties parents want.
She does this simultaneously with her view of a world revolutionized by technology, and an education system riddled with “accommodations”, considerations like the relative time taken to do SATs, and other mystic processes. It's very scary reading.
I think the broad references to the parental concept of certainties is the best way to contrast the facts of the world with invasive parenting on a colossal scale. Some of the instances she quotes indicate how colossal, particularly “accommodations”. You see what I mean about score keeping, not theorizing based on ideology:
(TIME) You consider medicating kids with drugs like Ritalin over-parenting
(Marano) Parents go out of their way to have their kids declared defective so that they can get the drug and so that they can also have "accommodations." This is a big deal. It has been going on for five or seven years now. Parents go out of their way and spend fortunes...
The rest of her answer is mind blowing. It equates to finding a system loophole in a child's officially recognized "defects". I haven't quoted it here because it deserves recognition as a logical process, and in context with her other comments.
The whole article is spiky with instances and ideas, and it's all high protein food for some social policy thinking.
I could wish TIME hadn't digressed into things like Parents And Kids' Sports, which is hardly news, but even then, despite the topic, Marano has something to say on a practical level.
Marano has managed, however, to pin down in one place a lot of the absolutely basic drives of a society trapped between protective instincts, love, and a society which has made statues of its children in the course of chasing the goals of that society.
With a bit of luck, God may have blessed America with Marano, because that's what a lot of Americans have been saying, for years. It's an area where even the holiest cow of all, partisan politics, is pretty much bipartisan.
She looks like someone who can put it all together as a working argument to deal with the issues.