Archive

ShareThis Page
George Will: Toxic parenting on rise | TribLIVE.com
News

George Will: Toxic parenting on rise

WASHINGTON

Police came to Kim Brooks’ parents’ door in suburban Richmond, Va., demanding that her mother say where her daughter was or be arrested for obstructing justice. So began a Kafkaesque two-year ordeal that plunged Brooks into reflections about current parenting practices. It also produced a book, “Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear,” that is a catalog of symptoms of America’s descent into unfocused furiousness.

On a mild day, rushing to catch a plane home to Chicago, Brooks darted into a Virginia Target to make a purchase , leaving her 4-year-old son in the locked car with a window slightly open. After five minutes, during which the car was in her view near the store’s door, she drove away. The police were soon in pursuit, summoned by a bystander who gave them Brooks’ license plate number and an iPhone video — supposed evidence of a crime, “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.” A five-minute contribution.

Brooks’ penitential acknowledgment of “a lapse in judgment” attested to her immersion in the prevalent weirdness about parenting. She is an anxious person. She medicates before flying, although she acknowledges how safe flying is compared with driving. She worries about “stranger danger,” although she knows “the statistical near impossibility” of child abductions that, always rare, are rarer than ever. She knows that risk assessment is a basic test of rationality that she and so many other parents flunk.

Today, well past her sentence of 100 hours of community service and 20 hours of parenting instruction, Brooks, who calls herself “an uncritical consumer of anxiety,” knows the following: Because of the belief in “parental determinism,” mothers, especially, are susceptible to the fear that something seemingly minor that is done or left undone will impede Suzy’s path to Princeton and Congress. On what Brooks calls “the landscape of competitive, intensive, hypercontrolling parenthood” there is “performance” parenting, the constant mentioning — which means shaming parents with different approaches — of Billy’s myriad “enrichment” activities.

Helicopter parents, who hover over their progeny all the way to college, subscribe to the belief — a neurosis, really — that “a child cannot be out of an adult’s sight for one second.” The practical implication is that parenthood is a middle-class entitlement; poor people need not apply. Helicopter parents are indignant — indignation is the default setting of millions of people for whom the personal is political — about “free-range” parents who allow their children to walk alone to, and play unsupervised in, a neighborhood park. No wonder children who have never had unstructured play and never had to negotiate their disputes with one another flinch in bewilderment from the open society of a well-run campus.

Brooks cites a psychologist who notes that technology has made it easier not just to monitor others with smartphone videos (“vigilante parent policing”), but also to critique and condemn others. And to distribute digital disapproval, reinforcing a supposed moral and intellectual hierarchy of mothers, wherein the best are the most cautious, most irrationally afraid, most risk-averse.

Brooks wonders how parenting became “a labyrinth of societal anxieties,” a toxic compound of “competitiveness and insecurity,” an arena of “chronic, gnawing perfectionism.” Start here: Why did the noun “parent” become a verb? Brooks says that “observing the arc of parenting norms” since World War II suggests that within the last 10 years we have “reached peak madness.” If only.

Contemporary America is a bubbling cauldron of acidic judgmentalism, a stew of status anxieties, of preening about lifestyle fads and of nasty habits learned from government: Brooks seems to understand that “the criminalization of parenthood” occurs “within the confines of an oppressive and infantilizing nanny state.” The ever-metastasizing administrative state’s rage to regulate bleeds into a pandemic urge to criminalize more and more of life, and to excoriate and shame those whose behaviors cannot (yet) be formally punished.

It is not unrelated that whenever a third-rate comedian or an adjunct professor of gender studies at a third-tier college says something politically idiotic or — which is much the same thing — culturally “insensitive,” internet hordes who are happy only when unhappy become ecstatically enraged: A brain map might show their pleasure receptors ablaze, as if stimulated by another controlling addiction, cocaine.

Parenting will become increasingly frenzied as does the national culture of which such parenting is symptomatic. Such parenting is a transmissible social disease: People often parent as they were parented.

George Will is a columnist for The Washington Post. His email address is georgewill@washpost.com.


TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.