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Stop blaming parents for everything Nobody seems to care when the experts get it wrong

Who's to blame for our era of fragility? (Mark Makela/Getty Images)

Who's to blame for our era of fragility? (Mark Makela/Getty Images)


November 14, 2023   5 mins

By the time my husband and I had our second child five years ago, I had long been researching “parent-bashing”. I knew that while parenting matters, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as the hoards of “parenting experts” would have us believe. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder: will my children blame me for their future hardships? Because I was too harsh or too kind? Too involved or not involved enough?

It is fashionable to blame parents for being “too anxious” which has created a generation of kids too fragile for public life. But these anxieties haven’t come from nowhere. This is how we were told we were supposed to be. For decades, so-called “experts” peddled pseudoscientific theories and magic bullets in the form of parental behaviour management to cure all manner of social ills. The good parent was beatified as one who is aware of every risk and acts accordingly. And woe betide the “lazy” parent who does not. In doing so, they pointed the finger squarely at parents for nearly everything that goes wrong.

Since at least the Seventies, this is how generations have learned to think about problems, both personal and social: “What did the parents do?” At the inaugural conference of the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship (ARC) held last month, even critics of our over-fragile culture could not resist delineating all the ways parenthood has contributed to our censorious and illiberal culture. Phoning in from New York, Jonathan Haidt criticised the rise of the “phone-based childhood” and alluded to its roots in the Nineties when “free play” dwindled and paranoid parents started to think “everyone’s a child molester or rapist”. He was echoing his and Greg Lukianoff’s Coddling of the American Mind, published in 2018, in which they warn about the rise of “helicopter parents”.

Speaking like bewildered farmers whose chickens have come home to roost, they find it difficult to imagine that their own profession, psychology, might have something to do with our age of fragility. Over the years, a voluminous academic literature has mined the minutiae of childhood experience to find the sources of personal and social problems in everything from how parents feed their children (bottle or breast, spoon or “baby-led weaning”) to how many words they say before an ever-lowering crucial age.

In countless self-help books and on endless daytime talk show segments, they educated people in their emotional vulnerability and invited them to scan their childhoods for the sources of their troubles. A litany of minor behaviours became linked to metaphors of toxicity and a swathe of wicked personal and public problems. These experts preached a gospel of emotional vulnerability and now appear shocked that people believed them.

Consider the widespread policy application of ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences). Drawn from a questionnaire devised in 1998, it tallies up adverse experiences in childhood to produce a score said to be predictive of future life outcomes. Under the veil of scientific calculation, it pinpoints the cause of so many issues that had proven resistant to change. And instead of dealing with the tough business of things such as poverty and poor housing, it implied that governments could simply intervene to change the way parents behave. Even Haidt and Lukianoff draw on ACEs in their manifesto for a more robust public life, concluding:

“
 there are two very different ways to damage [children’s] development. One is to neglect and underprotect them, exposing them early to severe and chronic adversity
 The other is to overmonitor and overprotect them, denying them the thousands of small challenges, risks, and adversities that they need to face on their own in order to become strong and resilient adults.”

So whether you over-protect them or under-protect them, the problem is you. Moreover, besides being criticised for, among other things, downplaying the role of poverty and conflating severe experiences such as childhood sex abuse and not feeling anyone thought you were “special”, it was precisely devices such as the ACE questionnaire that led to the overuse of concepts such as “trauma”. Sure, you might have never lived in a war zone, but add up your bad experiences in childhood and you too can have a coveted claim to emotional damage.

This is a tough narrative to shake. From the speeches of politicians underscoring the importance of the “first three years” to popular books such as Sophie Lewis’s Abolish the Family, there is one point of agreement across the spectrum: Larkin was right. This is the ethos of parental determinism: the notion that what parents do is a key cause determining our personal and societal fate.

Not only does it fail to capture the complexity of the problems that face us, it also becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, reducing the control people feel they hold over their lives. This is by design. The rise of parenting expertise happened in concert with the overall proliferation of other forms of pseudo-expertise, a large part of which involved the denigration of the ordinary, uninitiated individual’s ability to adequately manage his affairs. It is an expertise that arose hand in hand with a generalised pessimism about the ability of human beings to manage their fate.

Already by the middle of the 19th century, the enormous optimism about man’s ability to control the course of history that had characterised the “age of Enlightenment” had begun to wane. Optimistic figures of the Enlightenment such as Godwin and Condorcet had pointed to societal impediments to the “future progress of mankind”, and looked forward to the day when, once rooted out, problems would be a distant memory. Yet as many social problems appeared stubbornly resistant to change, a certainty grew that the answers lay not in the external world but in the internal world of the human subject. Society wasn’t the problem. The problem was you and me.

As Christopher Lasch observed, by the 20th century, social reformers increasingly came to see the family as an obstacle to the social changes they desired. If behaviours and beliefs were now an impediment to progress, it was logical to look to their source — the family and the leading role that parents played therein. Accordingly, once-banal aspects of everyday life came to be referred to as an “art”, communicating a “conception of marriage and the family that derived not so much from aesthetics as from science and technology… When marriage experts said that marriage represented the art of personal ‘interaction,’ they meant that marriage, like everything else, rested on proper technique.” Progressives, Lasch continued, envisaged a day when parenting would be professionalised and “licensed” and the “unfit of the human species” would “cease to reproduce their kind”.

While obviously not everyone took their conclusions to such eugenicist extremes, many members of a new and growing “knowledge class” expressed a similar exasperation with the ordinary individual’s inability to manage his life. Hence even a figure such as BronisƂaw Malinowski, critical of Freud’s excessive focus on the nuclear family, could see “only one way out” of the “cultural crisis” of his time, the Thirties, as “the establishment of a
 scientific control of human affairs.” Since that time, this class has only grown, both responding to such “crises” and, implicitly, responding to its own failure to really solve them.

Part of the difficulty, then, is that ordinary people don’t realise just how stupid they are. They have to be convinced of their incapacity, lest they have no idea that they are going about their lives all wrong. Hence at the beginning of nearly every new psychotherapeutic fad, advocates emerge informing audiences of their perilous inability to do things correctly. And so, a key part of the gospel of emotional vulnerability is the constant preaching that the uninitiated “layperson” is sorely ill-equipped to manage the tough business of living. They need the growing piles of books, apps, and even “wellbeing curriculum” produced by proliferating therapeutic entrepreneurs whose business it is to make a problem of the minutiae of everyday life. In all this, vulnerability has become a sacred ethos, preached to young people and their parents at every turn.

All of which means that we parents are told we cannot simply rely on our own experiences and those of generations before us. After all, that’s where all the problems started — with people who just didn’t know what “we know now”. The result is a complete denial of agency: parents are constantly enjoined to doubt themselves and to “listen to the experts” — and yet, paradoxically, no one seems to look to the experts when things go wrong.


Ashley Frawleyis a sociologist, a columnist at Compact and COO of Sublation Media.

AshleyAFrawley

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Kirk Susong
Kirk Susong
6 months ago

This article is attacking a straw man. Parents do matter enormously for children’s outcomes – but they matter in a different way than this article seems to envision (and question). The primary thing a husband (or wife) can do to parent his (or her) children is… to love their mother (or father). A strong bond between husband and wife produces the stability (emotional, financial, physical) that enables children to thrive. Whether they go to piano lessons or play in the dirt, whether they play rough and tumble with older siblings or sit in a corner reading, whether they indulge their inner creativity or engage in rote memorization… none of it matters a tenth compared to having a home with mother and father present and engaged.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
6 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

Amen!

David Morley
David Morley
6 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

Yes – surprising how little there was about family breakup, divorce, and what could be called pre divorce dissatisfaction. If mum or dad (it’s usually mum) are planning to get out of the marriage and “be young again” once the kids have been offloaded, it must show. And it must be visible to the kids.
(I do realise that some people have serious reasons for wanting to get out of a marriage ASAP)

Osmo Vartiainen
Osmo Vartiainen
6 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

I fully agree with your main point, but I believe the article takes a slightly different angle at the case.

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
6 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

There is this psycho-therapeutic culture which exists particularly strongly in America, and the article is attacking this

Kat L
Kat L
6 months ago
Reply to  Kirk Susong

The author has a point which is that ‘experts’ enabled a lack of confidence in one’s parenting abilities. Parents do get blamed for everything. The amount of parent shaming by the childless and the one and dones is outrageous and relentless.

Last edited 6 months ago by Kat L
Maximilian R.
Maximilian R.
6 months ago

There’s an expiration date on how long you can blame your parents for everything wrong with your life. It’s your 30th birthday.
J.K. Rowling said that (or something along those lines), and thankfully, it stuck ever since.

Stuart Bennett
Stuart Bennett
6 months ago
Reply to  Maximilian R.

Couldn’t agree more, I didn’t become a functioning adult until my mid 30’s and it took a mental health crisis to catalyse that and I’m grateful for it. Life is harder when you aren’t taking responsibility for it. Luckily for me there were no smartphones for my generation. The trouble with the current norm is that childishness is reinforced by social media content so childhood and childish attitudes and interest persist long after they should.

Colorado UnHerd
Colorado UnHerd
6 months ago
Reply to  Stuart Bennett

Love this: “Life is harder when you aren’t taking responsibility for it.” A gem of counterintuitive wisdom.

Graham Strugnell
Graham Strugnell
6 months ago

I think the opposite is true. It’s much easier not to take responsibility for anything.

Maximilian R.
Maximilian R.
6 months ago

It only appears to be, but that’s an illusion. Getting into the flow is how one flies, and once you’re up there in the air, dragging along on the ground just isn’t what it used to be.

Ben Shipley
Ben Shipley
6 months ago
Reply to  Maximilian R.

Yes, and that’s the reason we should move the franchise and drinking and gun-owning ages to 30. Abbie Hoffman used to say never trust anyone over 30. Clearly he had it the wrong way around, but as I race past 70, I’m beginning to wonder about the 30-somethings too. Why not follow the Lakota and just trust your elders? By which I naturally mean me.

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
6 months ago
Reply to  Ben Shipley

Should anyone under 30 even have children?

Kat L
Kat L
6 months ago

Yes of course. As many as can be managed.

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
6 months ago

Parents could, however, get stuck in with potty training instead of having endless discussions about parenting.
Parenting ought to be a natural thing, the idea being to pass information onto the child to help it towards adulthood. As a grandparent, my main concern is that children just don’t go outside enough. Outside the house is more important than inside the house because outside is our true environment. Inside can be warm and fluffy but outside is where there is life. So more experience of outside is important.
I am absolutely appalled at the number of children who are frightened of rain.

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
6 months ago

Wait till they find out about carbon dioxide.

Thomas Wagner
Thomas Wagner
6 months ago
Reply to  Christian Moon

It’s everywhere! It’s everywhere! Aieee!

Graham Strugnell
Graham Strugnell
6 months ago

I’m scared of rain, maybe because it’s the anagram of Iran.

Mike Doyle
Mike Doyle
6 months ago

I think Michael Gove summed it up much more succinctly, “I think the people of this country have had enough of experts with organisations with acronyms saying that they know what is best and getting it consistently wrong.”

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
6 months ago
Reply to  Mike Doyle

A good sound bite but unfortunately in the sole context of Brexit not advice he has sought to follow through at any other point.

David Morley
David Morley
6 months ago

I think the real eye opener in relation to this, and many other areas in which “experts” advise the public, is the extent to which academics are prone to fads, fashions, ideological capture and internal border disputes – and how relatively little of human knowledge is proven science.

This goes as much for the authors own subject – sociology – as it does for psychology. Indeed, her piece probably only makes sense in terms of the academic rivalry between sociology and psychology (including social psychology). These two subjects are often proposing rival explanations for the same observations.

The real problem is the rush to policy and advice of people too sure of themselves and their ideas, resulting in massive failed experiments in the real world. We all need to be more sceptical of their claims to settled knowledge.

Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
6 months ago

Is there some way we can blame the children for everything? I mean, they come into the world knowing nothing, and are barely competent to operate heavy machinery. That’s no way to raise the next generation. We need a better screening process for our offspring.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
6 months ago

What we really need is a children’s version of Chat GPT instead of exposing them to the adult versions. Perhaps specific age groups too. Its “learning” datasets could easily be acquired from Russell Brand (0-2), Greta Thunberg (3-6) and Gary Lineker (7-11).

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
6 months ago

My children have the glowing vigor that only comes from having a real purpose in life: they’re intent on destroying me!

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
6 months ago

As they need a better screening process for us. “Choose your parents wisely.”

Stuart Bennett
Stuart Bennett
6 months ago

I’m afraid to say that Haidt and Lukianoff are 100% correct about the damage that phone based childhood has done. It IS parents fault that their children have phones and it is parents who have complete control over what the children can access on the phones they pay for on the child’s behalf (a rare example of social responsibility from the tech industry). Every hour a young mind consumes of the infantilising and emotionally toxic content that is internet pop culture is an hour of that child’s life they have been allowed to squander. An hour where they aren’t discovering how to operate in the world. An hour where they aren’t learning to have human relationships. An hour where they aren’t finding out what they are good at and interested in and what they have to contribute to their family/community/society. It is parents fault because it’s their whole job is to protect their children from the worst harms and turn them into functioning adults. Social media, particularly Instagram and TikTok are the antithesis to both of these things.

Colorado UnHerd
Colorado UnHerd
6 months ago
Reply to  Stuart Bennett

Well-articulated. I’d add “An hour where they aren’t outside, learning to see and appreciate the natural world that will depend on their adult protection. An hour when they aren’t exercising, learning to appreciate and care for the marvel of a healthy body.”

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
6 months ago

In Hackney?

Monica Wilde
Monica Wilde
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Nature walks on the Hackney marshes? Bay watching, birdwatching and art with nature at Abney Park Cemetery – the largest area of woodland inside the M25?

Last edited 5 months ago by Monica Wilde
Graham Strugnell
Graham Strugnell
6 months ago
Reply to  Stuart Bennett

Parenting is grossly underrated and parents the first teachers. Alas most are unaware of this responsibility. I see mums staring at their phones while junior plays games on an iPad. That is child abuse.

Thor Albro
Thor Albro
6 months ago
Reply to  Stuart Bennett

Perfect, Stuart. As far as I’m concerned any parent who gives their child a phone at age 10 and doesn’t supervise it’s use is a “bad parent” and I don’t care about Ms Frawley’s hurt feelings. Although, I do appreciate her attitudes regarding the epidemic of experts.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
6 months ago
Reply to  Stuart Bennett

“The world” now includes smartphones and social media, whether you like it or not.

Lone Wulf
Lone Wulf
6 months ago

What influence can parenting have if children are put into daycare institutions for 70% of their life time from 0 to 4 years, at a critical time for their neuronal development?

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
6 months ago

The same thing is happening with teaching. It’s just glorified baby-sitting now.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
6 months ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

I’ve become reconciled to this lately. I’m a teacher with 35 years experience, teaching in an academic school but think that in essence the best we do is “entertain” young people while the grow up.

Very few remember anything I teach but that’s okay as long as our interactions are positive.

What gets on my bristols is the desire of people to expect us to solve all the problems of childhood.

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
6 months ago

Was Paul Simon mistaken when, looking back from the vantage of 1973, he sang: “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all”? Maybe it’s a good thing when students don’t pay attention to content. (Anyone who knows me knows I am anything but conservative, so I sometimes twit people by opposing sex education. Why? Because if we don’t know much about history or biology or science book or French I took, and we had to toss sex into that mix, wouldn’t the human race just die out?) (Though there is some sentiment that current youngsters are losing interest in sex. And maybe if Planet Earth could weigh in, would that be such a bad outcome from its point of view?)

Last edited 6 months ago by Michael Cavanaugh
David Morley
David Morley
6 months ago

Partly yes, and partly no.

There are people out there whose lives were truly wrecked by their parents. And those parents weren’t reading many parenting books. They likely feel little guilt for the damage they have done.

Then there are the parents who would always have been good (or good enough) who have perhaps been led into poor practices by “experts”. They are perhaps too prone to feeling guilty about the impact of every tiny little thing they do.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
6 months ago

Our best hope of managing complex situations like families is too muddle through.

This doesn’t mean that those who have studied families or psychology or whatever have nothing to offer but their ideas have little to offer unless delivered with humility.

Of course, families can be catastrophic; sexual abuse, cruelty and neglect. Perhaps that’s where the experts might help but these are not problems in most families. While far from perfect, the typical parents have the most interest in the welfare of their children.

Our world has become full of experts and I don’t think they have helped us much. I notice that the Daily Telegraph is reporting that the consultancy firms are downsizing, maybe we’re starting to see the limits of expertise.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
6 months ago

More the rise of AI I think.

Dominic A
Dominic A
6 months ago

Rather misses a big point – that safetyism has been in ascendence for 200 years. Not just with regard to parenting, but to everything: industry & work (elf and safety), the military (only Putin and Hamas think it’s ok for soldiers to die), diet, alcohol, smoking, driving, canoeing… Pretty much everybody was on board with this, it was not led by a cabal of ‘experts’. What we see now is ‘St George in Retirement Syndrome’ – the dragon has been slain, and our hero is roving the country, piicking fights with ever smaller dragons; that may in fact just be lizards, or figments of his imagination.

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
6 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Well, Patton didn’t think it was OK for (some) soldiers to die: “No b*****d ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making some other poor dumb b*****d die for his country.”

David Lynn
David Lynn
6 months ago

i have 12 siblings. My parents kept order kept us clean clothed Fed and in school. Nary a patenting self help book in sight. We are all now retiring. Nearly all of us own our homes outright and are living large in retirement. Give parents a break.

Lee Jones
Lee Jones
6 months ago

I’m tempted to say, are you an idiot? Are you unable to cope rationally with the vicissitudes of life? No? Then do as your own parents did and ignore the mindset of “scientific control of human affairs”. But, I don’t have children, I find them tiresome and irritating, (as did my parents) so what do I know?

Last edited 6 months ago by Lee Jones
Peter B
Peter B
6 months ago

“I knew that while parenting matters, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as the hoards of “parenting experts” would have us believe.”
I suspect it matters more rather than less. Though not necessarily in the way the “parenting experts” think.
But are there really any “parenting experts” ? Not convinced. It’s something you learn through trial and error and patterns you see around you. Also judging who to trust and copy. And best not to feel anxious about it – that will only pass on to children, who prefer certainty and consistency.
I think it’s often an error to be judging people’s success or fitness as parents over a very short term. I was very critical when younger of the way my parents brought us up (far too strict) and it took at least 30 years to appreciate that the advantages of that far outweighed the costs during childhood. I’m sure I’m over-compensating and being too lax (perhaps like many of my generation).

Sophy T
Sophy T
6 months ago

It’s a lot easier to be an easy-going, tolerant parent when you’ve got easy-going, cooperative children.

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
6 months ago
Reply to  Sophy T

An easy-going, co-operative temperament is as (gene-)heritable as all the other personality traits, styles and foibles.

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
6 months ago

Even twenty years after the publication by Steven Pinker of The Blank Slate there is seemingly almost no awareness of the work done on the heritability of all dimensions of character, tastes and aptitudes.
To the extent that there are any environmental influences at all on our development,the one thing we have been able to establish is that the shared environment of the family has almost no effect on how we turn out as adults relative to others in our culture.
Children resemble their parents because of their genes not their upbringing. We know this because adopted children still resemble their biological parents and not their adoptive ones, and because of the mathematical relationship in the extent to which identical twins that share a genome resemble each other more than fraternal ones who only share half their genes. This holds true for seemingly every dimension.
Bryan Caplan’s book on Selfish Reasons to have More Kids is another good discussion of this phenomenon.
This 2015 study sums up the extent of the work to that date: Meta-analysis of the heritability of human traits based on fifty years of twin studies by Polderman et al.

Last edited 6 months ago by Christian Moon
David Morley
David Morley
6 months ago
Reply to  Christian Moon

the one thing we have been able to establish is that the shared environment of the family has almost no effect on how we turn out as adults relative to others in our culture.

I’m no expert, but I believe what the research says is that family environment has little influence on the differences (in personality etc) between us. Not quite the same thing but remarkable nonetheless.

I believe I’m also right in saying that, in so far as non genetic influences are at work, they are pretty random and we don’t know what they are.

It is still the case though that at the extremes abuse can have a marked impact. But even this varies massively between individuals – presumably as a result of genetic differences.

David Morley
David Morley
6 months ago
Reply to  Christian Moon

We still have to account for change over time though – assuming it to be real. If children (and their parents) are now more risk averse, or less resilient, than former generations, that is unlikely to be due to genetic change.

Nathan Kendrick
Nathan Kendrick
6 months ago
Reply to  Christian Moon

As I recall, it’s not either/or, but both/and (though not equally). Genetic factors are more determinant, but social/parental factors still make a difference. My heuristic is, there’s not much you can do to make your kids “better,” but there are definitely a few ways you can screw them up.

Last edited 6 months ago by Nathan Kendrick
David Morley
David Morley
6 months ago

Christian is closer to the current position (but let’s reserve a little scepticism). Parental influence on differences in personality of their children is almost nowhere to be seen. It’s not all genes, but where it is not, the differences are random rather than systematic.

Work on genes themselves (rather than eg twin studies) is still ongoing, but evidence so far is that we are way more hard wired than has often been assumed. A lot of ideology which leans blank slate looks set to be blown out of the water.

Jane H
Jane H
6 months ago

People have lost confidence in making their own judgements and decisions due to the nanny state and the endless fearful situations portrayed by the media, it even has a name now, permacrisis . This has lead seamlessly into the authoritarian totalitarian state we now find ourselves in.

David Morley
David Morley
6 months ago
Reply to  Jane H

People have lost confidence in making their own judgements and decisions 

And yet, at the same time people are remarkably arrogant about their own opinions and very closed to evidence which disagrees with them. Quite literally, parents with messed up kids will still give parenting advice to others!

Jane H
Jane H
6 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Those people have always existed but are fewer nowadays, most are happy to let others in authority make their decisions for them. Somebody just has to say follow the science and most will, without question.

Colorado UnHerd
Colorado UnHerd
6 months ago

Much of this article exudes an exculpatory tone uncomfortably similar to the “I was just following orders” justification of foot soldiers for not fulfilling their duties, or for actively doing harm.
Parents are not infantry, but commanders. So, yes: Take counsel you find relevant and wise. But responsibility for the decisions you then make — and the consequences for your children — is yours, not those of “experts” who turned out to be wrong.
Parenting is not the only influence on a child’s prospects. But it’s the first, and likely the most powerful. “We were just following orders” really does not cut it in this arena.

Last edited 6 months ago by Colorado UnHerd
David Pogge
David Pogge
6 months ago

As a practicing clinical psychologist, teacher, researcher, and parent it seems to me that Ms. Frawely’s point is essentially correct. In over 35 years of practice I have observed more harm done to children by highly educated, intensely concerned parents trying to follow the ever-changing and increasingly alarming ‘advice’ generated by experts than I have seen done by those with less education who try to combine common sense with the experience-based guidance of their parents and grandparents. People have been raising other people for many centuries and generally done a pretty good job. Social science has existed for less than 100 years and we are becoming increasingly aware of how few ‘findings’ in social science will actually stand up to replication. Most of the things that social science tells us are either common sense dressed up in opaque jargon, or wrong. Sadly, as I near the end of my career I feel that my profession has done far more harm than good, particularly when it comes to parenting. This does not mean that parents are not often to blame for their children’s imperfections, but it is impossible to raise perfect children. However, parents guided by experts appear to do more harm to their children than those guided by experience, tradition, and common sense.

V T C
V T C
6 months ago

I sympathize with the author’s complaint that many parents hav been led astray by the schemes of the knowledge class and are then unfairly blamed for bad outcomes. For better or worse, however, parents are necessarily the predominant influence in a child’s and therefore the eventual adult’s life. This is simply the way of nature and whatever any experts ever said or didn’t say is irrelevant to this fact. There is no need to blame parents for everything, they have enough on their plates. But let’s not shift responsibility from where it’s due.

Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
Elaine Giedrys-Leeper
6 months ago

The main benefit I have seen from reading / watching parenting gurus is a new language.
Old words in new contexts – “repair”, “acknowledge”, “accept” ….
and old words with very new meanings “trauma” being the outstanding example.
The relative mental health of younger people certainly seems to be a “thing” nowadays, much more so than when I was wet behind the ears in the 60s and 70s.
Regardless of the causes of this phenomenon, having the appropriate language to talk about it is, from personal experience, hugely useful and illuminating and in its own way a sign of robust good health – I am a big fan of living, evolving languages.

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
6 months ago

This puts me in mind of what, in another context, was called “the courtier’s reply fallacy:” when a mere child deigns to point out that the emperor is naked, one of the emperor’s courtiers looks down his nose and pronounces: “I have considered the impudent accusations of Mr Dawkins with exasperation at his lack of serious scholarship. He has apparently not read the detailed discourses of Count Roderigo of Seville on the exquisite and exotic leathers of the Emperor’s boots, nor does he give a moment’s consideration to Bellini’s masterwork, On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat. We have entire schools dedicated to writing learned treatises on the beauty of the Emperor’s raiment, and every major newspaper runs a section dedicated to imperial fashion; Dawkins cavalierly dismisses them all. . . Until Dawkins has trained in the shops of Paris and Milan, until he has learned to tell the difference between a ruffled flounce and a puffy pantaloon, we should all pretend he has not spoken out against the Emperor’s taste. His training in biology may give him the ability to recognize dangling genitalia when he sees it, but it has not taught him the proper appreciation of Imaginary Fabrics.”

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
6 months ago

“They f**k you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do.” Maybe this was even so before the rise of expertise & the triumph of the therapeutic?

Andrew Boughton
Andrew Boughton
6 months ago

Agree with this ceding of everything to self-proclaimed experts, who are usually practical abject failures within their own lives in their areas of expertise. Most economists are terrible at business. Feeling secure + independent enough (loved, valued, socially ‘educated’ ) -> life-long independence and respect.

Richard Ross
Richard Ross
5 months ago

Cruel people make cruel parents. Kind people make kind parents. Lazy people make lazy parents. Surprise!
While raising an award-winning, bumper crop, I have always been reluctant to advise on the “art” of parenting. Now, the one thing I am sure of is that there IS no art to parenting. No one can maintain a technique day in/day out for 20 years; truth will out. If you want to improve your parenting, improve yourself. Boom.

Last edited 5 months ago by Richard Ross
Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
6 months ago

Even if society does really well on “the tough business of things such as poverty and poor housing” it won’t make much difference to outcomes.
These are determined, to a huge extent, by genetics.

David Morley
David Morley
6 months ago
Reply to  Mark Goodhand

That’s a strong claim. Especially if you are saying that poverty sets no limits on what is given genetically. Comforting for the consciences of the well off though. Any evidence for this?

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
6 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

Whether something is imagined by you to be “comforting for the consciences of the well off”, or not, is no indication of its truth or otherwise.

David Morley
David Morley
6 months ago

That’ll be why I didn’t say that! And why I asked for evidence. Though, having said that, it’s probably not news to anyone that people tend to believe things that suit them, and disbelieve things that don’t.

Last edited 6 months ago by David Morley
Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
6 months ago
Reply to  David Morley

For evidence, read “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature” by Steven Pinker.
IQ is well known to correlate with career success.
Adoption and twin studies show that parental environment only counts for so much.
Besides IQ, traits like conscientiousness are also heritable.
People who are born with genes that predispose them to stupidity, laziness and ill-temper will struggle to get ahead in life, even if you give them a good start.