How rotten are your kids?

How rotten are your kids?

How rotten are your kids?

What's happening in our readers' forum.
May 14 2007 4:47 AM

Insufferable, the Children

How rotten are your kids?

In honor of Mother's Day here at Slate, Emily Bazelon investigated whether today's parents, through misguided praise, have inadvertently raised a generation of pampered, incompetent brats. Apparently, children may be better served by praise directed at the quality of their efforts rather than at the quality of their innate attributes. As the uncle of six technically perfect small children, I can't really relate to the article's premise. But, I wouldn't be surprised if your kids need to be cut down a peg or two.

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While there's no shortage in the Fray of contempt for today's youth, respondents are surprisingly ambivalent towards Bazelon's seemingly reasonable advice. Degsme takes issue with effort-oriented praise on theological grounds:

What's wrong with head patting? What's wrong with feeling good? Sorry, but this is yet another go round of calvinistic reactionism.

[According to the article:] "We tell them that they're smart or athletic or musically gifted, when what we should be praising is hard work and effort."

Yeah, [only] if you want them to become worker drones with no real definition of self other than work.

Einstein is attributed as having said, "all the hard work in the world won't make up for a touch of genius." Benjamin Franklin pointed out, "Hard work may not kill you - but why take the chance."

Praising only work praises the outcome and not the person. It is precisely the sort of dehumanization that allows the Guanatanamos, the "boot in their ass", and the RagHead/Towelhead comments to flourish.

It is the Calvinist mythos at its worst.

I can't agree that Calvinism is the problem, but if concentrated exposure to a good dose of Catholic dogma doesn't scare the excessive self-love out of your child, I don't know what else could. Speaking of doctrine, Degsme also offers an interesting treatise on praise-ratios, that's worth checking out.

Hi shares the concern that focus on effective praise—of any kind—can reduce our kids to someone else's tools:

One of the main themes in Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World" was that the tyranny of the future would use positive reinforcement in lieu of negative.

When my kids were small I would go to the zoo and watch a bird show were they showed the power of positive reinforcement on birds. Do you think this training was in the interest of the bird?

[I] see young people who are newly hired struggle in the work environment, more because they feel entitled [than] because they lack experience. They expect to get what they want simply by asking for it. They fail to realize that other people may want something also. [...]

They have a harder time achieving what they want in life because they never get any realistic feedback. Most people just tell them what they want to hear, so they can get what they want from them right now.

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From bright_virago's perspective, praise is simply a good idea—even when it is silly:

Of course you provide praise to those workers who are overcoming an obstacle - whether that's timely arrival or poor spelling or learning a new software program or anything else by which their job performance is judged. When I needed my twenty-something assistant to act more independently, I told her that she needed to inventory and re-order supplies without reminders from me. When she did that on a regular basis, I provided positive feedback on her job evaluation.

And, of course you tell your kid that she did a great job cleaning up those toys or her painting has amazing colors or you tell your spouse that the dinner he cooked tastes great or you appreciate that basketful of clean laundry. Those kinds of messages mean I am grateful for the gift of you, a complement to the oft-spoken I love you.

Vague praise is like vague anything else - sometimes funny  but mostly useless, or whatever and junk.

Is this whole hunt for a better parenting technique chasing the wrong fox? While thought doesn't have many kind words to spare for today's youth, he blames more than just parents:

Our 20 somethings have grown up during a fairly bleak time in our society--in their lifetimes: two wars, a five year long fear of terrorism, economic downturns, pension scandals, etc...I watch parents give over the top praise to their often poorly mannered children. It disgusts me, and I know it isn't helpful. However, this is not the only reason that we have a seemingly lazy, unmotivated young work force. We have bigger problems.

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Come not to harry the self-sure, but to better praise them in our Family Fray. Oh, and from the gang at Fraywatch, a belated "Happy Mother's Day," too.  GA1:45am PST

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Friday, May 4, 2007

Have political opinions become our generation's buggy-whips? Whether the venue is a congressional committee, a presidential debate, or even our system of courts, it appears that good sense has become an evolutionary liability in today's political environment. Why not save yourself some money on the Maalox and stop thinking about politics altogether?

Fred Kaplan dares to hope that the American government's latest maneuversin the Iraq war, the Battle of Capitol Hill, might actually be that vanishing animal of American politics—a good idea. According to the_slasher14, such hope is sorely misguided:

If our war aim is a stable Iraq, and there can be no stability (because of the inability of the Iraqis to create a political system that will be stable), then there IS no military solution -- short of [...] governing it as a military fiefdom. But that, we now know, will require an increase in troop strength, which would surely mean cataclysmic budget revisions and a draft. [A]in't gonna happen.

All of the above wouldn't matter if the war were about Iraq, but it hasn't been about Iraq -- in the United States -- for a long time. The war was begun on the assumption that it would be over quickly, and in plenty of time to ensure a Republican landslide victory in 2004. Then, with the large Congressional majorities that would attend this triumph, the Bushies could ensconce themselves, and the principles they stand for, in power for generations to come.

The war was against the Democrats every bit as much as it was against Saddam. Oh yes, there were non-political reasons for the war, and if it had been the cakewalk Bush/Cheney and the neocons thought it would be, [those reasons] would have come to the fore. But the predictions of "mission accomplished" in a few short weeks were wrong, and once that was clear, it changed everything.

Once it became clear that the war would NOT be over quickly, the Bushies faced a choice: drastically increase the level of troops involved, or face the prospect of depending upon the Iraqi political scene to rationalize itself.

Drastically increasing the troops was exactly what Bush/Cheney/Rove did NOT want to do in 2004. Not only would they have to run for office while instituting a draft, but they would have had to do so while increasing taxes to pay for all of this. Therefore, the only solution left was to rely on the Iraqi politicians to get their act together. This was a dicey prospect even in the best of times, given that Iraq's population has deep natural divisions. But it was especially dicey given that there had not BEEN any Iraqi politics for a generation under Saddam's rule.

Still, the illusion that it was possible held together long enough to get Bush re-elected, and with a Republican Congress as well. That was the good news; the bad news was that the Iraqis had learned something from 2004 -- to wit, the American commitment to their country was limited to what would retain the hold of the Republican Party on power. There would NEVER be a troop increase of a size large enough to pacify the country once and for all. The most they would get would be "surges" (there was one right after election day, remember). Bush/Cheney had no intention of jeopardizing their political victory with a draft and with the massive tax increases that would attend a serious attempt at victory.

On the other hand, Bush/Cheney could ALSO not withdraw troops short of an obvious victory, because that would mean they [had] started a war that they failed to win, and would have forfeited the Republican claim to being "tough on defense." This locked them into their present position for the next four years, and any Iraqi capable of understanding politics could see that.

Which in turn meant two things: the various Iraqi factions who, as Kaplan points out, really DO hate each other, now had no incentive to settle their differences, since the world in which they'd have to hash them out on a long-term basis wouldn't exist until 2009 at the earliest.

Second, of course, it meant that the only political advantage which remained to Bush/Cheney was to prepare for the elections of 2012 and the future, when they could blame the "loss" of Iraq on the Democrats. This too, of course, means the war must be continued into 2009, when Hillary (or whoever) can sweep into office in time to be blamed for taking the only logical step -- withdrawal.

The Iraqis understand what most Americans do not -- that for Bush/Cheney the war is no longer against anyone in the Middle East, but against the Democrats.

Less fatalistically, travelinMike sees a withdrawal date in view—the day dogs walk backward:

The Administration, in its desperate effort to buy more time to fix the Iraq that they broke, have been heavily dependant on the misguided calculation that "withdrawal = defeat". This was an effective short term strategy to enforce the "stay-the-course" mentality. Any attempt to stray from the definitive course of the "decider" would suffer the consequence of being indelibly identified with the politically toxic slur..."defeatist".

For an Administration afflicted with a case of terminal short-sightedness, what they failed to realize was that they (or some future Administration) would, at some point, be making the judgment that it was indeed time to leave Iraq. By their own definition, that they persistently pounded into the American and International psyches, they have made it virtually impossible to ever withdraw from Iraq, under any circumstances, without it "appearing" to be a defeat.

While it is far overdue, the Administration needs to start redefining "withdrawal". They need to infuse into this new definition the many and varied accomplishments that we have achieved over the last 4 years. They need to be every bit as single-minded about the positive re-definition of "withdrawal" as they were about the uncompromising negativity they originally assigned to the term.

It is purely a perception game, but it is a game where the enemy has had the overwhelming advantage from the moment we failed to translate our regime change success into a equally determined and focused reconciliation strategy.

In the end, withdrawal will not define our defeat. Our tragic failure to immediately reign in the forces of lawlessness and chaos sealed our fate in the first weeks following the invasion.

If you want to discuss Iraq, by all means join us in the War Stories Fray. But if you want my advice, the real action is in our Frays on American Idol and The Sopranos. You can wash down those fried brain cells with a refreshing glass of bubbly pop, and call it a summery spring day well-wasted.  GA2:55am PST

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Friday, May 4, 2007

Torie Bosch's latest documented case of Hillary Clinton's "drawl on demand"—her curious reversion to a Southern accent in campaign speeches and appearances, presumably from the years spent in Arkansas—provided easy fodder for those who already consider the candidate inauthentic and opportunistic, while others admitted to being themselves guilty as charged of the occasional linguistic "code shift."

Such attention has not been heaped upon a dialect change perhaps since Madonna's assumption of a faux British accent prompted criticism that the Material Girl was somehow repudiating " her gritty family past in lower-middle-class metropolitan Detroit."

For JEN-10, Hillary's multiple accents are no big deal: "I have lived in a lot of different places from Europe to Hawaii and Alaska.......and I notice my accent subtly shifting depending upon who I am talking to. And I'm not doing it on purpose, it just happens." candoxx agrees.

landmine sees the shift as political pandering at its most blatant. Defending Ms. Clinton, Borboleta says it's natural for displaced Southerners to lapse back into their accent of origin: "Hillary may be using this accented speech to her advantage, but in my mind there is little doubt that it's the real deal."

Boasting an international background, necoharbour considers himself further proof that accents do change over time:

I've seen this happen frequently with friends who have moved and worked elsewhere and after a year have picked up the local accent (but not the dialect). They will revert back to their original accent if you talk to them for a while. Those who actually do master a dialect are able to switch immediately depending on who they are talking too.

EarlyBird confesses to being "a natural mimic … since I was a little kid" and does a rather amusing riff on Hillary's "nauseatingly pandering, and embarrassing" performance in front of black audiences.

TheRanger acts as flamethrower in the debate, criticizing the " absolutely bogus" rationale for Hillary's "code shift," given her upbringing "in the Chicago area" and college years in New England during the most critical period of her accent formation.

vasinger detects a subtle undercurrent of anti-Southern bias in our fixation on Hillary's chameleon-like speech patterns. Indeed, far from being the mark of " hick" provincialism, certain Southern accents "are so refined they rival that of the English Aristocracy (most of southern planters were cousins of them). The upper crust speech of 18th century London and the African slaves probably influenced southern speech more than anything else."

More can be found in The Explainer. AC12:09pm PST

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Motivated by her own history with anorexia, Kate Taylor's fascinating foray into the world of CRONies—practitioners of a fringe dietary movement to restrict caloric intake—brought forth a spate of self-revealing testimonials in the Fray. (Full disclosure: Taylor was a classmate of mine at Harvard whose previous writings on the subject I admire and have discussed with her in the past.)

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San discusses the defining traits of male anorexia as "someone who eats about 1,400-1,500 calories a day while my age/activity rate should have me eat about 2,200." gdmedia defends the CR movement with her own testimonial, and accuses Taylor of ignoring the regime's emphasis on "optimal nutrition." A self-described writer and poet, Zonemind-PDX contributes this intimate account of self-starvation:

I'm 6'4" or so. I am male. When I was in my early twenties I weighed one hundred twenty pounds, or thereabouts (it fluctuated a bit). I ate only occasionally. I didn't like to eat in the first place (the sensation of fullness was uncomfortable to me), but I also had little wish to live.

The bit in the CR article about having a narrower focus brought a sharp jolt of recognition.

My life when I was not eating was a twelve by twelve room, spotlessly cleaned an ordered, the walls entirely bare. I had a desk with a lamp, a collection of pens, a few reams of graph paper, and a large picture window I kept curtained. My only interest was in the meticulous ordering of syllables. I wrote poetry. Mostly I wrote sonnets, because they were so difficult.

One night I was writing in my journal, and I noted that if there was true love in the world, I wanted to find it. Shortly after that, also at night, I put all my possessions in the trunk of my car, and drove away from my room. In retrospect, that was irresponsible. Although I don't think many people noticed, and fewer cared, I left behind no indication that I had not simply gone off and completed abruptly the job of killing myself that I had been doing so slowly up until then.

But while it was irresponsible, it also had a certain beauty to it. Its finality was undeniable. Likewise, I am sometimes disturbed by the beauty of the things I wrote then. Things were so much CLEARER then. Hopeless, but clear. The walls were spotless white. The bed could double as a an engineer's square. The lines on the paper went just so, in an unbroken rhythm of pale green, all the way down and all the way across the page.

I couldn't go back. For one thing, I found true love. But there is a part of me that wants to go back, that remembers the perfect order, the lack of distraction, the sense of self-satisfaction that came with zealous self-denial. That part scares me.

Mara5525 detects a possible gender bias in our attitudes toward calorie restriction:

I can't help wondering if the fact that most (but not all) Anorexia sufferers are female, [and] many who practice Calorie Restriction are male (but not all), might not impact on how these two are treated by doctors and researchers.

The Anorexic clearly has an illness and that is not something I would question. Yet there is favorable press about how "scientific" Calorie Restriction is even as the similarities between Calorie Restriction and Anorexia are obvious to anyone who has taken the time to observe both…

Since male bias is still very prevalent in this world, I would venture to guess that, unconsciously, doctors and researchers automatically put much more trust in what Calorie Restriction purports to do.

After all, how laudable to want to extend life (and/or improve quality of life) through diet. We have a long history of such dietary "miracles" being practiced by zealouts who are sure they have the proverbial "key to life".

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noisette7 points out the religious precedent in practices of self-starvation: "people in the middle ages (primarily women, but not exclusively) used extreme calorie restriction as part of constructing a holy identity. In other words, starving yourself was a good first step (or marker) in becoming a saint."

You too can aspire to Slate sainthood (or at least a checkmark) in Medical Examiner Fray. AC7:00pm PDT

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Witold Rybczynski's photo essay on the ranch house as an American architectural icon struck a nostalgic chord. Sarja reminisces about her parents' abode in Southern California and the convenience of a "one-story house with large windows and dutch doors." sugar_k considers the structure "a reminder of a vanished era of mid-20th-century egalitarianism" in contrast to "the whole neo-Victorian architecture movement" of the 1980s that has "gone along with a depressing return to the income inequality and harsh morality of the Victorian period."

Offering a historical perspective to the current trend in housing, sanstelos is "surprised to see that W.R. didn't mention the Jeffersonian prejudice against cities and towards an agrarian deomocracy of folks who live in their own houses on their own parcels of cultivated land."

From an environmental standpoint, Dittosbane endorses "the idea of efficiency in energy use leading to smaller houses."

In addition to praise, the ranch house also provided fodder for the usual diatribe against suburbia. Anse criticizes the anti-communal environment fostered by the design of the ranch house, which

… lacks a front porch. The plots are too big, and the neighborhoods that result are too often lacking in a real sense of community …

When you drive into these suburbs, the first thing I always notice is how dead they often are. People don't visit, at least not in the front yard. All the action happens in the back of the castle, so to speak, out of sight. The front-porch culture of the past is canceled out by air conditioning and a dedication to privacy. You may see kids riding their bikes or the occasional jogger, but for the most part, suburban families live behind closed doors.

messyONE admires the original architectural style but ultimately confesses a preference for urban living:

If you look at older design books of ranches, the entryways are lovely.

We lived in a suburb of Dallas. The houses were all two storey monsters with garages next to the front doors and tiny, enclosed, two step entryways. They were ugly and unwelcoming. They had mingy, nasty little rooms with a thousand doors and seemed to be dark all the time.

There were no side yards, no alleys and no sidewalks. The division between front and back was deliberate and complete. The fences were all a mandatory seven feet tall and solid - no spaces allowed, which made the air flow just awful.

No one wanted to walk in the neighborhood, no kids played in the front yards (even though they were plenty big) and the lack of sidewalks was designed to sent the message that if you don't have a car, you aren't welcome. It was hideous.

I can say that after 5 years in the 'burbs, we not only didn't know our neighbors, we hadn't even seen most of them. The garages are entered via the laundry room, so we did get to know their cars. If that's the fantasy life in the suburbs, they can just keep it. I'll take a nice, noisy city any day.

mojo2501 suggests that car culture in America may in part be responsible for the demise of the traditional ranch house:

How big our garages have become! How the front door has taken a back seat to the entrance from the garage for ease of entry...not welcoming to guests but great for getting those groceries in the house. More a "false face" to show off with instead of having a function…and a lot of those garages are probably bigger and nicer than my entire 3 bedroom ranch house.

Attracting less attention but just as noteworthy was Rybczynski's documentation of New Daleville's evolution from cornfields to exurban fringe town, the subject of his new book. More can be found in the Architecture Fray.  AC6:50pm PDT

Geoffrey Andersen, co-editor of the Fray, is a law student based in California.