Kids! What’s The Matter With Kids Today?

Kristin Devine

Kristin has humbly retired as Ordinary Times' friendly neighborhood political whipping girl to focus on culture and gender issues. She lives in a wildlife refuge in rural Washington state with too many children and way too many animals. There's also a blog which most people would very much disapprove of

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45 Responses

  1. LeeEsq says:

    When I was a teenager or in my early twenties, I didn’t feel any need to really rebel against my parents or do stupid and possibly illegal shit beyond some minor under age drinking, which my parents did not mind and knew about, to express myself. It just didn’t occur to me. So if something like Covid-19 occurred during the late 1990s or early 2000s, I wouldn’t be down at the beach partying or engaging in gross activities to express myself. So at least some people are capable of taking this seriously. I would.Report

    • Kristin Devine in reply to LeeEsq says:

      My older sons have a very interesting dynamic. My oldest son did rebel, but he rebelled by becoming a super duper good person – more responsible, steady, moral than his slightly imperfect parents. Then my second son rebelled not against us but against his older brother and has pretty much identical values to us. So they’re both pretty upstanding even though they were both born rebels.

      Like I said, luck.Report

  2. veronica d says:

    I think we need to distinguish the kids today thing from the more general societal narcissism. The latter is real. Our society is image obsessed. We want signifiers. We care less about substance. We want the spotlight and the glory. We’d rather skip the hard work.

    Note, this isn’t about “kids today.” It’s about adults too.

    Also note, when you see a movie about kids, it was written and produced by adults.


    On the whole “repression kills” thing, I know you didn’t really touch on the LGBTQ thing, but heck yeah repression can kill. When I see a movie such as Footloose or Frozen, I see a queer subtext. In real life, I know kids (now young adults) who had to choose between hormone therapy and a college education — because they can’t get financial aid if their parents have $$$, and their parents make college conditional on being str8.

    What should the kid do? I’ll say this, if you’re a cis person, you probably don’t really understand the scope of the decision. At least, you can’t have a visceral understanding. You might try to think of an analogy, such as the parent who wants their kid to “get an education” versus “become a musician,” but it’s not really the same.

    That’s just one example of the kinds of things I have personally seen. I’ve seen worse, much worse. Repression kills.

    [Insert here long discussion of how horrible gender dysphoria is. Add deeply personal examples from my life, and from people I’ve known. I don’t feel like typing all of that again.]

    Anyway, it’s easy to find example of self indulgent kids with decent parents doing their best. But dammit it’s quite easy to find the opposite. Spend any amount of time on a “kids of narcissists” forum and you’ll hear horror stories. Those stories are real. My ex, for example — her mother is a full on narcissist. It was horrible. In her mother’s eyes, the role of her children was to be status accessories. It was all about the image she could project. The reality of her kids was utterly unimportant.


    Regarding the whole “conservative Christian parents” thing — again, I’ve known kids whose parents were conservative Christians. Those stories are real. I’ve personally witnessed so much hate being preached under the banner of love. It’s disgusting.

    The problem here isn’t that Hollywood is unfair to conservative Christians. Nope. Hate is hate. Hollywood is correct to show the horrors that emerge. Instead, the problem is that plenty of Christians aren’t like that at all. My parents, for example — they are deeply faithful. They are also loving and accepting. Christians like that are common, but Hollywood seems to map faith-in-general as being automatically of the repressive and hateful variety.

    I’d like Hollywood to show more faithful people like my mom and dad.

    Back in the late 90s, my dad was forced out of a church where he preached because he was in favor of gay marriage. He stood up it was popular to stand up. Likewise, back in the 60’s, he preached in favor of civil rights, before it was “the expected thing.” He preached this to a white church in Georgia. Christians like my father exist. Their stories matter a lot.

    My mom wears a WWJD bracelet. To her that mean to treat “the least of his children” with love and acceptance, not judgement and hate.Report

    • veronica d in reply to veronica d says:

      Edit: He stood up before it was popular to stand up.Report

    • Yeah, kind of my whole entire point that the movies kids were watching are made and provided by adults.

      All I can speak to is my own experience. I cannot represent the vast swath of human experience in a piece, nor would I try to speak for another person. All I can do is point out what I see and how it affects people of a similar background than I am.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.Report

      • veronica d in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        Yeah, I get that.

        The thing I struggle with: I don’t see an easy rubric to separate “good parents guiding their kids” from “bigoted jerks who are driving their trans kid to suicide.”

        I mean, the difference is obvious to me. I like to believe it should be obvious to everyone, but clearly it isn’t.

        When I watched Frozen, it was such a great metaphor for the struggles of a trans kid, despite the fact that Elsa is very cis. But all the same, the subtext resonated with me and a lot of other queer kids. We see ourselves so much in these characters.

        I also know kids who “express themselves” through, for example, heroin abuse. I feel a great deal of sympathy for their parents struggling to find the right kind of love to deal with that.

        But those are extremes. I’ll say this, behind every story of the “artsy” kid rebelling against their “practical” parent, there is a queer kid seeing something in that story about themselves. After all, we aren’t “making things up” when we see quiet-and-artsy as code for gay. We aren’t wrong to see “man up” as code for “be straight.” Certainly not always, but I rather suspect the writers know exactly what they are doing. How many screenwriters lived that?


        Anyway, you’re a parent. I’m not. I’m queer. You’re not. I think it’s natural we see different subtexts in these stories. Likewise, I do think that the “good parent trying to figure out how to love their messed up kid” is a story that is under-represented, compared with the “repression-is-bad-doncha-know” story, even if the latter is true and important. In other words, I agree with you.


        As an addendum to my last post: MLK was a man of faith. That can’t be left out from his story. Similarly, I had a teacher in community college. He was raised in the south to be a racist. He shed his racism in seminary. For him, it was a “Saul on the road to Damascus moment,” when he ended up holding hands with a black man during prayer. He suddenly realized the evil of racism. Stories such as his should be told. They’re important, because faith is important to people. If we leave faith to the bigots, and insist that anti-racism and pro-LGBTQ is strictly secular, then we’re missing out on a lot of strength.

        (I say this as a thoroughgoing secularist. The point is, I want people free to seek out faith, while still fighting for tolerance.)

        (Plus a rabbi once declared that I’m a cat. I’m pretty happy about that.)Report

        • atomickristin in reply to veronica d says:

          So let’s talk about Frozen and subtext. Frozen is not only important to queer people, it’s also important to a lot of cis women and girls who bear the brunt of a lot of societal expectations, which, as we’ve already talked about, are for some of us even more stringent than that which queer people experience. That’s why you can watch 4 zillion little girls acting out “Let It Go” on You Tube. I myself listen to the song at least once a week for inspiration. It is a powerful metaphor for a LOT of people, not just queer people. So, please don’t assume I have a limited ability to see subtext based on a piece I wrote.

          Because if you want to talk about repression killing?? That is not just queer people, not at all. Children develop eating disorders, they commit suicide, they take up substance abuse, they struggle and suffer against parental expectations all the time. There are minority kids who are told their skin is too dark and their hair isn’t the right texture, by their own parents. There are girls stoned to death by their parents for going online. For every queer kid told to “man up” there are lots of straight boys harmed by that same message. This is NOT a straight-gay issue, not in the slightest.

          Those things are 1000% real and nothing I said above takes away from that reality. But the truth is that much of what parents do in their day to day life involves moderating and mitigating the selfish desires and short-sighted whims of their children in favor of things that might be better for the kid in the long term. This is not repression or oppression by definition. It is the work of a parent. You know how many parents (myself among them) have bought a kid a guitar praying that they’d want to play it?? Far, far more than are oppressing their queer offspring, I’ll wager. And yet what are we shown again and again? Parents as the convenient bad guys in practically every kid’s show of the last 30 years, and quite a few grown up movies as well. You’re right that there is no rubric to judge by, but we haven’t even TRIED to create such a rubric lately. It’s like we’ve decided in masse that this is the go-to plotline that we’ll be using again and again without even stopping to think if it might have any negative effects. Well, I’m stopping to think.

          Me wanting to talk about that does not detract from or undo the reality that some people have suffered and yes, even died as a result of heavy-handed parenting. But even when a parent is wrong or misguided, parental expectations are not INHERENTLY wrong and misguided (even when they are unpopular and not woke.)”

          My friend is divorced and she has a little girl who has over the past few years, become obese (the dad lets her eat whatever she wants). So when my friend’s daughter is with her, she feels obligated to try to encourage her to make healthy choices. She does this not because she’s a great big repressive meanie who is trying to give her daughter an eating disorder, but because she’s trying to be a good mom. A person with an agenda might see her attempts to be a good mom a different way. But she’s doing the best she can in an impossible set of circumstances, and a lot of parents are in that boat.

          I guess where we are really parting company is that I feel that you’re wrongfully claiming that I see no merit in these kinds of movies, or that I think they should be banned. I am simply trying to discuss the effects they may have on people. And that’s what a thinkpiece writer does, is discuss the effects things might have that others haven’t considered yet.Report

        • Brandon Berg in reply to veronica d says:

          After all, we aren’t “making things up” when we see quiet-and-artsy as code for gay. We aren’t wrong to see “man up” as code for “be straight.” Certainly not always, but I rather suspect the writers know exactly what they are doing. How many screenwriters lived that?

          Eh…maybe? But I think you may be overlooking the more literal interpretation. They’re writers. If they were into books and writing as kids and adolescents, they probably got crap from their peers and even parents for that. The number of screenwriters who grew up gay is probably dwarfed by the number who grew up nerdy.Report

    • DensityDuck in reply to veronica d says:

      “My mom wears a WWJD bracelet.”

      hey remember back in 2016 where it was really important that we cut people who were “Trump-Adjacent” out of our lives, and it didn’t matter if it was your loving grandma who didn’t have a mean bone in her body, she voted Trump and that meant she’d stood up to be counted with the people who shut children in cages and dragged screaming teenagers to lock-in conversion-therapy sessions

      i remember that

      interesting to see who’s forgotten it

      and I’m sure you love your mom, and you should, but people told me that didn’t matter. they told me it didn’t matter in loud angry voices, tears streaming down their faces, they screamed that it didn’t matter who we loved, because other people hated, and cutting our loved ones dead was the only way to show the world how much it hurt to live in a world with hate.Report

      • veronica d in reply to DensityDuck says:

        My parents both despise Trump.

        Did you, for some reason, assume a WWJD bracelet implies she is pro-Trump? That seems a weird conclusion.Report

        • DensityDuck in reply to veronica d says:

          I’m sure she isn’t pro-Trump, but she’s willing to associate with people who are pro-Trump, and doesn’t that concern you even a little bit? Make you wonder if somehow she doesn’t understand how dangerous those people are, how encouraged they are by normalization? Don’t you think it’s important that she chooses either you or them?

          If you want to talk about nuance and understanding and building-a-bridge, that’s great, I’m definitely here for it, but it’s not the kind of thing we heard in November 2016 and a long time after.Report

          • veronica d in reply to DensityDuck says:

            What makes you think she has any pro-Trump friends?

            See, you’re doing exactly what I warned against. Associating “being Christian” with “being Fascist.” That is not the case.

            All I said about her is she wears a WWJD bracelet, and then you imagine she is a Trumpaloo. She is not. Now you’re imaging her friends. But you have no idea. Cut it out.Report

    • atomickristin in reply to veronica d says:

      I’ve been thinking about this exchange and I feel the need to point something out here (not just this comment but both the comments you’ve made)

      Of all the myriad examples I gave you single out “conservative Christians” to dunk on. And while I’d like to assume that was because it is your special area of personal interest, I think it’s very much more because you think it’s some sort of an own against me. It feels like you are attempting to make me appear ignorant or uninformed, when in fact I’m fully aware of the issue and it was just beyond the scope of the piece. This is a gambit I’ve seen from you now on more than one occasion, you set yourself up as an expert pointing something out to ignorant old Kristin who doesn’t know Frozen was important to trans people or whatever (I was aware, I chose not to address the merits of any of these cases from the child’s perspective). So again I will tell you the same thing I’ve repeatedly told you already – I am not writing an all-encompassing encyclopedia entry about every facet of an issue. Nor can I, in this format, and this was already too long as it was. If I tried, that would yield a really terrible piece. Additionally, I cannot include a shout out to every marginalized group in the pieces I write, nor will I try. I can’t provide a full explanation on the roots of all Hollywood evil, either. Just because I focus on one particular element in a piece doesn’t therefore mean I think I have the market cornered on the full explanation for anything, at all, ever, because all these things have countless roots and threads tying them together. I love untangling those threads, it’s why I do this, but no one wants to read something that is 40 pages long in a blog!

      Please go back and look over the examples I give. In many of them, the parents were ACTUALLY WRONG, either wholly or partially. (I mean seriously, are you implying that I am saying the kids in Hairspray were WRONG to stand up for civil rights? Do you think I’m taking Nurse Rached’s side here?) But in practically all of the examples I gave, the parents/authority figures WERE NOT CHRISTIANS or even stand ins for Christians. Christianity has really nothing to do with what I’m saying here. This is a piece about the constant and consistent undermining/villainization of parents who may be imperfect, but who are tasked with the hard job of raising a decent human being to adulthood, and the effects that might have had on kids who have been fully soaked in that mindset with not a lot of other stuff going on to compensate for that message. I think it matters, and I think it’s worthy of a discussion.

      Now, I completely agree that Hollywood does have a very real problem always portraying Christians like convenient hateful villains (just as Hollywood portrays EVERYONE like convenient hateful villains) but that’s a totally different piece. This piece is about undermining a set of people who have the most important job in the whole wide world, which involves teaching impressionable youths some fairly important lessons, and what the results of that might be.

      I’m going to cover your remark about “repression kills” off the other comment.Report

  3. greginak says:

    Lots of stuff here. I agree kids are pretty much the same as they have always been for better and worse. People often project on kids their own fears.

    One of the problems i have with the culture critique is how vague and ill defined it is. Movies/tv is certainly part of culture. But so is church and the local vfw and little league and backyard bbq’s. Kids are affected by what is around them, but that is everything, not just the splashy media. Parents/family have years where they are pretty much all the kids know before media culture starts becoming more prominent. In our early years parents have tremendous sway to form, or F up, our personalities. I’m not going to do a lit search or dig into the pile of studies in my drawers but there is amply evidence of parents influence on kids temperament. Certainly the children of people with mental health problems, high conflict divorce or alcoholism show significant affects from their parents. What has changed quite a bit over the last half century is the ability for people to move away to be different people. Before ww2 most people would live near where they grew up which brought much more pressure to not change and to conform. Now that people can and do move there is more freedom to be different. This used to happen a long time ago but people told different stories about and didnt see it. Among the many old Alaskan legends people love to tell their kids is about old gold rushes. Hard working men come to make their fortune then go back rich to their families. Of course far more gold rushers dies in avalanches then got rich. And of those that got rich more did it by selling booze, women or shovels to the new people looking for gold. Some stayed here living a new wild life and never went back home because they could be a new different person. This is part of settling of the west. It touches on what veronica said above. There were plenty of men living with other men in the wilds of the west because they were free to be different and who they wanted to be. Mobility is the big change that has allowed people to be who they want often to the disgruntlement of their parents.

    Whatever the media sells it’s because people buy it. Teens like to be told they should express all their feelings and their feelings are great. People ( read as most men) love justified revenge movies ( death wish and about a zillion others) since it makes it righteous to be a killing machine. Romcoms, etc. All wish fulfillment.Report

  4. Aaron David says:

    When I was 18, a friend and I did something that is so far past dangerous that we didn’t mention it to our parents (or at least I didn’t) for a decade and caught holy hell at that later date. We, volentarily went into a war zone. Now, to be sure it was at that point a low intensity conflict, but no, we weren’t in the military, it was a foriegn country, and shit was real. Real in the way that our little college town (kept too expensive for those people) wasn’t.

    And when I mentioned it to mom the other day, she gave me a ration still, even 31 years later.

    I relate this because, when I talked to my kid the other night, he told me he was going to do something (and at this point has allready done) that made my heart skip a beat. And I had to remind myself that he is a grown-ass man, 25, and he gets to make these decisions for himself now. And that I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t take into consideration what I had done when I was a young, but grown-ass man.

    And now, I want a coonskin coat.Report

    • Parenting children in their 20’s ain’t easy because you can’t tell them anything, they’re adults, but they’ve still not quite proven themselves yet. And parenting children in their 20’s during a coronavirus pandemic IS one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, truly. It takes a lot of effort for me to not DEMAND they both move in with us where I can watch them every second of every day.

      And that having been said I know that my parents probably feel the same about me which is why my mom wants me to text her every day now and my dad keeps sending me coronavirus articles that I read a month ago.Report

      • JS in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        This whole lockdown stuff started right after I’d helped my child — in his early 20s — move multiple states away for work. He’ll have a job, when things open back up, but his first foray into the unemployment system was navigating “How do I claim unemployment from a state I just moved out of?”.

        He’s stressed, and almost a thousand miles away from any friends or family. He’s lonely, because he didn’t get a chance to meet anyone or do anything before his state shut down. He can’t work out. He can only just sit in his apartment — at least he has a pet dog, that’s something — and try to pass the time and try not to stress about money.

        He’s learning to cook — something he and his mom are bonding over — she did make sure he had everything he needed to cook, even though he lived on takeout. I bought him animal crossing and sent him the download code, and shared my Steam library, and we’ve worked out how to play stuff like Jackbox games over Zoom.

        And I worry about him every day. But there’s not much I can do. Even though my first instinct is to somehow get him and his dog back home, if only for a few weeks.Report

  5. One of the challenges with culture critiques is that “culture,” as Greginak suggests above, has so many cross-currents. Even the same “text,” can be read differently. For example, I believe that Kristin and Veronica are both right in their discussion above.

    But because those challenges are evergreen, I really appreciate the fact that the OP takes on a meme–the “you just gotta express yourself” idea–and critiques it. I agree mostly with her critique. My main reservations are the one Veronica brings up (and I didn’t even think of that until I read her comment) and my own view that that meme, for better and for worse, comes and goes. I don’t think it’s necessarily stronger now than at other times in the past. Or maybe it is stronger. Maybe it’s coming particularly bad now and hasn’t til now shown many signs of going.

    Regrettably, I can say that whatever culture I consumed growing up (I was born in the early 1970s, if that places me) does let me see the “humor” in the ice-cream-licking antics. I say “regrettably” because I know it’s wrong, and wrong for all the reasons people here will acknowledge it’s wrong. But I can see the humor, the ironic caddishness that I think I tried to critique way back when I wrote my post about Family Guy several years ago.

    In other words, I don’t think the behavior Kristin calls out is necessarily unique to the current crop of youth culture. (To be clear, I don’t think she’s saying it’s unique, though perhaps she’s saying it’s stronger now than in prior times. To be even clearer, I don’t think she’s saying all millennials are like that.)

    This isn’t a criticism of Kristin’s post. Any attempt to write about and critique culture will create the types of comments that Veronica, Greginak, and I are offering. We couldn’t offer those comments if Kristin hadn’t ventured the post in the first place. That’s why enjoyed reading it and kept nodding along while doing so.

    Thanks for writing this post!Report

    • I have to pick ONE element and write about it. If I meant to explain “here’s why the world is all effed up according to Kristin” I would write a book, and it would probably be a series.

      I am limited by space and readability and like Mrs. Johnson, my old 8th grade English teacher always said, you have to pick a narrow subject and write about that. (She whittled my report down from the history of cartooning to the history of American political cartoons). For reasons I think are kinda weird, on this site people choose to criticize a piece that doesn’t cover every potential element of any given topic, but it’s necessary as an author to create readable pieces, so I guess that’s just the way the cookie crumbles.

      Now, when it comes to things being worse now, I believe it is worse because people have far fewer influences than they once did. (again, another thing I might have discussed had I unlimited time and space to do it) I hinted about this, as did Greg above, but the Zoomers and Millenials to a lesser extent are super isolated to start with. When I grew up, we had a lot more influences – church and clubs and organizations and playing outside and more varied entertainment choices (as I mentioned, Little House and John Wayne, but there’s lots of other examples of kids movies without this plot like Willy Wonka and Wizard of Oz). This younger generation of kids has TV (which they barely watch now, but did as small kids) and the Internet and video games and their parents not letting them go outside due to fear of kidnappers. The schools are for better or worse, much more locked down than they were. They’re just a lot less likely to have the same wide swath of encounters and interpersonal relationships – both bad and good ones – in the real world than we were growing up. I think it makes a difference but it was just beyond the scope of the piece. Thanks as always for reading.Report

      • Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Kristin. (And apologies for taking so long to respond.) I know I pulled the, “you wrote about x, but why didn’t you write about y?” card. It’s almost always an unfair card to play, I realize.

        On the point at hand, I still think I see it differently, but that might be my knee-jerk insistence on seeing continuity instead of change. And you have the information I don’t (you’ve actually raised members of the newer generations and know more about their influences. I have not.)Report

        • But Gabriel, your posts are communicative and interesting. You’re sharing another take on something – which is reasonable and what I would expect (and as you already know, I enjoy hearing from you enormously!) It’s when people are looking for some excuse to ignore what I’m really saying in favor of talking about something they want to talk about. Not in the interests of furthering communication, but in the interests of scoring imaginary points or something. That’s not the dynamic that exists between the two of us, at all, and I apologize if that came off like I was chastising you. Your point was entirely valid and I appreciate you making it.Report

  6. Oscar Gordon says:

    I will be forever grateful that my parents, despite their many faults, were very tolerant of my rebellions. They gave me just enough tut-tutting to make the rebellion fun, but not so much that it was worth keeping it going for very long.Report

    • It is possible because what you were rebelling against wasn’t that big of a deal to them.

      Imagine if you had chosen to rebel by taking hard drugs or robbing convenience stores.

      I used to like to think “well I never gave my kids any reason to rebel, so they didn’t” but the truth of it is, I was lucky and they were surrounded by other mostly-good kids growing up. If they would have done something really wrong, I would have had to step in. That’s just what parenting is.Report

      • Oscar Gordon in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        We had a lot of family friends whose kids rebelled with drugs and alcohol and crime and violence. Me growing out my hair and wearing a leather jacket while playing AD&D didn’t make them blink.Report

  7. Urusigh says:

    This is not a criticism, just wanting to explore the matter a bit more since this part surprised me…

    “Some of you may be content to hang out in your safe space with your preconceptions unchallenged and assume that you can blame this on those twin boogeymen “social media” and “bad parenting.” The mother’s fault of course, nothing ever changes.”

    Where is this coming from? I dip my toe in reading a fair amount of relationship studies and authors in my attempts to improve my own communication skills and that overlaps significantly with parenting material. I haven’t seen anything blaming Moms any more current than “Refrigerator Mother” theory (which blamed them for autism), but AFIACT that died out back in the 1970’s. I’ve seen what I assume to be a decent cross section of the pop culture movies since the 80’s and certainly don’t recall Mothers getting the worse half of the blame for “those kids”. Who is blaming Moms?

    I think you are actually giving parenting a bit too little credit though. My reading strongly suggest that while there is very much a genetic crapshoot going into it such that “good parenting” is never going to overcome kids who inherently need something more like medical grade counseling or life in an institution, “bad parenting” really does screw up even kids who were gifted with an otherwise great genetics and/or quality of life. Some of the data seems to indicate that there’s not much average difference in outcomes between kids with “good” parents vs kids with “average” parents, but a lot of difference between both of those vs kids with “bad” or “absent” parents. It seems that effective parenting is much less about being perfect and much more about simply being present and not terrible.

    There’s also a bit of a false dichotomy there between “parenting” and “culture”, since there are some good studies showing interesting things like fatherless children in neighborhoods with a high percentage of “both parents” households usually outperforming even “both parents” kids from neighborhoods with high percentage of fatherless households, even when other factors like parental education and income are controlled for. So it does matter significantly whether a kid has at least decent parents, but that effect appears to be averaged against the quality of his peer group’s parents as well. So “good parenting” matter both more AND less than most parents might think and hope: it won’t do as much for their own kids as they expect, but it will have 2nd order impacts on their neighborhood and children’s friends that they might not expect.

    Which incidentally brings me to my main objection to brushing parenting aside as a major factor: Single Mothers and the resultant Boy Crisis. There are some underlying factors that distinguish each new generation a bit from the previous besides the introduction of social media: declining marriage rates, declining male workforce participation, and rising rates of births out of wedlock. Whether you consider it a good thing or a bad thing, such innovations as birth control pills, no-fault divorce, and an increasingly supportive welfare state have drastically reshaped the average composition of the American family (effectively dismantled the traditional nuclear family, especially among the lower economic strata). Dr Warren Farrel makes a thoroughly researched and persuasive case that the corresponding increase in “Dad-deprived” children has had wide-reaching and overwhelmingly negative impacts on children’s health (mental and physical), character, and life trajectories. Mandatory disclaimer: (Like anything else with a gender split, there’s a spectrum here with plenty of overlap in the curves), but it turns out that “Dad-style” parenting (within the overall context of two-parent “checks and balances parenting” is primarily responsible for boundary enforcement and developing such traits as empathy, assertiveness (neither passive nor aggressive), self-control, delayed gratification, and rational risk-taking (I’m oversimplifying drastically here for sake of space, please refer to the book or any of his many youtube interviews for a far better rundown).

    So if every generation complains that their children’s generation have less empathy, less self-control, less delayed gratification, and a greater tendency to transgress boundaries… they may not be entirely wrong about that, at least not on average.Report

    • Kristin Devine in reply to Urusigh says:

      Well, for starters, the people I was talking to about why the kids went on spring break (who are OT people) for a start. It’s actually why I wrote the piece to begin with, because people were saying exactly that. In addition, I see people judging kids on how they were raised pretty much constantly on social media and in the news and I certainly saw a whole lot of people on social media blaming the parents for the spring break kids. I talk to thousands of women a year around the world so I feel like I have a pretty good bead on what cultural attitudes are in regards to parenting.

      I am not convinced about the two parent family for a variety of reasons starting with that it wasn’t really much of a thing until recently. There are massive cultural differences between folks who stay married and those who don’t (and those who never married to begin with) and as stated I think culture has a huge influence on how kids behave. It took me a long time to come to accept that culture > parenting but I really do believe it now. Parenting helps inasmuch as there is an ability to control the culture your child comes into contact with, and it may be single moms have less control over that culture than two parent families.Report

      • Aaron David in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        Someone once said that if you want your kid to go to college, then they need to be friends with kids who go to college. And from experience, this is true. I was, along with most of my friends, a faculty brat. And to a man, we all went to junior college. Many of us went of to a four year after, but as a cohort we all did the same thing. The real deciding factor happened way back in grade school and junior high, when we all settled into groups of friends. Our parents could have spent more time looking into who are friends were, how they responded to school and whatnot, but looking back it was all there. The deciding factor was we were all latch-key kids. No one was watching us for much of the day, so we drifted to the path of least resistance.

        Peer behavior reenforcement.Report

        • InMD in reply to Aaron David says:

          At the most fundamental level I think that people generally are imitators. It’s how we learn. It’s how we communicate. It’s how we build solidarity. I’m still new to this parenting thing but what is striking is the way they mirror everything. I literally hear myself and my wife in certain things my son says. Eventually he will go out into the world and mirror other people.

          Though this is why I don’t agree with Kristin on the two parent household thing. From my understanding the outcomes really speak for themselves. Anyway my disdain for people (men in particular) who leave their families for selfish reasons has only increased. Boys without fathers are worse off and mothers, while also extremely important for different reasons, are almost always incapable of acting as an actual replacement.Report

          • Aaron David in reply to InMD says:

            There are all sorts of reasons people get divorced, and having a parent not in the picture never helps, but, just because they are no longer in a relationship of the married sort doen’t mean they are not involved in the childrens lives together. I have known more than a few a-hole parents of either sex, along with people, again of either sex, who are more than happy to step into the shoes of a missing or errant parent. And, as a corolary to that, I have know more than a few parents who forced out the other parent, had custody and then talked a ration of shit about the so-called missing parent.

            There is no one solid answer except that if you think you know something, unless you are directly involved chances are you are wrong. And even if you are involved you still don’t know the other half.Report

            • InMD in reply to Aaron David says:

              There is no one solid answer except that if you think you know something, unless you are directly involved chances are you are wrong.

              I agree with this sentiment entirely. Still doesn’t mean we need to shut our eyes to the world or pretend all approaches are equal though when they obviously aren’t.

              I definitely wouldn’t be in favor of re-tightening divorce laws or anything crazy, and you’re right divorced does not necessarily equal abandoned. Like you said, you never know what you don’t know and I’m not into stigmatizing anyone, especially when I think most of the time they’re making the best of a bad situation. But… do we really need to pretend that there doesn’t seem to be a pretty strong connection between fatherless kids, boys in particular, and a whole lot of dysfunctional behavior? I don’t think so, nor do I think the reality of people who might be better off without an abusive father in the picture or something similar is really an an answer to that issue.Report

              • Aaron David in reply to InMD says:

                I think we are more in agreement than our posts might suggest. This isn’t an easy topic to tread without a boatload of caveats, many of which are hard to express delicately in a comment box. And delicately they need be, as all of us have direct experience with parenting, from one end or another. And people hate(!) being second guessed.

                The problem, at least in my eyes, is that being told you aren’t doing something right is akin to being told you are doing something wrong, which is taken as being called stupid. And this is why delicacy is called for.

                See, I was starting to get my back up thinking about my own divorce, my parents divorce and so on. And I had to pull back from that, even though nothing you said was something I disagree with fundamentally.

                Funny how that works.Report

              • InMD in reply to Aaron David says:

                It’s definitely a topic we all bring our baggage to. I know I bring mine.Report

          • Kristin Devine in reply to InMD says:

            If there is a strong genetic component coming into play, and there seems to be according to the data, a selfish person without much tolerance for the opinions of others might have both have selfish kids without much tolerance for the opinions of others, and also be much more likely to divorce, especially when it’s culturally acceptable and they’ve been told repeatedly that what REALLY matters is living their best life.

            The thing about the fatherless boys is that genetics + culture can certainly mimic the effect of what many assume is the absence of a dad.

            It’s really difficult to untangle the threads.Report

        • Yep, exactly. The social pressure to achieve, or not achieve, is huge. I’ve always been somewhat of two worlds, caught between the achievers and those who disdained achieving, and it allowed me the ability to see the influence of the peer group in a way I am not sure many other people can.Report

        • Oscar Gordon in reply to Aaron David says:

          One of the smartest things I ever did was, when I joined the Navy, to stop being friends with all the kids I was friends with in high school (who were never going to college). Easy to do when you get shipped across the country and there is no internet.Report

      • Urusigh in reply to Kristin Devine says:

        Shrug, like I said, not meant as a criticism. You and I clearly have very different social/media circles outside of OT, so criticism of Moms isn’t a thing I tend to hear and it surprised me (blaming “parents” in general is omnipresent, but I usually see deadbeat Fathers singled out, almost never Moms).

        “I am not convinced about the two parent family…”

        Shrug. I strongly suggest reading Dr. Farrel’s book. I don’t know your variety of reasons and I’m not trying to dismiss them, but his research is extensive and well supported. He’s also pretty much the original male feminist, so there’s no Mom-blaming in there. At least check out some of his interviews.

        Anyway, thanks for the article and the reply.Report

        • Kristin Devine in reply to Urusigh says:

          Genetics + environment can both cause parents to break up and their kids to make poor choices. It’s a very tangled web and after a lot of soul searching I’ve drawn the conclusion where I’ve had it. I think it’s very easy for people to blame divorced families (especially when they’re not one of them) rather than wrestle with the beast that is our modern American culture. I appreciate the recommendation.Report

    • Brandon Berg in reply to Urusigh says:

      Some of the data seems to indicate that there’s not much average difference in outcomes between kids with “good” parents vs kids with “average” parents, but a lot of difference between both of those vs kids with “bad” or “absent” parents. It seems that effective parenting is much less about being perfect and much more about simply being present and not terrible.

      Keep in mind that children of bad parents have bad outcomes due to some combination of bad parenting and bad genes. It’s hard to figure out what that combination is without twin and/or adoption studies, and AFAIK these overwhelmingly point to genes rather than (shared) environment.Report

      • Urusigh in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Fair point. I don’t necessarily disagree with you, I acknowledged in my third paragraph that there is a subset whose genetic disposition is sufficiently poor that no quality of parenting can compensate, but that otherwise depends a lot on where we draw the line between “average” and “bad” parenting. The data does seem to show that a missing parent is usually inherently worse than even a benignly neglectful parent, but obviously outright domestic violence (either toward the child and/or other parent) are definitely the worst option. Between those points on the spectrum a lot varies based on the degree of match between parenting style and child’s personality (i.e. some kids learn even from negative examples and take difficulties as challenges to be overcome, others take them as excuses to underperform their potential). I’m not dismissing the problem of “bad” genes, but merely noting that even then there is some significant leeway in outcomes based on parenting style (i.e. a child who inherits relatively poor impulse control particularly benefits from consistent boundary enforcement by parents and particularly suffers from its lack). Genes aren’t destiny, but it does seem to be true that the larger effect size is bad parents screwing up genetically decent kids, not so much great parenting redeeming children with genetically-induced behavioral deficiencies. In parenting as in much else of life, It’s a lot easier to make things worse than to make them better.Report