We need more helicopter parents

It’s fun to make fun of helicopter parents, but we need more of them, writes Brink Lindsey in The Atlantic.

Today’s hyperventilating “helicopter parents” are comic fish in a barrel. Playing Mozart to their babies in utero and dangling Baby Einstein gewgaws over their bassinets. Obsessing over peanut allergies, turning school science fairs into arms races of one-upmanship, and hiring batteries of private tutors to eke out another 10 points on the SAT.

But better too much parental attention than too little, Lindsey writes.

College-educated parents are spending significantly more time with their children then they did before 1995. Less-educated parents spend more time too, but the “parental attention gap” is growing.

There’s also a class divide in parenting styles, according to sociologist Annette Lareau.

 Among the poor and working-class families she studied, the focus of parenting was on what she calls “the accomplishment of natural growth.” In these families, “parents viewed children’s development as unfolding spontaneously, as long as they were provided with comfort, food, shelter, and other basic support.”

College-educated parents have taken on a much more ambitious role – one that Lareau calls “concerted cultivation.” “In these families, parents actively fostered and assessed their children’s talents, opinions, and skills,” Lareau writes. “They made a deliberate and sustained effort to stimulate children’s development and to cultivate their cognitive and social skills.”

In addition, college-educated parents are much more likely to marry before having children and much less likely to divorce.

As of 2011, 87 percent of children who have a parent with a bachelor’s or higher degree were living with two married parents. The corresponding figures for high school grads and high school dropouts were 53 and 47 percent, respectively.

. . . since the ’70s, divorce rates among the highly educated have fallen significantly; among non-college grads, by contrast, they have stayed high. Specifically, only 16.7 percent of women with at least a college degree experienced a marital dissolution within 10 years of a first marriage between 1990 and 1994 – a 31 percent drop from 20 years earlier. For other women, though, the marriage breakup rate in the latter period was now 35.7 percent – 6 percent higher than 20 years before.

So most children of the college-educated — about a third of the population — grow up in stable, child-centered families with two parents determined to cultivate “the skills they will need to thrive in today’s highly complex knowledge economy.” It’s not really the violin, karate or Kumon classes that give them an edge. It’s Mom and Dad.

Single with children = poverty

A growing class of single mothers is raising kids in poverty, while women who put college and marriage before childbirth have time and money to invest in their children. That’s not really news, but the New York Times puts faces on the problem in Two Classes in America, Divided by ‘I Do’.

Jessica Schairer dropped out of college to have three children with a man who rejected marriage and eventually abandoned her. She earns $25,000 working at a child care center run by Chris Faulkner, a college graduate with a husband and two children.

Estimates vary widely, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns — as opposed to changes in individual earnings — may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality.

About 41 percent of births in the United States occur outside marriage, up sharply from 17 percent three decades ago. But equally sharp are the educational divides, according to an analysis by Child Trends, a Washington research group. Less than 10 percent of the births to college-educated women occur outside marriage, while for women with high school degrees or less the figure is nearly 60 percent.

Unwed motherhood “is growing fastest in the lower reaches of the white middle class,” among women with some college but no degree. Meanwhile, married couples are having children later,  divorcing less and spending more time on parenting.

“The people with more education tend to have stable family structures with committed, involved fathers,” (Princeton sociologist Sara) McLanahan said. “The people with less education are more likely to have complex, unstable situations involving men who come and go.”

She said, “I think this process is creating greater gaps in these children’s life chances.”

Jessica Schairer wanted a husband and  ”the house and the white picket fence,” and still does. She can’t explain why she stayed with an irresponsible man. “I’m in this position because of decisions I made,” she said.

While the Faulkner boys go on a Boy Scout camping trip with their father, Schairer’s son is watching TV in his bedroom while his exhausted mother collapses on the couch.