Category Archives: Parenting
In a contemporary wordscape defined by banality, a journalist that is always worth reading is a rare treasure indeed, but the Paris-based author and Financial Times columnist Simon Kuper – author of the legendary, genre-creating early 1990s tome Football Against the Enemy – can safely be counted in this category. Mediolana’s CSO found his recent Why American teens should go Dutch (12th January 2012) predictably thought-provoking, with Kuper addressing the differences between parental approaches in the United States and Holland towards the issues of drug abuse and teenage sex.
Citing the work of Amy Schalet – an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst – Kuper posits that while US culture essentially addresses these issues by prohibiting them, in Holland these activities are instead heavily regulated and controlled through legislation, custom and parental supervision: the narcotics industry is taxed by the government, and while there is little stigma surrounding teenage sex, social obligations pertaining to the extended family are very rapidly imposed on both partners, with the consequence that Dutch permissiveness can start to resemble something altogether more nuanced; adolescent disorder in forms such as teenage pregnancy and drug abuse are indubitably more intense in the United States.
But we at Mediolana think that Kuper’s analysis – fine though it is – is missing at least one essential dimension. By treating the issues of teenage sex and drug abuse as essentially problems of administration and management, he seems to have overlooked crucial elements of the equation. Many if not most of those adolescents who use drugs and/or are sexually active will not necessarily come into any contact with the legal system or incur the wrath of their families, but that does not at all mean that their choices are free of negative consequences:
1. Wasted Potential. A fact that is known to anyone who attends a reasonably representative educational institution in much of Europe and North America is that far too many adolescents in the Western world are seeing their academic and life potential erode through usage of a panoply of chemicals, from the legal but insidious (alcohol, prescription drugs) to illegal substances supplied by maniacs with machine guns; teenage pregnancy, meanwhile, is synonymous with low academic achievement, with incredible amounts of emotional energy and time being expended even in relationships that do not culminate in conception.
2. Economic Competitiveness. In an era where West-East capital flight is taking on alarming proportions, Western economies need every inch of competitive advantage they can muster. While prohibitive approaches may be ineffective in some contexts, legitimising phenomena that are a clear economic drain in terms of human capital is hardly ideal, either. Socially conservative immigrant groups from South Asia and East Asia which shun drug consumption and extramarital teenage sex considerably outperform native populations academically in countries such as the United Kingdom; rinse and repeat on a global scale, and an economic zone which is already in danger of terminal decline will see its trajectory exacerbated.
3. Transcendence. The kind of approach that sees sex in particular as something to be addressed in an almost technocratic fashion all but denies the possibility of transcendence in this context. An approach that educates adolescents as to the psychological, emotional, economic and spiritual benefits of meaningful relationships may be far more inspiring that a societal disposition which, as Kuper concedes, makes sexual intercourse seem dull.
As a company with its headquarters in what is currently Western Europe’s most besieged metropolis, Mediolana is well-placed to proffer comment on the continuing rioting that has spread across London since 6th August 2011. While acres of news coverage have been dedicated to such developments as the ransacking of Wood Green and the deployment of thousands of extra police officers on the streets of the capital of the United Kingdom, there has been little convincing analysis of what has engendered the city-wide public disorder. Commentators and politicians – mainly on the left – have pointed to stringent government cuts as the source of the disaffection; those on the political right have cited a ‘broken and detached‘ Britain wracked by gang violence.
However, we at Mediolana think that the August 2011 London riots can be explained better within the following context:
1. The Destruction of Value. The United Kingdom is a country which, during the past decade, has seen its economy suffer severe destruction of capital value at the hands of an often feral financial sector. This culminated in the central government bailing out former fiscal behemoths, a process that is still ongoing and which has cost the taxpayer a sum in the trillions of pounds. Given that such world-class gouging has occurred within the same cityscape – unpunished – we should perhaps not be surprised at members from less fortunate demographic groups echoing a similar ‘winning’ logic in their actions.
2. A Hyperreal Cult of Adrenalin. A generation which has been raised in a virtual environment – often bereft of parental love or even presence – is now coming to fruition. Making the connection between their actions and the concomitant consequences may not be the simple task – on either a neurological or ethical level – that previous eras held it to be.
3. Moral Neutrality. In a culture where moral relativism is the norm and where countries can be invaded by lawyers via remote control, both private property and public space are mere aggregates to be subjected to power. The cultivation of virtue and the preservation of dignity are stripped bare from society like so many mobile telephones from a Carphone Warehouse wall.
Insofar as an article by a professor at Yale Law School can be an Internet sensation, Amy Chua’s provocative Wall Street Journal piece – ‘Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior‘ – is the real deal, with over 7,300 comments and 325,000 thumbs-up on Facebook as of 24th January 2011. The essence of Chua’s thesis is that Chinese-style mothering – as exemplified not just by ethnic Chinese parents, but aspirational parents from other communities, such as Korean, Indian and Ghanaian – is far more effective than ‘Western-style’ parenting at producing academically successful children.
Chua posits that the reason mothering along Chinese lines engenders so many high-achieving students is explained by its potent mixture of strict time management, a high level of parental control over children and their activities and an extraordinary devotion to attaining quantifiable scholastic success. That this style of parenting may involve practices or methods judged ‘illiberal’ or ‘harsh’ by Western-style parents is precisely the reason why it is to be admired: Western parents, in being overly-concerned about their children’s perceived emotional fragility or self-esteem, have by doing so capitulated to their offspring and in so doing condemned them to the status of academic also-rans.
All well and good, but does this thesis stand up to scrutiny? Up to a point, yes. Chua is on strong ground when she cites the seemingly never-ending production line of mathematical and musical prodigies of Far-Eastern descent that evince more than a touch of Chinese mothering. Moreover, she is right to allude to the ostensibly contradictory system of incentives that some Western parents seem to espouse which almost seem to reward children for failure.
However, the one-size-fits-all approach which Chua regards as a panacea is evidently a crude one. Many children – regardless of ethnic or cultural background – will find a system of highly circumscribed choices and harsh penalties for perceived failure something against which to rebel is noble. Furthermore, the Harvard-educated scholar appears oblivious to the fact that not all children are academically-inclined, and that designating those children as somehow inferior or unworthy is morally highly questionable.
Nevertheless, the notion of Chinese-style mothering is a seductive one. Will it catch on amongst the wider population in the US?