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Helicopter Parents Harm Their Kids… or Do They?

Helicopter parenting is the latest way parents can ruin children–at least that is what the popular press would have you believe. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath details how she goes about assessing media claims on the topic.

Have you heard the news? Helicopter parents are ruining their kids? Here are just a few of the recent headlines:

I clicked on one titled “Kids of Helicopter Parents are Sputtering Out” (Slate) and read it looking to see which of the author’s claims were supported by empirical data (i.e. data gathered via scientific observation or experimentation) and which other claims were only supported by anecdotal data or anecdata (i.e. data that comes from a single person’s non-scientific observations of the world they live in).

How to Scrutinize an Article

My goal for this piece is to not get at the “truth” of helicopter parenting. Instead, I want to show you how I go about judging the credibility of an author’s claims. But first, what is helicopter parenting? Helicopter parents are perceived to be overinvolved in their child’s lives to the point the child can not make decisions for themselves.

Author’s Credentials

The first thing I do to establish an article’s credibility is to examine the author’s credentials….

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Who Does The Work of Parenting?

Fathers Day is a day to celebrate the contributions that fathers make to all of our lives. One of the main contributions any parent makes is performing the labor it takes to have a clean house, have children who are clean/dressed, and all of the other housework tasks it takes to “produce the family” everyday. In this post Nathan Palmer explores the research on how heterosexual couples divvy up these tasks and invites dads everywhere to reflect on gender inequality.

It’s Fathers Day! So before I do anything else, I want to wish a happy Fathers Day to all of my fellow dads out there.

This got me thinking about the work of parenting. Because make no mistake, parenting is WORK. You have to feed your kids, wash’em, learn’em, drive them everywhere under the sun, and don’t get me started on all of the gross things I’ve done in the name of parenting. Now factor in all of the indirect parental work: grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning the house, etc. It’s A LOT of work.

Sociologists have long been interested in the work of parenting and specifically how that labor is divided up between parents. And the research is clear: women do more housework than men. For instance, one study compared time use journals of men and women from 1976 to those from 2005. These researchers found that while the gender inequality had decreased, women still performed more hours of housework than their male counterparts Stafford 2008. This finding holds true even if both men and women work outside the home (Stohs 2000).

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Psst. Your Culture is Showing: Breastfeeding Edition

We all (even sociologists) react to others, to ideas, to objects based on the culture we live in. In this post, Bridget Welch attempts to take a big cultural step back to look at boobs in a new light.

“Have you seen this? There’s a breastfeeding doll. What’s your opinion on that?” my husband says to me.

I pause in the act of getting dressed, look at him and say, “Eww…” Looking away, I raise a hand to stop him from leaving, “But… but why? Why eww? Just a second…”

My mind starts racing. Why did I say “eww”? I start debating everything I know about breastfeeding. It all goes through my mind in a flash. The health benefits, the moments of bonding with your child, my own experiences with my son. I also think about how children play. How it’s normal and even healthy for young children to playact caring for babies.

“But it’s just gross,” I think to myslef. I mean, you watch the video. What’s your reaction? Be truthful! Was it some form of EWW, ICK, GROSS! or THAT’S JUST WRONG?!?!? Would you buy it for your kid?

I then remember the TIME cover and how that made me feel. I remember how I thought, “Now that’s just wrong. That kid’s got to be three at least!” By now I question that as well. Why am I so against this? Why does age make such a difference?

I think about how we know that for about 99% of human history, breast milk was the primary or only source of nutrition for children up to two years old and that breastfeeding continued after this (supplemented with other foods) for years. In fact, biocultural anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler who has long studied breastfeeding reports that “age at weaning in modern humans” should “be between 2.5 and 7.0 years.” <<My internal dialogue (and yours?): “Seven years! SEVEN years! You have GOT to be kidding me!”>> That means, for 99% of human history, my gut reaction would have been abnormal, strange, and even downright laughable to other humans.

But we don’t need to go to the distance past to be made fun of for our reactions to breastfeeding. All we need to do is hop a plane and we can get ridiculed all we want….

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Correlation, Causation, & Teen Moms

High school sex ed, popular TV shows, and national PSAs would all have us believe that becoming a parent as a teenager (especially if you’re a girl) will cause tragic outcomes for both you and your child. In this post, Kim Cochran Kiesewetter helps explore the difference between causation and correlation to help in understanding how addressing social problems like teen pregnancy can get really complicated, really quickly.

Pregnant Woman in Swimsuit

“You’re supposed to be changing the world… not changing diapers.” “I never thought I would be a statistic.” These sayings, paired with pictures of coyly posed celebrities, are the crux of the Candie’s Foundation’s most recent campaign to prevent teen pregnancy. NYC’s approach is similar, replacing the celebrity photos with images of crying children beside tag lines like, “I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen.”

Coupled with images from popular shows like MTV’s 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom, at this point most Americans would take for granted that being a teen parent is the cause of a long list of poor social outcomes from dropping out of high school to living in poverty to raising kids who have their own set of problems. However, social researchers would caution that just because a relationship exists between teen parenting and negative social outcomes doesn’t mean that one is necessarily causing the other. As we’re about to explore, proving that something caused something else isn’t as simple as it may seem at face value….

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A Macaroni Necklace to Make-Up for Workplace Discrimination: Happy Mother’s Day!

Despite our gushy Hallmark cards, floral arrangements, macaroni necklaces, and brunch celebrating mothers, U.S. social policies regarding mothers continue to be dismal. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explores some of the ways in which mothers in particular are penalized for “choosing” motherhood & the role social structure plays in the “choice” of parenthood.

Career or Family Signs

In the United States, motherhood (and parenthood) is viewed as a choice. Parenthood as a choice is a good thing in that it has decreased the stigma placed on the childless and childfree. The downside of choice-based parenthood is that it leaves society off the hook for supporting people who choose parenthood. While we have expanded support for families through the addition of workplace protections for breastfeeding mothers, our social policies remain lacking.

Let’s look at some of the social policies directed at families. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) turns 20-years-old this year. This means that for many of today’s traditional-aged college student, their parents were the first to have job protected leave to care for a newborn.

Many? Why not all? FMLA only covers employees who have been employed with their company for at least a year and work in companies with 50 or more employees. This means if your parent(s) worked in a company with 49 employees or worked there less than a year, then they would not have qualified….

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Socialization & The Advantage of Being a 2nd Generation Student

First-generation college students (i.e. students whose parents did not graduate from college) have lower graduation rates than second-generation college students. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains the ways in which having college-educated parents influenced her own college experience and success.

First-generation college students (i.e. students whose parents did not graduate from college) are at higher risk of not completing college compared to students who have parents who completed college. Consider these statistics reported in USA Today:

Nationally, 89% of low-income first-gen[eration college students] leave college within six years without a degree. More than a quarter leave after their first year — four times the dropout rate of higher-income second-generation students.

What is going on here?

First-generation college students face obstacles that non-first-generation college students do not face, while non-first-generation college students typically fail to recognize the advantages they have as college students. I’m a third-generation college graduate. Besides a statistically likely income advantage compared to first-generation college students, I can think of specific examples of how the fact that my parents’ (and my grandma) graduated college helped me succeed in college. They used their experiences to socialize me towards college success.

My parents told stories about college….

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Your Presence is Requested at Our Divorce Party

Are divorce parties just another excuse to throw a party? A Hallmark created celebration? Or just another example of celebrity excess? Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how a divorce party may be an opportunity for a couple to transition into their future roles as ex-husband and ex-wife.

The arrival of a wedding invitation may be exciting, but not out of the ordinary. The arrival of a divorce party invitation, well, that’s another story.

This summer—during the height of wedding season—Jack White, of the rock band the White Stripes, and his model-wife Karen Elson invited close friends and family to a party to celebrate both their 6th wedding anniversary and upcoming divorce.

Don’t believe me? Check out the invitation here.

Why on earth would a couple choose to celebrate both their wedding anniversary and divorce at the same party? While it may be difficult to wrap our head around celebrating these two events at the same party, let’s focus on the divorce part of the event.

It would be very easy brush off a divorce party as just the kind of thing that celebrities do, but there are divorce party planners and divorce party suppliers. Even Hallmark offers cards recognizing the newly divorced. We may never know which came first—the business supporting divorce parties or divorce parties themselves, so let’s get back to my main focus:

Why would anyone want to celebrate their divorce—especially together?

Divorce like marriage denotes a change in a person’s achieved status. Status refers to the honor or prestige attached to a position in society and can be achieved or ascribed. An achieved status is just what it sounds like: something one achieves, like graduating from high school. An ascribed status is something we are born with, such as race or something that occurs naturally, such as aging.

Marriage transforms statuses, men into husbands and women into wives, which is something that is seen as an achievement and to be celebrated. American women are still likely to take on the Mrs. title and change their last name denoting their new status and roles as wives. In other words, marriage is seen as transformative and something to be celebrated.

Divorce, however, turns men into ex-husbands and women into ex-wives. This change in status could be seen by the individual as achieved (if they wanted the divorce) or ascribed (if they did not want the divorce). Divorce could even be something in-between because a person may wish to remain married, but not under the current circumstances. Even if individuals in the former couple want to celebrate their divorce, to do so together is somewhat perplexing. Or is it?

In the case of Karen Elson and Jack White, it appears that they intend to remain close and continue raising their children together. Elson and White are doing divorce differently, but perhaps in the future more couples will see divorce as something to celebrate together as well. Perhaps they view a happy divorce as a way to continue a happy parenting relationship even if their marital relationship has ended.

Another issue in a divorce is what sociologists call role exit.  If statuses are the titles we hold, then roles are the behaviors expected of a person with a given status.  So as a husband Jack White may have been expected to be monogamous, a romantic partner, and confidant.[1. I emphasize the may have been in this sentence.  Who knows what Mr. White and Ms. Elson set out as their marital expectations.]  Now that they are divorced there is work that each will have to do to inform everyone of their new status and communicate to the world that they will be behaving differently.  When we leave a status behind, the work we have to do to change society’s view of us is a key part of role exit.

What does this mean for us non-celebrity types? It’s possible that divorce parties are a result of changes in marital patterns. Couples today are getting married for the first time at an older age than in the past, they are more likely to cohabitate prior to marriage (or instead of marriage0, and con tray to popular belief, they are less likely to get divorced.

Perhaps divorcing couples (especially those with children), are attempting to have a “good” divorce to limit the negative consequences divorces can cause to children. How divorce happens, impacts children differently. A divorce that is rather peaceful is going to harm children less (if at all) than a divorce that pits parent against parent. High parental conflict—married or not—is not good for children. Having a divorce party, especially when children are involved, reaffirms the couple’s commitment to the children while ending their commitment to each other. In this way, the divorce may be reframed as positive event and helps solidify the goals of the divorcing couple for the family overall.

Of course, a cynic might consider divorce parties just a result of good marketing. Perhaps no one ever considered a divorce party until they learned of businesses catering to celebrating divorce. So it really could just be Hallmark’s fault.

Now the most important question of all: Do I get the wedding gift I gave a divorcing couple back at their divorce party?

Dig Deeper:

  1. Why might divorcing couples decide to have a party to celebrate their divorce?
  2. What are the implications of divorce parties on society? To families?
  3. How has divorce impacted your life? Do you think a divorce party would have made things better, worse, or the same? Explain.
  4. There are plenty of negative examples of divorce in popular culture. Can you find any positive portrayals of divorce in popular culture? How does it differ from negative portrayals?

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Parents You’re Ruining Halloween

Quick! Grab your kids, and handcuff them to the nearest radiator this Halloween. It’s for their own good. After all, children are FOUR TIMES more likely to die from a pedestrian accident on this night. And how could the pedophiles POSSIBLY resist all those children running around? And please, please, inspect their candy for razor blades or signs of foul play. In this piece, Angie Andriot deconstructs the myths and the fears surrounding Halloween. 

Victorian Halloween Card

Halloween is a night to be scared. But not all fears are created equal. We should fear monsters, vampires, ghosts, and ghouls. We should fear walking up to that house with the light on. Because there is a masked man with a chainsaw behind that bush over there, waiting. Waiting. WAITING. But another fear (an..ahem…decidedly more illogical one) is ripping away our opportunity to introduce innocent children to such thrilling journeys through wastelands of ghosts and goblins.

Take a look at darn near any newspaper this time of year, and you will be inundated with safety tips. Talk to parents and you will be inundated with fear for their child’s safety on Halloween night. Unsuspecting innocent children out walking the nighttime streets, knocking on strangers’ doors (Gasp! What if they’re drug dealers?!? Or pedophiles?), taking candy that may very well be laced with arsenic, or hiding a razor blade. What’s a concerned parent to do?

A relatively new phenomenon is the Trunk-or-Treat. Often put on by churches, in nice safe parking lots, where all the cars are stationary and all the adults are law-abiding church-going non-pedophiles with absolutely no interest in killing your kids for the sheer fun of it. Parents have a nice, safe, place to send their kids to get candy. I mean, drug dealers, sadists, and pedophiles don’t go to church, right? They’d spontaneously combust upon walking through the doors. So we’re cool, right?

Now, I’m not knocking the safety precautions. Really. Many of these measures are indeed important. It’s quite possible that those children who do end up hurt on Halloween are the ones who ran out into the street without looking both ways first, or didn’t have anything reflective on them, or went willingly into a stranger’s house. And I’m not knocking trunk-or-treat. It’s an awesome way for folks out in the boondocks to give their children the trick-or-treat experience when door-to-door is really mile-to-mile. And it looks like a great community activity, whereas on an everyday trick-or-treat street, all the parents are safely isolated in their respective homes. But I am asking, can we step back from the fear and look at the hard data?

Enter sociology, stage right. Sociology and statistics, that is. But first, the sociology.

For sociologists concerned with social problems, one of the key distinctions they focus on is between objective conditions and subjective concerns. An objective condition is anything rooted in hard evidence. Facts, data, sensory input. A subjective concern, on the other hand, is evaluative. It can be rooted in morals, values, or just ideas about what is “too much” or “weird.” Social problems are defined by their subjective concerns, not their objective conditions. So, what makes something a social problem is NOT whether or not it significantly affects lots of people, but rather it hinges on whether people are in an uproar about it. Take Halloween dangers, for example. People are in an uproar because they believe Halloween to be dangerous for kids. Thus Halloween becomes a social problem. Here are the fears I’ve encountered:

  1. Halloween Sadism – Adults are lacing candy with poison or needles or razorblades and then passing it out to unsuspecting kids.
  2. Death by Car – Kids are out on the streets, but so are the cars. Recipe for disaster.
  3. Pedophiles Lurking – What other night of the year can pedophiles just sit at home with their lights on and then have kids come like moths to the flame, taking candy from a stranger?

So let’s look at these sociologically one at a time.

  1. Adults are tampering with candy. Joel Best is a sociologist at the University of Delaware, and he has done a content analysis of media coverage of this “Halloween sadism” between the years of 1954 and 1989. He found a complete absence of evidence to support this claim. Two cases of apparent Halloween candy tampering have occurred, and both were eventually found to be relatives of the kid, trying to frame the nefarious “Halloween sadists.” One was a dad who put cyanide in his 8-year-old son’s Pixie Stick (purportedly to collect a hefty child insurance policy), and the other was a child who got into his uncle’s heroin stash, and then the family tried to cover the accident by sprinkling heroin over the child’s candy stash.
  2. Children are more likely to be killed by a car on Halloween. What is interesting about Dr. Best’s paper is that he also mentions another statistic indicating that there IS real danger on Halloween – it just comes in the form of vehicular manslaughter. The stat? Children are FOUR TIMES more likely to be killed by a car on this night than on other nights. And this is true. Funny thing about relative propositions based on odds ratios, though. They can be a tad misleading. Sample size matters here. So what is our sample size? “Overall, among children aged 5-14 years, an average of four deaths occurred on Halloween during [the hours of 4-10pm] each year, compared with an average of one death during these hours on every other day of the year” (CDC 1997). Four. Their “four times more likely to be killed” stat is, in raw numbers….wait for it…THREE MORE CHILDREN. In the entire country. Hardly an epidemic.
  3. Children are in greater danger from pedophiles on Halloween. Short answer: no. In a study conducted by Chaffin, Levenson, Letourneau & Stern (2009), they found no increase in non-familial sexual assaults of children on Halloween. They examined a national incident-based crime reports over a 9-year period of time in order to come to this conclusion. Only about 10% of child sexual abuse comes at the hands of strangers. If you fear for your child, take a look at the people that child already knows.

Based on the evidence above, I suggest these fears are disproportionate to the actual danger. Teach your kids basic safety (look both ways before crossing, don’t break free from the crowd and wander off on your own, wear reflective gear, etc). Teach them to trust their gut: if something seems wrong, run. Inspect their candy if you must, but don’t make a big deal about it. And by all means, let them have their Halloween. We have bigger things to worry about here. Like that creepy masked man in the bushes…Is that a chainsaw in his hand!?!

Dig Deeper:

  1. What does this article indicate about the relationship between objective conditions and subjective concerns? Which do you think is more powerful in terms of your own decisions regarding what is a social problem?
  2. Joel Best supports his argument that Halloween Sadism is a myth by showing there is no evidence to prove it is true. Has he proven there is no such thing as Halloween Sadism? Why or why not? Is it possible to prove a negative?
  3. Can you think of any other examples of instances in which fear has overwhelmed people’s ability to objectively examine the facts? Explain.

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Occupy Troll Street: “Please Stop Being Greedy”

Occupy Wall Street is a rapidly growing social movement against corporate corruption and greed. Despite the massive numbers of supporters around the world, and the numerous events in other cities, this movement seems to be confusing to a lot of folks.  In the hopes of making it a little more clear, Sarah Nell describes how easily her first grader “got it” through playing with troll dolls and fuzzy balls.

Troll Doll with pile of Fuzzy Balls

“What’s the deal with this Occupy Wall Street thing?,” a friend asked me.  “What do they mean ‘We are the 99%’?” A lot of people seem to be wondering this same thing (without much insight from the mainstream media). Saying “We are the 99%” aims to illuminate the vast inequalities in wealth in the U.S., mainly that the top 1% of the population owns 43% of the nation’s financial wealth. To make the math really easy, let’s say we have 100 people and 100 bucks. One person – that 1% – has $43. Now there’s 57 bucks to split between 99 people – 80 of whom need to find a way to share a measly $7. If you don’t believe me, see this. [1. You might be tempted to defend the 1% saying they’ve worked hard, and that they earned their place at the top. You wouldn’t be alone. This is what sociologists call the achievement ideology – the belief that financial success can be had by anyone who works hard enough, regardless of where they start. I can assure you that those in the 1% do not have rags to riches stories; the facts of economic success simply do not fit this belief. The achievement ideology is, perhaps, a topic for another day.]

So, the 99% is fed up with the corruption and greed of the 1%, especially because people are suffering in ways U.S. citizens have not seen (on a large scale anyway) since the Great Depression. “Okay, so we’re unequal,” you might be thinking. “But all those numbers don’t help me understand why people are camping out in a park in New York City. They didn’t see a pie chart and take to the streets, right?” No. They didn’t. Not exactly. The distribution of wealth as it is today is not a brand new reality. Yet the rich are getting richer, even in a time when the economy hasn’t been this bad since the 1930s. To understand the varied kinds of suffering I mean, hear it from the people themselves….

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