Friday, June 18, 2010

Margaret K. Nelson's "Parenting Out of Control"

Margaret K. Nelson is the A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Sociology at Middlebury College. Her previous books include Negotiated Care: The Experience of Family Day Care Providers, Working Hard and Making Do: Survival in Small Town America (with Joan Smith), and The Social Economy of Single Motherhood. She has also edited two collections of essays, Circles of Care: Work and Identity in Women’s Lives (with Emily K. Abel) and Who’s Watching: Daily Practices of Surveillance Among Contemporary Families (with Anita Ilta Garey).

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Parenting Out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Times, and reported the following:
As the author of a study that compares the parenting styles of the elite with those who are less privileged, it is disconcerting to stumble on a page that deals only with one side of the contrast. The working class parents quoted on page 99 all claim strictness (a component of what I call “parenting with limits”) as their bedrock approach to raising adolescents. Amy says that she’s “always been one of those [parents who believes] you’re not here to be their friend; you’re here to be their parent.” Francesca claims that her children chide her for not being lenient enough. And Christopher wants his children to show proper respect for him. As these three parents speak, they also hint at the comparative framework when they make it clear that they differentiate themselves from what they believe to be the more indulgent parents around them. Because it is both newer, and an issue of contemporary concern (as when people write about “helicopter parents”), that more indulgent stance (which I call “parenting out of control”) is highlighted in much of my book.

Technology helps reinforce the strictness of parenting with limits. As I show in the second half of my analysis, parents like the three quoted on page 99 are delighted by devices of constraint (like child locators) and devices of surveillance (like GPS tracking systems in cars). They see that these devices can help them monitor, control, and spy on their children. Curiously, for reasons I explain in the book, although more elite parents are even more insistent on monitoring, controlling, and spying on their children, although they do use both cell phones and baby monitors, as a whole they are less interested in technological aids than they are in intense interaction and personalized vigilance. As a result of the actions of these privileged parents, both their children – and the parents themselves – sometimes feel that parenting has exceeded its limits and has gotten entirely out of control.
Read an excerpt from Parenting Out of Control, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue