Bryan Caplan  

Robin Gets Functionalist, As Predicted

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After asking, "Why do parents forget what it's like to be a kid?," I remarked:
Many parents really do forget what's it's like to be a kid...

I honestly don't know why.  I bet Robin Hanson would have a clever functionalist story.  Yet if you read the Wimpy Kid series - or just look around - it seems like it would be better for the whole family if parents thought more like kids.
Robin doesn't disappoint me.  From the comments:
So let's see, parents could better understand their kids, and better enjoy their kids' company, if only they would let themselves think more like kids do. Instead parents seem so eager to appear adultish that they alienate their kids. How could parents possibly care so much about what other adults think of them than they sacrifice their own kids happiness? It is almost as if parents cared more about being respected than having fun. How, how could this be?
The key problem I see with Robin's functionalist account: It assumes that other parents care about your parenting far more than they actually do.  In reality, most parents are too tired and preoccupied to worry if somebody else's parents aren't "adultish" enough.  As I never tire of saying, "We would worry a lot less about what other people thought about us if we knew how little they think about us at all."

P.S. I can't resist throwing the last sentence Robin wrote back in his face:
Maybe we might, you know, actually try something before we conclude it doesn't work.


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COMMENTS (11 to date)
Steve Z writes:

"In reality, most parents are too tired and preoccupied to worry if somebody else's parents aren't 'adultish' enough."

Is that really true? It seems like criticizing the parenting of others is a common staple of conversation. Furthermore, even if they don't criticize the parents directly, other people tend to get annoyed at unruly kids, which reflects on their parents.

Ryan Vann writes:

I don't care about the parenting styles of parents so long as the kids themselves don't bother me.

Robert Johnson writes:

Ryan,

I don't usually get all one-issue on people, but I am pretty annoyed by the anti-child talk that so many childless adults (and parents!) indulge in. You were a child once and countless adults cared for you and helped you make it to adulthood. I can understand that other peoples kids annoy you, they annoy me too, but those children are people in their own right who deserve the same kindness and care you got, or better. If you want to wonder aloud why some parents don't do a better job caring for their children, and why they don't stay home from the theater and restaurants when they have a newborn they're caring for, then I'm right there with you. But let's drop all of this anti-child rhetoric.

Zac Gochenour writes:

I'm not sure that it matters how much other people think of you. All that matters is that parents _believe_ that other parents care about their parenting; that is enough for them to modify their behavior thinking that is what is best for their status.

Many of my friends are in the process of becoming first-time parents and I definitely have noticed they have a preoccupation with the idea that they need to "grow up" and be more "adultlike." Male friends of mine are pressured by their wives to give up "childlike" hobbies like video gaming or comic books now that they are fathers. So there is (possibly largely just imagined) status pressure from peers, pressure from mate, pressure from parents to conform to certain standards of adult behavior.

Also I agree with Steve Z in that if you listen to many parents talk, one of the favorite topics of conversation is the (lack of) parenting skills of fellow parents. So the assertion that others really aren't thinking of your parenting skills too much is suspect.

spencer writes:

Kids think like kids because they do not have the experience, judgment and maturity to think like an adult.

It is your job as a parent to teach them this, not to think in the immature way they do.

If you are thinkling like a kid you are being a poor parent.

Zubon writes:

I think we can all totally see Brian thinking like a kid. He is one man standing as an incarnation of the distinction between "childlike" and "childish." That treehouse, son, is going to be the most awesome thing ever.

The key problem I see with Robin's functionalist account: It assumes that other parents care about your parenting far more than they actually do.
This falls one meta step short. Robin assumes that parents assume that other parents care about their parenting more than they actually do. It is entirely possible for the parents to be wrong but Robin to be right. Robin is probably more right if the parents are wrong.

h writes:

Adults should act like adults. Kids already have other kids around them at the playground, school etc.

CJ Smith writes:

Robin, parents don't forget what it is like to be children, children (and apparently you) haven't learned that life isn't all fun and games.

Some of things I haven't forgotten from being a child, but don't indulge in as an adult:
1. I am immortal, and will always exist, regardless of how risky the stunts I pull are.
2. If I am interested or involved in something, I am the best [soccer player, student, actor, etc.] to ever grace the world.
3. The worst thing that can happen is having someone be mad at me and not be my friend.
4. Carpe diem, and screw all that tedious stuff like work and study.
5. My parents will always be there to love, support, and get me out of jams (which, for the most part, they did while they were alive).

For the flip-side of wimpy parents, listen to Dr. Bill Cosby's monologue on parents, children and the cookie jar."

I think you misinterpet Robin's last sentence. Tired parents trying to deal with life and kids don't give a crap about what kids or other parents think of their parenting styles - most of them are just trying to the best they can, and still get half a night's sleep in.

"Being a child is having the belief that you have no limits; being an adult is realizing that limits exist, but doing everything you can to expand the limits while maximizing your family's happiness within those limits ." Me.

Eric Johnson writes:

You can notice a sign of someone's status or nature without caring about what they are up to.

David Brown writes:

""We would worry a lot less about what other people thought about us if we knew how little they think about us at all."

One among many reasons I enjoy this blog is reading stuff like this. I know of several friends and family members who fret about what others might think of them. This is not the usual "maintaining social status" thing. These are normal adults who spend an inordinate time and effort worrying about other people's opinions. Just curious...How did you acquire such a keen perception of middle class behavior and thinking?

Dan Weber writes:

I don't get it. Is there something cruel I am doing to my children in order to advance myself socially but to the disadvantage of my kids?

As a parent I don't spend lots of my money on video games and comic books, although I might like to, because it would be irresponsible. Limited funds need to go to the future, because my family doesn't have a fortune or business contacts for my kids to fall back on if me and my spouse fail to prepare them for the adult world.

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