Trends and the "tiger mom."
About 10 years ago, there was an incident in the GTA in which a house was broken into with the occupants present. There followed a few months' worth of media reports about a trend in "home invasions."
About seven years ago, we were put on alert about "swarmings," in which gangs of malcontents mobbed unsuspecting pedestrians. About five years ago, a young girl on a street near mine in High Park was abducted and murdered. This tragedy was the talk of the city for about a year, as the case made its way to trial, accompanied by a multitude of broadcast and print reports about a child-abduction spectre.
For the past few years, the NYT has been front-paging about one dubious "trend" to readers per week. And Jack Shafer, media critic at Slate, has made something of a career of punching holes in them.
Here in the GTA, it has yet to be subsequently reported that the rate of home invasions, swarmings and child abductions in the GTA has not, in fact, increased from its rate prior to those isolated incidents. But then, the MSM rarely if ever does follow-up stories on false truths we have reported (with a megaphone) in order to correct a falsehood we disseminated that has diminished our readers' sense of personal and communal security. To say nothing of learning how we commit to these terrible judgments in the first place.
New "trends" are hatched every day by the MSM. The ones that resonate with us are the ones that scare us. We in the media do a great job highlighting fake trends, trends that will affect very few people, or are trivial. See the fashion and decor pages for the latter. All I know for sure about this year's it color is that it won't be next year's, which casts doubt on the world committing to the new shade, in turn knocking down the Style section's breathless front-page assertion that taupe is marshalling its forces on the horizon.
I expect the "tiger mom" trend of wise parents driving their children to academic proficiency, and other parents worrying they should follow suit, to be more durable than most. And it is healthy to debate where the line is between unrealistic expectations of children and irresponsible laxity in parenting.
Bear in mind, though, that this too shall pass. Just five years ago, the "new" conventional wisdom was that we were coddling our kids and obsessing overly about their academic and athletic achievements. We were smothering our kids with far too much attention, packing them off to science camp and enrolling them in enough structured extracurricular activities, from music lessons to ballet to soccer leagues, to leave them little time to take an unmonitored breath. And why not, given the undeniable phenomenon of the one- or two-child family? Our affluent society was turning out fewer kids per capita, so of course we paid each precious child more attention than perhaps we got as kids.
I recently was reminded of the inevitable backlash, or counter-trend, to that over-doting trend in updating my files. Specifically, I came across Alfie Kohn, author of The Homework Myth, interviewed by Maclean's editor-in-chief Kenneth Whyte, in the Sept. 11, 2006 edition of that national current-events journal. Among other observations, Kohn said:
Overwhelmingly, the research shows no academic advantage to homework, particularly for younger children. In fact, for younger children there isn't even a correlation between the amount of homework done and any measure of academic achievement...
At the high-school level, there is a correlation between homework done and standardized achievement measures, but the correlation is weak. It tends to fall apart when you use more sophisticated statistical methods, and in any case it doesn't show that homework was responsible for the increased achievement...
Is it justifiable to take kids who have just spent six or seven hours in school and force them to work a second shift, or should they have the right to get some rest, or get some exercise, or hang out with friends? The assumption that kids will be up to no good unless they have their free time structured for them represents a very dark and cynical view of kids and helps explain why so much busy-work is given to them.
As every family is different, so is every child. Some kids need an extra push, some need a sense of trust in them that comes from being left largely to their own devices. Some respond well to more than the average amount of positive reinforcement; others find a full measure of parental attention to be oppressive.
Again, this is debate worth having. But the only certainty about this issue is that Amy Chua, the Yale professor who wrote the recently released Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother, is already one rich author. And that a counter-trend already is brewing somewhere to Chua's near-apocalyptic thesis that parents are allowing a generation of kids to be unprepared for the hyper-competitive 21st century.
Despite the youth-obesity spectre overlaying this newest one, I'm pretty sure the kids are okay. I'm not quite as sure about parents who carry so much guilt about their supposed failings even in the absence of unsolicited advice.