We usually think of anthropologists studying cultures far removed from our own — remote Amazonian tribes, or South Pacific island societies. But it turns out that there’s just as much strange, fascinating stuff going on right in our own backyards, according to a couple of UCLA anthropologists who’ve spent the past decade examining that most exotic of cultures… the American middle class. And their results show that our children are kind of helpless and bratty.
Rather than relying on statistics and polls, the researchers went about it in true field research style, examining families as they behaved in their own homes. The project, part of the larger work of UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families, involved videotaping an entire week in the life of 32 different families. Each family owned the house it lived in and had two or three kids.
The findings? U.S. middle class families might be too obsessed with their children, for one. Parents claim to want to raise independent kids, but their behavior speaks differently. One of the study’s researchers noted that American kids seemed much more helpless than their counterparts in other parts of the world. American parents take on the vast majority of the housework, speak to their kids in simplified language, and take over when their kids have problems completing a task.
The power dynamics between kids and parents was also a point of contention. When parents asked their kids to perform a simple task or help out around the house, they framed it as asking for a favor, rather than making a demand. And sometimes the parents found it easier to just do the thing themselves.
In general, the households seemed to have a focus on the children, rather than teaching the children to focus on others. What’s your take: Does this raise dependent, needy, greedy kids? Or is it a way to make children know that they’re loved and valued?
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