March 26, 2012

What happened to parents recording their kids talking?

An earlier post looked at the apparent decline in making home movies over the past 15-20 years, even though it's cheaper than ever to make them. But socially avoidant people, in this case parents, don't enjoy stuff like that, since it would attach them emotionally to their kids. And it would create lasting memories, which avoidant people do not want, as that is just another form of connecting them with others, albeit across time.

People should not mistake the trend toward helicopter parenting as a trend toward greater affection between parents and children. They hover over and elaborately plan everything out about their kids because they view them as blank slate robots -- if they don't program them perfectly, they'll blow up. This approach to child-rearing is emotionally distancing.

Back when parents had real affection for their kids, and let us have our own lives (even as toddlers), they not only made home movies of us, but also recorded conversations on a tape player. A good portion of it was the mother, aunt, or grandmother speaking to whoever would receive the tape -- typically another female "alloparent," but my mother also made tapes for my dad when he was away at sea. Most of the talking was just basic reporting of what's been going on around the home in the past couple weeks, sometimes recorded in several sessions to fill up the entire tape. It wasn't too different from writing a letter.

Aside from the caretaker's reporting, though, one or more of the kids would be recorded as well. The mother might ask the kid over to sing their ABC's, recite some Mother Goose nursery rhymes, or talk back and forth about what they've been up to at preschool, what they did at the park, had for lunch, etc. Tape recording was superior to letters here since infants and toddlers, even elementary school kids, can't express themselves well or at all in writing. Not to mention that a lot of what we ended up doing was just goofing off vocally, which carefree parents back then found endearing, but which today's parents would probably see as an embarrassing malfunction.

Like the home movie case, this hunch is more from personal and observational experience. I don't know anyone who makes audio recordings of their kids at any length, either to preserve for later or to send around right now. Whereas in the good old days, my mother, aunt, and grandmother must have made dozens of tapes when we were growing up (not too far past 6 or 7 years old, though). I found a box of them over Christmas vacation and we huddled around to listen to them for sometimes more than an hour at a time. What they lacked in visual appeal, they made up for with a greater conversational flow with the parent (in a home movie, the parent is usually too focused on operating the camera).

My nephew is now 4 years old, and I have as many audio recordings of him as I do home movies -- zero. There are handfuls of 30-second or less video clips taken from a phone, but nothing like a home movie or a tape recording. As far as I know, people don't record or save their Skype calls with their relatives either. So as with movies, there's just little interest in preserving memories or even forming a closer attachment here and now.

This shows how little it means to praise your kids as a way to make them feel loved and lovable. That has been the approach of helicopter parents raising Millennial kids. The kids aren't fooled and, consciously or not, come to understand that their parents aren't very emotionally invested in them as real, unique human beings, and view them instead as robots to be rewarded for carrying out their programs properly. Even then, don't the kids wise up to the reality that "Good job!" and "You did it!" are not so much heartfelt praises directed toward the child, but shouts of relief to themselves for programming the kid without a malfunction?

Making a home movie or audio tape shows the kid that you think he's interesting and important enough to be the focus of a recording. "Yeah but that'll just turn them into attention-seeking drama queens!" Reality check -- that's Millennials, not us. Our home movies and tapes don't feature our parents incessantly "praising" us (i.e. congratulating themselves on their own parenting skills), but more like ethnographically observing us in our natural habitat, interviewing us as informants, and so on. It was more respectful and affectionate.

The truly bizarre thing is that Millennials never rebelled or got angry at being told as toddlers that they weren't worth loving, only worth programming. Instead of acting out, they withdrew into themselves and stayed that way as they got the same message from the rest of the grown-up world, not only their parents. And bumping into each other, only to find withdrawn peers, meant that they would rarely break out of that mode. They don't even feel very cared for by others in their own cohort.

On an cerebral level, they may know they're separate from previous generations and share that abstract sense of togetherness-in-contrast. But they don't feel the tangible, palpable groupiness that the Boomers and Gen X-ers did (and still do), that comes from acting together toward shared goals, no matter how grand or trivial any particular episode may be.


  1. What do you think about the fact that the Helicopter Parents are mostly rising violence period Boomers and Gen-Xers?

    Do you think that might be a contributing factor to their poor parenting skills and overprotectiveness?

  2. I really feel this recording stuff is very good for the both part of parents and kids. I found it more important because of the connection purposes. Parents and kids must retain their relationship with one another though one is far away.


You MUST enter a nickname with the "Name/URL" option if you're not signed in. We can't follow who is saying what if everyone is "Anonymous."