July 25, 2014

Harm-obsessed morality of helicopter parenting leaves liberals impotent to criticize it

From a recent comment, here is a post about a woman who got her 9 year-old child taken from her after she left her to play at a local park while the woman was working. The hosting website, xoJane, is some kind of lifestyle feminist place where 20 and 30-something women go to get themselves off on an orgy of not-judging-each-other.

The writer and her commenters share stories of how much less supervised their childhoods were (they appear to be late Gen X-ers), and how they could never bring their own kids up that way because of busybody parents around them, who would sick CPS on them if they let their kid play by themselves in the front yard. They didn't want to become helicopter parents -- they were peer-pressured and bullied into it.

Yet how do they argue back against the mainstream paranoia that says children are so fragile that they need 24-hour coddling or else baby holocaust? Like all good liberals, they share the moral framework that rests mostly on concerns about harm/care, and after that, fairness or equality of outcomes. (A review of the research on the different moral frameworks of liberals and conservatives can be found in The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt.)

The unwilling hoverers differ in claiming that the world is not as dangerous as the hyperbolic death trap imagined by the willing hoverers. Like Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids fame, they might cite statistics on the far greater risk of a child dying from a car crash vs. being murdered (kidnapped, molested, or other disgusting crime), and asking rhetorically if you are never going to let your kid ride in a car? Presumably not, so why shield your kid from a far less dangerous activity like playing for the afternoon at a neighborhood park, without you present?

Somehow, few hoverers have changed their minds after hearing this attempt to win a logical debate by appealing to rational concepts like transitivity and reductio ad absurdum. Not surprising: as Haidt emphasizes, our moral decisions come from intuition rather than reason. When we try to articulate why we made a certain moral judgment, we are fumbling for rationalizations after the fact, not trying to uncover what mix of intuitions gave rise to our moral hunch that something was right or wrong.

The parents who call CPS when you let your kid skateboard down the driveway with no helmet on, are not reasoning logically -- they just have a gut feeling that this poor child is being carelessly exposed to harm, and something must be done to rescue them. Hence, statistical evidence and logical reasoning will fall on deaf ears.

That only leaves liberals with their other, weaker framework for arguing the rightness or wrongness of an action -- fairness and equal outcomes. If a mother gets punished for leaving her kid at the park while working, this will result in a DISPARATE IMPACT on working mothers, poorer mothers, and mothers who are simply less emotionally attached to their kids. Given different parenting styles by race, this will also translate into a disproportionate share of black and Mexican mothers being the target of CPS.

The woman who inspired the whole discussion in the first place embodies all of these sacred victim groups in one person -- single, poor/working black mother whose preferred childcare arrangement had been to bring her daughter to work and hook her up to an IV of digital Benadryl for hours on end (laptop computer in a free WiFi zone). So many layers of injustice!

Yet most helicopter parents don't belong to a sacred victim group -- at best, "working women" or "single mothers." Hardly a male-to-female immigrant from Guatemala. Telling the parenting nazis to cool their jets because they're having a disparate impact on middle-class white women with jobs is just way too much of a stretch of the fairness principle.

Having exhausted the principles of harm/care and fairness/equality, the unwilling liberal hoverers have no other sticks with which to beat back the liberal paranoia that we call helicopter parenting, whether practiced by Democrat or Republican voters.

Rather, turning the tide against over-parenting will require a more conservative morality, which includes but extends beyond the two principles of liberals. Social-cultural conservatives (to distinguish them from Republican voters) also tap into intuitions about authority, in-group loyalty, and purity/sanctity/taboo, the last one being their most distinctive vis-a-vis liberals.

I'm not going to link to every post ever written here about the broader corrosion that helicopter parenting has led to -- see the "over-parenting" category tag over in the right-hand column. (And those are only the ones since I began using tags a couple years ago.) But all of those case studies and details can be distilled into the following points regarding the three additional conservative moral frameworks.

1. Helicopter parenting erodes parental authority by treating the children and parents more like peers, activity partners, and teammates, flattening out the hierarchy that exists between a caregiver and her charge, or a patron and his client. Permissiveness, a la Dr. Spock, is the rule, and corporal punishment comes under harsh suspicion. When children perceive their parents to be playing more of an egalitarian role, they don't allow them to raise their hand or boss them around -- none of us would allow our friends or teammates to do treat us that way. But it's not supposed to be that way between children and parents.

2. By hermetically sealing off the household from the broader community, whom they treat with indiscriminate suspicion, helicopter parents corrode the bonds that hold together social-cultural groups larger than the nuclear family.* As public gathering places are abandoned and guest/host interactions at the household level become rare, the sense of group membership becomes more cerebral, and hence more wispy and uncertain -- reduced to knowledge that we hold the same beliefs and follow the same practices as... well, y'know, the other people like us out there somewhere. Practices as simple as seeing the local mall all decorated for Christmastime, and hosting the neighborhood trick-or-treaters on Halloween, made our membership feel more corporeal and face-to-face -- and therefore more real, and more reassuring.**

3. Where to begin with the desecration wrought by helicopter parents? First, note that the very feeling of taboo in parenting disappears and is replaced by an engineering mindset asking which inputs result in which outcomes, with no "do not cross" boundaries set by taboos. Human beings are plainly not meant to be brought up cut off from social contact outside the nuclear family, and so will grow up warped and twisted rather than normal and wholesome. Not necessarily all the way out at the "abomination of nature" extreme, although more of the distribution does now reach out that far.

What cultural contacts the children are allowed to make require that the work be Bowdlerized -- sacrilege -- or had its purity watered down, or designed from the get-go to feel fake rather than organic. Worse, most of this diluted content-gruel is served up to them at a mass media trough, where the kids are parked in a state of vegetation for hours. (Search Google Images for "1950s kids television set," and marvel at how contemporary it looks to see the zombie-like trance of kids huddled no more than five feet from the TV, all to ease the anxiety that the smothering mother has about children playing outside unsupervised.) A good chunk of what they consume in private, with parents pretending not to notice, is lurid beyond belief -- the horror comics of the Midcentury and the gory and sociopathic video games of the Millennial era.

About the only case where helicopter parents show more, or any, interest in purity is in foisting an elaborate set of OCD hygiene rituals on the poor little dears. Both at home and, at least back in the '40s and '50s, at school through hygiene reel films. If anything, these superstitions appear to corrupt the child's health by preventing it from building up a tolerance to common stressors, as seen in the stereotypes of the sickly teenage nerd of the '60s (a stock character who seems to be missing from the '80s), as well as the Millennial who's allergic to everything.

I've dwelt at greater length on the theme of purity/sanctity/taboo because it is what most distinguishes liberal from conservative morality. Your typical liberal just does not get what's so wrong with a social and cultural climate that is warped, lurid, unnatural, and fake. "Whatever, I mean maybe it's like a little unfortunate to lose it, but it's not like there's something sacred about ____. The way we do things now is, like, way more convenient anyways." Glib and amoral attitudes carry the day.

Unfortunately things have to get pretty twisted in everyday life before the momentum halts and reverses direction. The social isolation in Nighthawks at the Diner did not look quite as dysfunctional as in Rebel Without a Cause or The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit.

I think I'm noticing more widespread second-guessing of the helicopter parent norm, especially among new parents, who were the movement's first victims (the Millennials). They're aware that one of their most defining traits is how socially awkward they are -- and even they sense on an intuitive level that there's something fucked up about an entire generation being awkward. "If only we'd had less social engineering when we were growing up!"

Gen X parents and observers understand this as well, but it doesn't hit home so hard when it's some other group who were socially lobotomized in childhood. You'd have to have more of a conscience to go against helicopter parenting as a Gen X-er. If you're a Millennial, undoing the hovering and meddling style is not just correcting some abstract or remote wrong, as though you were sending off a donation to a worthy cause. In your eyes, it's correcting a personal injustice -- one that you and your age-mates were the victims and survivors of.

Every generation focuses on and exaggerates the bad parts of its formative years, and vows to change the world one household at a time when they start raising a family of their own. Millennials may have had a permissive liberal upbringing, but I predict that when it's their turn as parents, they will take a turn toward re-establishing the child/parent hierarchy, encouraging the kids to get to know and become a part of the broader community, and aiming for organic development rather than artificial programming.

* Civic and political-economic groups can be held together at the grassroots level even during an age of cocooning / helicopter parenting, as during the '30s, '40s, and '50s. The waxing and waning of civic groups reflects the cycle in large-scale status-striving and inequality, not the separate cycle in interpersonal-scale cocooning and crime.

** In these respects, the helicopter parents are no different from the cocooning society that they are a facet of, although they do tend to have an even more paranoid mindset since they have children to protect from the community, and not just themselves.

23 comments:

  1. Dahlia2:17 AM

    Excellent post, Agnostic!
    I've had an involvement with the police over concerns about unsupervised child: my then 13-year-old son biking in town alone at dawn on a Saturday.
    When I explained that he had my permission as well as why I thought it was a good thing, he was completely sympathetic.
    I don't get intimidated at all by the hoverers, of which I'm a recovering one myself (note that I have not unlearned those lessons that will keep my daughters safe from the likes of "Pliers" Bittaker).
    I am confident in myself as a parent, especially as I have older, well-adjusted kids as evidence, and I know I have my church family to vouch for me if push came to shove.

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  2. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080924124549.htm -

    “Political conservatives envision a world without God in which baser human impulses go unchecked, social institutions (marriage, government, family) fall apart and chaos ensues,” says McAdams. Liberals, on the other hand, envision a world without God as barren, lifeless, devoid of color and reasons to live.

    “Liberals see their faith as something that fills them up and, without it, they conjure up metaphors of emptiness, depletion and scarcity,” McAdams said. “While conservatives worry about societal collapse, liberals worry about a world without deep feelings and intense experiences.”


    This is based on Conservative Christians vs Liberal Christians, so may not generalise outside those groups. But it rings true and I do wonder how it falls into the Haidt story - it's not like a fear only of harm or unfairness is marking out these Liberal Christians, but a lack of rich experience.

    That should do something to push people outside of a narrow range of experience, but I guess if it is always trumped by harm concerns, not much.

    Conservatives do have more of a loyalty and authority base (loyalty to the ingroups authority), so I do guess it can depend for them whether that really just turns into a "loyalty to the family over individual autonomy" pattern.

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  3. Junkyard Dog4:21 AM

    My stepson had the typical helicopter mom upbringing, in his case, when living with his mother and grandparents. Utterly protected, raised more as a house pet than a human child, babysat by computer games, which he played for hours without moving from his seat, ate almost exclusively junk food and happy meals. He is now anti social, doesn't want to leave the house, rude and abusive to me and his mom (who has more of a best friend relationship with him than a parent child relationship). Highly twisted and warped, like an oil refinery built over a fault line, if the right combination of factors happens during his teenage years, he will destroy everyone in a ten mile radius when he blows up (think: school shooter) and if he and those around him survive his adolescence, he will be an abusive husband (if he gets married) and generally a slacker and white collar criminal if he moves into the work world and is able to hold a job. And that's just the short version. The helicopter parenting phenomenon basically describes the cause and effect I see in his life. And oh yes, he does have a long evening OCD hygiene ritual which his mother used to walk him through step by step, and then she would lay down in bed with him until he went to sleep. But he's getting a little older and finds that annoying.

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  4. When I was a kid we, on Saturday, left in the morning, came back for lunch, then left again until dinner. In fact, out parents threw us out. "Go outside and play."

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  5. Overprotective parenting is linked to obesity

    http://www.ahchealthenews.com/2014/07/24/overprotective-parents-more-likely-to-have-obese-kids/

    Also parenting styles and obesity, which are a bit different from the degree of protection because they are about how much the child is monitored and interacted with by the parent, and how many rules they providing, rather than overprotection, which is about stopping the child doing things, but not necessarily interacting with them or giving them a framework of rules. A parent can be overprotective and negligent or overprotective and permissive.

    http://time.com/3005611/helicopter-parenting-chilhood-obesity/
    http://researchnews.wsu.edu/health/322.html
    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/rigid-parenting-style-linked-to-obese-kids/

    The authoritarian style, with rule setting and a lack of responsiveness to the child seems to be worse for the child's risk of obesity than the more responsive authoritarian style. And that seems like the a worse subset of overprotective parenting as well - the one with lots of control over the child and no real interest in listening to them. If you are going to overprotect your child and cut out other social contact, which is a bad idea anyway, it is probably better not to be totally hierarchical and indifferent to them.

    I think the Mils are going to be less overprotective, but I'm not sure our parenting style is going to be more rule setting. I don't know if that will work very well with the "Z" and post-Z generations who seem likely to end up being naive and socially overconfident.

    “It doesn’t take much to see that this generates a vicious cycle. Captivity breeds inactivity,” says Joshua Gans, a professor at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto and author of Parentonomics. “If you fear letting your kids loose outside, that is when the risk of obesity expands.”

    Probably since obesity is all about the carbs, that inactivity thesis is probably wrong, plus childhood obesity rose all through the rising crime era, where at least recreational activity probably wasn't lower than in the 1930s - 1950s (although more young boys working in the 1930s - 1950s and probably more girls working hard in the home).

    http://abnormalfacies.files.wordpress.com/2012/03/nhanes-childhood-obesity.jpg

    It might be more that when kids spend more time outside the home, they are less in easy reach of carb snacks, for one, and just intuitively don't eat junky food that would slow them down and make them tired. Parents don't overfeed them as much either - if the kid is responding to their own hunger signals, they will choose satiating food and not overeat carbs, while if the parent is force feeding them, they're more likely to force feed them bland carbs, which the child will eat with less complaint but will not satisfy its hunger.

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  6. "Overprotective and emotionally negligent" is a great way to describe the typical helicopter parent.

    There's a post here somewhere on obesity rates following the status-striving / inequality cycle (probably under the "health" or "food" tags). The current epidemic began in the late '70s / early '80s, well before cocooning and helicopter parenting, but in line with the me-first dog-eat-dog stance toward society (not necessarily toward others in real life).

    Status-striving women don't want to lose all that time and effort cooking wholesome meals when they could be climber higher on one pyramid or another. And they don't want to shell out too much money for others to prepare the meal for them -- lost money in the status game. Cheap quick junk food -- AKA carbs, with or without a portion of meat -- becomes the norm. Sugar and starch don't spoil easily like meat and vegetables do.

    When women stop cooking, everyone gets fat, not just any kids they may have. Who else is going to cook? No one, so everyone is eating processed box food.

    Aside from the status-striving of women, there's also the more libertine attitude of "I can do what I want right now if it feels good." Rather than rein it in and make do. That naturally encourages binging on sugar and starch, which are addictive rather than satiating like steak and vegetables.

    There were a huge number of lardasses back in the Victorian / Gilded Age, from the top of society to the bottom. Right through the early 1900s, in fact. Didn't stop Taft from becoming President. It's not until the Great Compression that you see folks getting lean and trim, again whether upper or lower on the status pyramid.

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  7. Care/harm morality seems to do more damage to societies than even outright amoral psychopathy since they get away with far more than even the most depraved psychopaths do.

    After all, it's easier to get together a group of people to string up or put in an oven an amoral psychopath but a well-meaning "but it's for the children" puritan? Much harder to justify removing them.

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  8. Kids were allowed to wander all over the place with no supervision in the midcentury. Parents could harshly discipline their kids as well and that was none of anyone else's business. This nonsense hardly seems like a return to midcentury norms.

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  9. The CPS stuff is new, reflecting the breakdown of civic norms and the tough-on-crime mindset of rising-inequality periods. But no, kids could not wander all over, and parents "could" but did not harshly discipline their kids back then.

    You seem to be eager to hear opposing views from the minority of exceptions that were allowed outside, got spanked, etc., especially ones who lived outside of the increasingly typical suburban / Levittown households.

    Dr. Spock did not become an instant mega-seller from a climate of strict, traditional, and "don't come home until dark" parenting. Kids huddled around the radio or TV, and didn't venture too far away from home, let alone hanging out in packs of peers. Having kids cooped up all day eventually drove their mothers crazy, when the audience for The Feminine Mystique decided they'd had enough.

    The "smothering mother" was a stock character at the time, and the liberal iconoclast / ranter Philip Wylie devoted a good section of his book A Generation of Vipers to them. Created a national stir pro and con, a la the debate over helicopter parents these days. And that was as early as 1942.

    A content analysis of advice columns in Parents Magazine found that the consensus of the late '50s and early '60s was that the mother was an engineer who had to properly program the blank-slate child, whereas during the '60s and '70s the view changed to one of cultivation / let them develop naturally.

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  10. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-8624.1990.tb02757.x/abstract;jsessionid=770BB88DA4283912C2B33596710F1C27.f02t03?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false

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  11. Wylie's term that became a Midcentury watchword was "Momism," if you're going to look into the history of parenting.

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  12. I'm recounting what I've been told by everyone I've known who was around back then. And in their view this was the norm, they were not a "minority" or exceptional.

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  13. Status-striving women don't want to lose all that time and effort cooking wholesome meals when they could be climber higher on one pyramid or another.

    Plus, some women would make food into a status striving activity itself, so women who are low on the class pyramid would opt out. I think that might be why a lot of the time lower status women increasingly don't cook and adopt a nihilistic attitude to cooking.

    So I guess you'd see a within country interaction of inequality and female workforce participation, so countries where there is low inequality and/or low female participation, e.g. Sweden as low inequality or Japan as low female participation would tend to do better, while Anglosphere regions with high female participation norms and inequality would be harder hit.

    (Although as you've said before East Asians tend to just get diabetic rather than diabetic and store fat.)

    Aside from the status-striving of women, there's also the more libertine attitude of "I can do what I want right now if it feels good." Rather than rein it in and make do. That naturally encourages binging on sugar and starch, which are addictive rather than satiating like steak and vegetables.

    I would think status striving cultures would also invent and sell more junk foods, on the provider end, because of that ethos of making a quick buck selling people non-nutritious crap.

    Though you've said before that the candy and breakfast cereal innovation (which are pretty much gold standard junky food) tend to match more with general cultural creativity, not the political economic cycle.

    http://akinokure.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/greater-candy-innovation-in-rising.html
    http://akinokure.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/greater-candy-innovation-in-rising_30.html
    http://akinokure.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/vanishing-childhood-when-cereal-was.html

    But those innovative periods rise and fall wth inequality as well I think. So maybe both rising inequality giving drive to sell and buy new junk food and rising crime with risk taking creativity are required.

    Rising crime should have relatively more addictions to youth focused, risk taking and sociable addictions, while falling crime should have more addiction to anxiety calming, social substitute, and social dysfunction rooted additions (addictions caused by not having your actions watched by a circle of peers who can shame you, intervene, etc. for dysfunctional behaviour).

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  14. Curtis2:26 PM

    "My stepson had the typical helicopter mom upbringing, in his case, when living with his mother and grandparents. Utterly protected, raised more as a house pet than a human child, babysat by computer games, which he played for hours without moving from his seat, ate almost exclusively junk food and happy meals. He is now anti social, doesn't want to leave the house, rude and abusive to me and his mom (who has more of a best friend relationship with him than a parent child relationship). Highly twisted and warped, like an oil refinery built over a fault line, if the right combination of factors happens during his teenage years, he will destroy everyone in a ten mile radius when he blows up (think: school shooter) and if he and those around him survive his adolescence, he will be an abusive husband (if he gets married) and generally a slacker and white collar criminal if he moves into the work world and is able to hold a job. And that's just the short version. The helicopter parenting phenomenon basically describes the cause and effect I see in his life. And oh yes, he does have a long evening OCD hygiene ritual which his mother used to walk him through step by step, and then she would lay down in bed with him until he went to sleep. But he's getting a little older and finds that annoying."

    With you as his stepdad, I feel pretty sorry for him.

    One of the saddest parts of cocooning is the crushing conformity and the belief that any young man who is reclusive is a potential serial killer/mass shooter, stoked along by the abundant cop shows and serial killer shows on TV.

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  15. Curtis2:39 PM

    I feel pity for the Millenials, failure to integrate is not always the fault of the individual, but can be caused by conformity and low trust within society, as well as deficient institutions. For instance, I once read that the actor Harrison Ford lived a reclusive lifestyle in college(early 60s), suffering from depression, before skyrocketing to fame in the 70s.

    "He was shy and often beaten up by his peers. Taking a stance of non-violence he refused to fight back, instead keeping the anger inside himself for years. During college he did not fit in, finding the school too conservative for his tastes. He began exhibiting typical signs of depression, such sleeping long hours, missing classes and struggling to keep up with his studies. He later said of his time at college, "The kindest word to describe my performance was Sloth". Due to his failing a philosophy class during his senior year, he was expelled from school. Notoriously private about his life, Ford has not personally characterized this period of his life as one of depression, but has confessed to being painfully shy until his junior year of college, when he signed up for a drama class and overcame his fears."

    Just to give another example, but the frat system since the 1990s has been more and more designed to exclude most of the students - frats have to submit lists of the potential students attending a party at least a day before, so that the college doesn't end up getting sued because somebody falls out of a window or something. This of course means that only a few frat members get invited; the days of an open party like that portrayed in "Animal House" are long go. Not to mention, many students now living off-campus in private houses and holding small exclusive parties.

    In such an environment, is it any surprise that many students end up isolated and demoralized?

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  16. Curtis2:54 PM

    "(addictions caused by not having your actions watched by a circle of peers who can shame you, intervene, etc. for dysfunctional behaviour)."

    Not so sure about this. Addictive behavior was quite common in the 80s, it was just more likely to be social behavior(doing drugs with other people, gambling addiction, going to the bar every night, prostitution, cocaine use(cocaine motivates social behavior), etc. Watch Scarface.

    Furthermore, I don't believe that peer intervention can cure people of dysfunctional behavior, or that peers only penalize when someone is being dysfunctional. People can be shitty, and if someone gets isolated, its not always because they are doing something wrong. Read about Harrison Ford the crap kicked out of him in high school.

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  17. Addictive behavior was quite common in the 80s, it was just more likely to be social behavior(doing drugs with other people, gambling addiction, going to the bar every night, prostitution, cocaine use(cocaine motivates social behavior), etc

    Stimulant drugs are more like hedonistic, sociable and risk taking addictions, which like I say I'd expect to be more common then, while OCD is more like a stabilising addiction behaviour which would be checked by having others around to shame, etc.

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  18. Anonymous12:08 AM

    Agnostic, how much does the growth of electronic entertainment factor into the growing atomization of or society?

    Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, text messaging, video games, DVD players, hundreds of televisions channels, youtube, ipods, and nonstop cell phone "selfies" give kids the opportunity to be entertained without any real human social interaction. These options really weren't available a few decades ago.

    Even in past cocooning times, there really wasn't much available in entertainment options. Maybe reading a book or watching one of 3 main channels. Kids, teens, and young adults went out more because there really wasn't much to do at home. For a lot of girls, going out was the only way to get male validation, in an era before the IG/FB "selfie" could get a girl dozens of likes in a few minutes.

    Also, in the past, working summer jobs (in HS or college) was the norm. Now immigrants do those jobs or those jobs get automated. So an important bonding experience has been eliminated for a lot of kids.



    The percentage of kids with driver's licenses is falling: http://www.wnyc.org/story/286723-percentage-of-young-persons-with-a-drivers-license-continues-to-drop/



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  19. The George W. Bush Presidency contributed to the helecoptor parenting trend in a major way. It ran TV ads extensively claiming "Ask (accusing) questions" and "be a parent," under the guise of stopping drug use among the young (which had already fallen considerably), but which whether by accident or design inevitably exaserbated the artificial prolonging of childhood dependency and social timidity among the young people they were claiming to protect. A lot of those people watched those ads. As you pointed out, there are plenty of conservative and Republican helecoptor parents.

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  20. Curtis11:59 AM

    " Now immigrants do those jobs or those jobs get automated. "

    Or they are being worked by older people. It's common to see the middle-aged working at fast-food joints and grocery stores where I live, especially older women.

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  21. Curtis12:23 PM

    "The George W. Bush Presidency contributed to the helecoptor parenting trend in a major way. It ran TV ads extensively claiming "Ask (accusing) questions" and "be a parent," under the guise of stopping drug use among the young (which had already fallen considerably), but which whether by accident or design inevitably exaserbated the artificial prolonging of childhood dependency and social timidity among the young people they were claiming to protect. A lot of those people watched those ads. As you pointed out, there are plenty of conservative and Republican helecoptor parents."

    I disagree, the culture became more outgoing under Bush's first term, until beginning to fall again around 2005-2006.

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  22. Re M's first comment:

    Harm-based morality, I have argued, is linked to increased selfishness and solipsism. Harm-based morality spreads as social bonds deteriorate, and is in a sense the result of making the self the center of moral focus. Sacrifice for others diminishes and personal indulgence increases.

    Thus for the liberal Christians, Christianity is used to achieve a state of personal enlightenment, whereas for conservative Christians it is used to place themselves within a social order. Liberals have an internal focus, conservatives have an external focus--a lot of the behavior of these groups can be explained by this simple observation.

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  23. "how much does the growth of electronic entertainment factor into the growing atomization of or society?"

    There may be a small role for it, but it seems like second-order stuff. For interactions at the person-to-person level, all those new-fangled gadgets don't really offer any radical break with the past. If you want to avoid others, you can use them to distract and isolate yourself. If you want to approach others, you don't spend that much time with the gadgets.

    Tech change has pronounced effects in high-level political and economic relationships, but not the cohesion I'm talking about with cocooning.

    In fact, Midcentury folks had plenty of mass media products to distract themselves with. Radio more than anything, which didn't focus so much on music as on drama and comedy programs, variety shows, soap operas, quiz shows, and so on. Then TV. Comic books were huge and mostly read in private.

    Those sound quaint compared to the 24-hour data stream coming from texts, Instagram, etc., but that just goes to show that you don't need Facebook to atomize a society. Being addicted to shows on the radio and TV, and horror / crime comic books, was enough.

    At least in the old days, the radio and TV stations shut off for the night. So it wasn't a 24-hour distraction like the internet today. Still, most people these days aren't losing sleep to stay on the internet -- maybe an hour or two more of mass media distractions than in the '40s and '50s.

    But I suspect there's a diminishing marginal returns effect going on. The teenager circa 1950 might have had four hours of mass media distraction in isolation. That's incredibly deadening as it is. Tack on another two hours, and it isn't a whole lot worse. The damage has already been done by hour four.

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