Previously, I wrote about how parenting styles are influenced by how we ourselves were raised. Yeah, it was a bloody obvious point, but I had to get through that to get to the main area of disagreement that I touched on in that post but never fully explored because I got sidetracked: Aggressive parenting vs. Relaxed parenting.
Insofar as I did go into it, I mentioned that Clancy favors a more aggressive form of parenting and that one of the reasons for that is that she was raised in a more strict environment than I was. Not just because her parents are more strict in general than mine, but also because we came at different points in our parents’ lives. To wit, she is the oldest of three and I am the youngest. It’s well-established that parents start off most aggressive and loosen up as parenthood unfolds. I got away with things that my brothers never would have, as did her youngest sister with her older sisters.
In this vein, it’s noteworthy to mention that first children tend to be more successful than later children despite the fact that later children come into families that are traditionally better markers for success (older parents, wealthier households, etc). One likely reason for this is the aggressive parenting that diminishes a little with each child. Aggressive parenting works. The higher expectations of the first child results in better performance, on the whole.
I try to keep this in mind as I break with my lovely wife on various issues. On many things I will likely defer to her because of this reality. On others, though, I think that she and I will part ways because I experienced and enjoyed things that she never did and she and her sisters performed in ways that my brothers and I never did.
By most measures, we’re both inclined to be more aggressive than a lot of parents seem to be. But her far moreso than me. This is particularly true when it comes to safety concerns.
One example that comes to mind is something that her mother did where Clancy and her sisters were not allowed to give anybody a ride in their car. Her mother even put up a sign that said so for the youngest so that she wouldn’t get blamed by her friends for the policy.
Studies have shown that teenage drivers with passengers are significantly more likely to get into accidents. Some states are even passing laws to prevent teens from piling into cars and distracting the inexperienced driver. By and large I think that these laws are a good idea. I don’t contest the studies. My experiences don’t really contradict those studies, except to say that if you’re driving sleepy at 4 in the morning it is awfully nice to have another guy in the car to say “Red light! Red light!” in reference to something that you might have otherwise missed.
Driving anywhere at four in the morning is likely another thing that is likely to lead to accidents and another area where I suspect Clancy will be more inclined to take a hard line. To be fair, I was in college at the time, which we all know is the height of adult sensibilities. I probably would agree with Clancy at the 4-in-the-morning bit, except as extra-curricular activities at school may require it.
Anyway, back to the task at hand. Having multiple passengers in the car is merely one example of many. There are unsupervised dates, parties where alcohol is being served, being out late on weekends, and so on and so on. Clancy and I haven’t discussed all of these explicitly (though… uhhh… I bet we’re about to!), but I’m willing to bet that as far as they go I am likely to be more permissive about these things regarding when, if ever, they should be permitted.
Her case is rock-solid in many ways. All of the above things represent the potential of great danger for teenagers. At the very least they represent a distraction to the academic studies that they should be focusing on. If we want to raise an academically successful, disciplined kid, the less freedom the better. Not so much as to completely shelter them from the outside world, because that presents dangers all their own, but providing the parental buffer against too much too soon.
My perspective is a little bit different. When I was in early high school, I discovered BBSes. I made friends all throughout the city. Because I was held back in school I got my driver’s license earlier than most of my peers. So I drove across the city, frequently with passengers. I drove people around. I went to parties. I binge drank. I spent weekends at the houses of virtual strangers.
And I don’t regret a minute of it. And not because I had a blast. I enjoyed a lot of it, but I was not mentally or emotionally in a great place a lot of the time. The reason that I don’t regret it, though, was that it was two years of real life that I’d been missing out on before because of my introversion and social awkwardness. It was all part of the process of my eventual assimilation into normal society.
I didn’t have a whole lot to offer. The big thing I had was a car. Supplementing that was a fair amount of freedom that my brothers never had and an uncanny ability to get clerks to sell me alcohol without showing off my ID. If my parents had bolted me down as Clancy’s did I would have missed out on my social awakening.
That’s no small thing.
Yes, it was in many ways unsafe. It certainly would have been safer to have a rule like Clancy’s did about passengers in my car. I don’t know that my adventures hurt my schooling much if at all, but it’s possible that in different circumstances it could have and that’s a risk. True, these are risks relatively easily avoided.
But how big were the risks compared to the reward? It’s that analysis where I think that Clancy and I differ. She sees the risks because she is a more risk-sensitive person than I am (though we’re both risk-sensitive, for sure) and because she’s a doctor and she sees the worst-case scenarios at work and has studied all about them. Her cousin used to be a NARC and hence is one of the most anti-drug people in existence. Sort of the same thing.
Fortunately, at least in my case, I managed to avoid the Big Risks. I didn’t drink and drive, nor did I do any illegal substances. More helpfully, I didn’t particularly like the taste of beer and couldn’t afford the better stuff, which curtailed my drinking more than it otherwise might have. The notion that I could get caught, by law enforcement or my parents, was enough to keep me from straying too far. If Clancy and I can build that kind of moral authority, it could go a long ways towards our children being able to see the line that is not to be crossed.
It’s my suspicion that our kids will be two things: socially akward and risk-averse. With that formula in mind, I think that I will be a continuing advocate of enough freedom to engage in some danger if it might help them develop socially.
If we have a kid that is a daredevil, that would of course change all calculations. That of course brings me to my second-to-last thought on the subject. It seems that so much of what we do will be in response to what they do. The risks to them as an individual in addition to the statistical risks. Safety risks, but also the risks of social isolation.
My last thought is a variation of the last thought of my last post on the subject of child-rearing. When I hold the kid in my arms, I might decide that absolutely nothing in the entire world can possibly be a threat to the little bugger’s well-being and thus any and taking anything short of all safety precautions is dangerous negligence.