I’m not quite sure what the difference is between helicopter and intensive parents, but according to a recent study by a researcher at Cornell University, “intensive” parenting is what most parents view as “good parenting” regardless of their educational or socioeconomic status. In fact, it’s becoming the norm. In an article by Joe Pinsker from The Atlantic called ‘Intensive’ Parenting Is Now the Norm in America, he states that “This style of child-rearing that most aspire to takes a lot of time and money, and many families can’t pull it off.”
Here’s are a few paragraphs from the article:
Supervised, enriching playtime. Frequent conversations about thoughts and feelings. Patient, well-reasoned explanations of household rules. And extracurriculars. Lots and lots of extracurriculars.
These are the oft-stereotyped hallmarks of a parenting style that has been common in upper-middle-class households for at least a generation. But according to a recent survey, this child-rearing philosophy now has a much broader appeal, one that holds across race and class. The survey, which polled roughly 3,600 parents of children ages 8 to 10 who were demographically and economically representative of the national population, found evidence that hands-on parenting is not just what the well-off practice—it’s what everyone aspires to.
Intensive is the adjective that researchers, including Patrick Ishizuka, a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University who published the survey results late last year, use to describe this model of raising kids. It’s difficult to nail down precisely when it became the standard that so many American parents hold themselves to, but its approach seems built for an era of widening economic inequality, in which the downsides of a child falling behind economically are the largest they’ve been in generations.
Intensive parenting is a style of child-rearing fit for an age of inequality, indicative of a stratified past, present, and future. The past: As some social scientists have theorized, the tilt toward intensive parenting originated at least in part from parents’ anxieties about their children competing for education and jobs. (The more extracurriculars, the logic of intensive parenting goes, the better the odds of getting into an excellent college and of securing one of the high-paying jobs that America cordons off for the best-credentialed.) The present: As Ishizuka described, intensive parenting is an ideal that’s currently out of reach for many families. And the future: Practiced as it is by some families but not others, it might replicate—or even widen—inequities in future generations.
Many children surely benefit from being raised like this—concerted cultivation can serve them well later in life, teaching them how to manage their time and assert their individuality. But heavily involved parenting can at the same time stunt kids’ sense of self-reliance, and overcommitted after-school schedules can leave them exhausted. Also, there is some evidence that parents who overdo it increase the risk that their children will grow up to be depressed and less satisfied with life. And on the parents’ side, the intensive ideal can lead parents—particularly mothers—to fear that they aren’t doing enough to give their child the best future possible.
I am sure that this style of parenting is what my husband and I followed with our kids. We were big on extracurriculars, spending quality time with our kids and having lengthy discussions of what we considered to be morally right or wrong. But, from there, I went overboard to helicoptering. I couldn’t let my kids fail for the life of me. If it meant arguing with teachers over a second-grade continent test (where I finally learned that Artic is spelled Arctic — my bad!) or sending an email to the AP history teacher in high school demanding that the 89.9% be rounded up to a 90% and an A, I definitely passed the line from “intensive” to “copter.” At least I can look back on what I did and see the errors of my ways. We get a laugh about it today with the kids. They know I had their best interests in mind and wasn’t trying to sabotage their adulthood.
If you want more details about the study on “intensive” parenting, read the press release from Cornell University here.
In an article by Susan Kelley in a Cornell publication called “Hands-on, intensive parenting is best, most parents say,” she gives more details:
Regardless of their education, income or race, most parents say a child-centered, time-intensive approach to parenting is the best way to raise their kids, a Cornell researcher has found.
The findings suggest intensive parenting has become the dominant model for how parents across the socio-economic spectrum feel children should be raised – regardless of whether the parent has the resources to actually do so.
“This points to exceptionally high standards for how parents should raise their kids. It suggests that parents are experiencing significant pressure to spend great amounts of both time and money on children,” said Patrick Ishizuka, the author of “Social Class, Gender, and Contemporary Parenting Standards in the United States,” published Dec. 22 in Social Forces.
Most parents also said intensive parenting is the ideal approach for both mothers and fathers, and applies to parenting boys and girls, according to the study.
“It’s remarkable just how widespread support is for intensive parenting, in terms of social class and gender,” added Ishizuka, the Frank H.T. Rhodes Postdoctoral Fellow at the Cornell Population Center.
Researchers in the field have known that parents with low incomes and less education tend to spend less time and money on children than parents with higher incomes and more education. But it hadn’t been clear whether that’s because they lack resources or because they prefer a different approach to childrearing. Ishizuka’s study is the first to directly address the question using a nationally representative survey, by asking parents of different social classes what they consider “good parenting.”
Ishizuka analyzed data from more than 3,600 study participants who were parents. The participants read about various scenarios in which a mother or father interacts with a child between the ages of 8 and 10. The vignettes focused on the child’s leisure activities, how the parent speaks to the child and how the family interacts with professionals in institutions like schools or a doctor’s office. The participants then ranked the parent’s behavior from “excellent” to “poor.”
Each scenario described one of two approaches to parenting: concerted cultivation (an intensive parenting approach) or natural growth (a non-intensive parenting approach). In concerted cultivation, parents facilitate their child’s participation in extracurricular activities, play with them at home, ask them about their thoughts and feelings, and respond to misbehavior with discussion and explanations. In contrast, parents taking the natural growth approach set rules for their children’s safety but give them flexibility to play on their own or with friends. Parents are less involved in the children’s activities and give them clear directives with little room for negotiation.
What are your thoughts about intensive vs. natural growth approaches to parenting? Is intensive parenting something you approve of? And have you ever crossed the line into the realm of helicopter parenting?