Surprisingly, 85% of American kids like being the age they are, rather than wishing to be older or looking forward to growing up.  At least according to a new study by market research firm Harris Interactive of about 900 children in America.  The figure is up on a study done in the year 2000 in which 75% of children said they liked being their age – still a fairly high proportion.

The findings seem contrary to the increase in marketing to children and “tweens” which pushes children into adult behaviour.  Children are encouraged to look to ‘teenage’ interests like fashion and music much earlier than they used to. 

Los Angeles Times author Emma Alpert thinks the finding could be due to increasingly conscientious parenting.  She identifies several studies which seem to show that parents are stepping up efforts to nurture their children, making childhood an attractive place to stay.  Author Emily Alpert reports: 

Moms and dads are spending more time with their kids than in decades, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of surveys stretching back to 1965.

Parents are also spending more money, devoting a growing share of income to their kids, according to a study published this year in the journal Demography…

Experts tie the booming investment in parenting to mounting anxiety about kids making it in the U.S. economy. Among the middle class, “a lot of parents are feeling they need to be their child’s teacher, their coach, their friend, their chauffeur,” said Sara Harkness, a professor of human development at the University of Connecticut. “There’s an increasing intensification of what it means to be a good parent.”

In my experience, people certainly do think about parenting a whole lot if all the different philosophies are anything to go.  There are a myriad of books to choose from.  Upon becoming a mother myself I was startled by the intense, and often hostile, debate between ‘attachment parenting’ or ‘demand feeding’ advocates and those who think that ‘controlled crying’ or a set or flexible routine is what’s best for baby.  Greater spending on children also suggests a greater range of gadgets and toys on the market, as well as increased spending on education and childcare.

Some argue that all these new theories have led to ‘over parenting’, with children not allowed to take part in any risky activities at all.  New Zealand current affairs show “Sunday” did a thought-provoking article on this phenomenon here just last week.  One of the women interviewed is trying to get children back to nature, tree climbing and running and playing around outside – despite the likelihood that they could get hurt doing so.  She argues that children don’t learn know how to assess risk in later life, and actually make much more stupid choices, if they’re not given the chance to take risks when they’re young.  Though, to do so, she said that you often have to wade through screeds of red tape, at least where childcare centres or child groups are concerned.

However, we can’t tar all countries with the same brush.  Back in March, a study released by Sara Harkness and Charles M. Super from the School of Family Studies at the University of Connecticut, looked into parenting theories in Western cultures.  It found some interesting differences between countries.  Apparently European cultures are a little more relaxed about how they bring up their children, while Americans are very concerned with analysing and following their children’s cognitive development. Americans are more likely to describe their children as ‘intelligent’ and worry about them asking questions, while Australian’s described their children as happy and Italians described them as easy, well balanced and even-tempered. 

Could this be because parents in Northern European countries such as Sweden are able to be more relaxed and have more balance because of their generous maternity policies?  American mothers are more likely to work than their European counterparts – perhaps as a result of limited State support.

Across almost all countries, the increased analysis of parenting likely results because having children has become such a calculated thing (the extreme of which can be seen in the way China is bringing up its much talked about “Litte Emperors”).  In general people have fewer children later in life and plan carefully for those that they do have – so naturally they are more likely to also carefully analyse what they do once they have them.  This has its pros and cons.  Of course one should consider the most important job of being a mother or father as a professional role.  There are many helpful courses and books which really help out parents.  But by the same token, children need to learn to be independent, help out, and walk on their own two feet.  Overly molly-coddled children might find it difficult to learn these skills – and there are less opportunities in one or two children families in general to learn to do things for yourself or help out a younger sibling I imagine.  It is worth thinking about the extreme of China and the unwelcome effects too much undivided attention can have!

Whatever causes kids to say that they like being kids is positive (unless it’s that the lives of the adults around them look increasingly incredibly complicated!), but let’s hope we get the balance right.

Shannon Roberts

Shannon Roberts is co-editor of MercatorNet's blog on population issues, Demography is Destiny. While she has a background as a barrister, writing has been a life-long passion and she has contributed...