Zero-To-Three just ran this summary on their Facebook page MIT language study and I felt so sad. For everyone. For the umpteenth time in the past few years, I am in the awkward position of agreeing with “experts” that kids learn language skills best with face-to-face interaction that expands language, but I also appreciate why some cultures don’t interact with children like MIT researchers want them to. My concern is that the researchers can’t seem to see beyond their bubble of middle class privilege.
Because I have the good fortune to treat children in their homes, and have family and friends that span every economic group from barely-getting-by to (almost) Richie Rich, I have seen a lot of parenting styles. A lot. Here is what I see:
Parents teach children to behave so that they will succeed in the culture their parents exist in and the world they hope their children will access. How parents interact with their children is also affected by how stressed they are. No parent thinks about this consciously. But there are huge differences, right from the start.
What I think the MIT folks haven’t realized is what goes on for those parents who come home after working two jobs, who worry about which bills to pay now and if they will have a job this time next month. These good, hardworking folks don’t have the extra bandwidth to chat with their children in the same way that a less stressed parent does. Maybe the researchers haven’t thought to ask, maybe they assume that what they see in an interview tells the whole story. But they haven’t seen these families in their own homes and how they live their lives.
When that proud, super-stressed, working-class parent thinks about their child’s future, they see a job with benefits, a job that can’t be outsourced, a job that has automatic raises. Many of the jobs they dream about for their children are government or union jobs. These jobs require obedience to rules and to supervisors. In these positions, telling your boss that he or she is wrong could cost you your job. Staying out of controversy and following the rules gets you to the next rung on the ladder.
When their child questions a request, they aren’t going to have a heart-to-heart with him about why they don’t want to unload the dishwasher. A parent wants it done because they need to do three loads of laundry immediately and won’t be done with it until 2 am tonight. Everyone in their family has to help to make tomorrow a possibility. And they want their child to know that refusal to follow a supervisor’s order could mean that they could be out of a job and maybe out of a home.
Someday there will be someone at MIT that learns more about these families, is brave enough to say what they think, and maybe even publish a study. That will be something that I can’t wait to post on my blog!