Last week I read an article in the Wall Street Journal that headlined, ‘Why French Parents Are Superior’ written by author of ‘Bringing Up Bebe,’ American Pamela Druckerman.

Funnily enough, almost exactly a year ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article headlined, ‘Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior’ written by Amy Chua, author of the explosive ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.’

(Something tells me the WSJ is trying to save money on employing headline writers and recycling previously successful headlines they know will rile the American public into an indignant frenzy. :-))

The two books appear quite different – the Druckerman book being a far more temperate look at parenting French-style while Chua’s focused on her own family and left me wondering if she unresolved issues about her own upbringing.

But they both are at pains to point out the contrast of other nation’s parenting approach to that of the US. And it is not a favorable comparison.

Overparenting

“Overparenting,” “hyperparenting,” “helicopter parenting” and “kindergarchy” were terms Druckerman used to describe the phenomena known as middle-class American parenting.

Personally, I had never heard of ‘kindergarchy’ and didn’t know what it meant but I discovered via research on the internet that it means “under rule by children.” Instead of being in the background, the children are in the foreground while parents needs are pushed out and take a backseat.

The other terms are pretty well established and self-explanatory.

And the outcome, according to the French, is children with a lack of impulse control. Of the ability to play alone. Of the ability to delay gratification.

The Truth

Is it true?

Certainly, the famous marshmallow study of the late 1960s at Stanford University contributes data to substantiate the opinion of the French and of many teachers.

Children, four and five years-old, were left in a room for 15 minutes with a marshmallow on the table. They were told that if they waited until the experimenter came back, and the marshmallow was still there, they would get another one. Most kids could only wait 15 seconds. Only one in three lasted the full 15 minutes. (I’m not sure I could, either. I know I could not wait if it was a piece of chocolate.)

Walter Mischel, conductor of the test at Bing Nursery School on the Stanford campus, and the leading expert on how children learn to delay gratification observes that ‘self-control has gotten increasingly difficult for kids’ in the U.S.

Higher SAT Scores

And while the original information is fascinating, it is the follow-up study accomplished when those same youngsters were juniors in high school that is significantly informative.

His follow-up study found that those who could delay gratification were better at concentrating and reasoning, tending not falling to pieces under stress. Not only that, those individuals earned an average of 210 points more on their SAT scores than their peers/classmates.

Wow!

Delayed gratification contributes to the growth of brain cells.

Boundaries and Limits

So are American parents doing their kids a huge disservice and how?

Anecdotal comparisons mentioned by Druckerman in her book suggest we are much less likely to say ‘no’ to our children. If they want us to push them on the swing we do it. Even if we’d rather sit and talk to our friend. To the French, it struck them that it was American children that were in charge.

And not the adults.

In France it would appear that parents assiduously set boundaries around their children’s behavior, establishing firmly what is acceptable and what is not. But within those boundaries, they are remarkably relaxed and the children have a great degree of freedom.

The criticism is that Americans don’t set these boundaries and that the children suffer from the lack of opportunity to learn crucial skills.

Reading Druckerman’s account, it would appear that the confidence of parents in their ability to be authoritative without damaging the child is lacking. And it is true that self-assuredness combined with consistency is key.

What do you think? Are American parents doing it all wrong? Tell us in the comments!

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Anabel Jensen

President of Six Seconds and professor of education, Anabel Jensen, Ph.D., is a master teacher and a pioneer in emotional intelligence education. A two-time Federal Blue Ribbon winner for excellence in education, she was Executive Director of the Nueva School from 1983 to 1997 where she helped develop the Self-Science curriculum featured in Daniel Goleman’s 1995 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence.