Parents Should Keep Their Role

Posted: Apr 19, 2007 2:13 PM

Ah, for the unerring wisdom of a child ...

"It's just the two of us," said one single-mom physician in Manhattan of her daughter, age 11. "That makes her more like a partner in some ways than a child."

That's the crux of the recent piece in The New York Times by Stephanie Rosenbloom, "Mom and Daddy's Little Life Coach."

That mom is hardly the only one. Rosenbloom chronicles the rise in children who advise _ more like instruct _ their parents, on everything from relationships to real estate deals.

Another mother, who has a top job at a literary firm, seeks advice from her 17-year-old because the woman just respects "how she looks at the world." The daughter says she "never feels like she's stuck in the parent-child stereotype ..."

And that would be bad ... because why? I would argue that a whole lot of 17-year-olds would benefit by being in a parent-child "stereotype"!

One single mom says of her 17-year-old son: "he advises me on everything."

Too bad for her and the others that even MRI studies show that teens use the part of their brains governed by emotions to make decisions, whereas adults are more likely to use the parts of their brains related to planning, judgment and executive function. In fact, those "adult function" areas are not fully formed in the brain until a person reaches his 20s.

We really didn't need an MRI study to tell us this, did we?

As Rosenbloom points out, parents have often looked to their kids for advice, from clothes _ "Does this look frumpy?" _ to where they want to go on vacation, to help with installing a new software program.

My own children like to advise me on the fact that I am a terrible cook, we need a dog and we ought to take a vacation to Hawaii _ for starters.

But Rosenbloom says today's trend is different. That both the scope and nature of "... child-to-parent advice has reached new proportions for a variety of reasons. Many parents _ who have shed their status as old fogy untouchables and become pals with their progeny _ are treating their offspring as worldly equals," she writes.

One cause seems to be material bombardment, which is now oriented in such a way that "it sells everyone on the notion that children are smarter now than in previous generations," Susan Linn, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School, told the Times. There's also the rise in single-parent families, with apparently many single parents (though not this one!) turning to their children to be their confidants. Maybe this is also about parents wanting to bond with their kids as pals because it's not only "easier," it makes Mom and Dad feel younger.

In any event, "we're robbing children of childhood in some ways," Linn said.

She's right, but the trend is growing. Rosenbloom rightly ponders: What happens when these kids enter the work force? Will they be irritated when their managers don't partner with them and seek their advice on all of the company's decisions?

But I'm betting that one big reason for this shift is one not mentioned in the piece: the demise of religious tradition. The more we as a culture walk away from the latter and think we can do life on our own, the more we have to think our children come into the world inherently wise and virtuous _ because then that means we do, too.

Well, "As for me and my house," to borrow from the Old Testament's Joshua, I know that no matter how chaotic it may get around here, my kids are kids _ not my "partners" _ I'm the mom, and it's for their sake that I have to care a whole lot more about whether they like me when they are 30 than when they are 13.