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Parenting Out of Control

Parenting Out of Control: Anxious Parents in Uncertain Times

MARGARET K. NELSON
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 276
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt155jk2n
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  • Book Info
    Parenting Out of Control
    Book Description:

    They go by many names: helicopter parents, hovercrafts, PFHs (Parents from Hell). The news media is filled with stories of well-intentioned parents going to ridiculous extremes to remove all obstacles from their child's path to greatness . . . or at least to an ivy league school. From cradle to college, they remain intimately enmeshed in their children's lives, stifling their development and creating infantilized, spoiled, immature adults unprepared to make the decisions necessary for the real world. Or so the story goes.

    Drawing on a wealth of eye-opening interviews with parents across the country, Margaret K. Nelson cuts through the stereotypes and hyperbole to examine the realities of what she terms "parenting out of control." Situating this phenomenon within a broad sociological context, she finds several striking explanations for why today's prosperous and well-educated parents are unable to set realistic boundaries when it comes to raising their children. Analyzing the goals and aspirations parents have for their children as well as the strategies they use to reach them, Nelson discovers fundamental differences among American parenting styles that expose class fault lines, both within the elite and between the elite and the middle and working classes.

    Nelson goes on to explore the new ways technology shapes modern parenting. From baby monitors to cell phones (often referred to as the world's longest umbilical cord), to social networking sites, and even GPS devices, parents have more tools at their disposal than ever before to communicate with, supervise, and even spy on their children. These play important and often surprising roles in the phenomenon of parenting out of control. Yet the technologies parents choose, and those they refuse to use, often seem counterintuitive. Nelson shows that these choices make sense when viewed in the light of class expectations.

    Today's parents are faced with unprecedented opportunities and dangers for their children, and are evolving novel strategies to adapt to these changes. Nelson's lucid and insightful work provides an authoritative examination of what happens when these new strategies go too far.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-5908-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. INTRODUCTION: No Playpen
    (pp. 1-14)

    When I was raising my children in the 1970s, there were no baby monitors to help me hear them cry in the middle of the night, no cell phones to assist me in keeping track of their whereabouts at every moment, and no expectation that I would know any more about their educational successes or failures than they, or a quarterly report card, would tell me.¹ Indeed, although I thought of myself as a relatively anxious parent, I trusted a girl in the third grade to accompany my five-year-old son to and from school, and when he was in the...

  5. I Parenting Styles

    • INTRODUCTION TO PART I: Anxious and Engaged
      (pp. 17-22)

      Scholarly and ad hoc explanations for the new overanxious parent suggest a variety of immediate causes. Some argue that since events such as Columbine and especially 9/11, the world has become—or appears to be—a more dangerous place. Consequently, parents are “simply” responding to that new danger—or to a perception of danger.¹ Many point to a new “culture of fear” and especially to widely publicized stories of kidnapping, Internet pornography, and sexual predators.² Some note that more parents are having just one child, and therefore a larger proportion of all parents are “new” parents who are more anxious...

    • 1 LOOKING TOWARD AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
      (pp. 23-47)

      Francesca Guarino is a married working-class woman, the daughter of immigrants from Italy.¹ She lives on Staten Island in New York City with her husband, who is employed as a technician for a telephone company, and her three children. Their two daughters are aged seventeen and fifteen; they also have an eight-year-old boy, whom, without any false modesty, Francesca describes as “adorable” and “very attached” to his mom. She is a stay-at-home mother who believes that hers is the proper role for a married woman with children: “My parents are from the other side, and so we were raised with...

    • 2 LOOKING BACK: Are the Good Times Gone?
      (pp. 48-69)

      As Sarah Johnson and I sat in her sunny North Carolina kitchen on an unseasonably warm April day, Sarah jokingly warned me that if I continued to occupy my seat, her daughter might include me in the mural she was painting. All joking aside, Sarah, an Asian American, professional middleclass mother of two, is quite proud of the contrast between her encouragement of her daughter’s artistic talents and what she believes to have been her parents’ narrow interest in seeing their children become doctors. Yet, at the same time as she celebrates her own attitude, Sarah regrets changes between her...

    • 3 CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGERS
      (pp. 70-86)

      On November 3, 2008, as voters in the United States held their breath for the outcome of the Obama-McCain election, an entirely unrelated story made headlines in the evening news. A study conducted by staff of the RAND Corporation and published inPediatricsreported that a rise in teenage pregnancy could be attributed to the amount of sex teens viewed on television.¹ Parents were urged both to restrict the frequency and type of programs their children watched alone and, as much as possible, to watch television with their children. Had they been listening to Katie Couric’s review of these findings...

    • 4 HOW THEY PARENT: Styles, Satisfactions, and Tensions
      (pp. 87-104)

      Paula Brown works full-time as a high-level administrator at a university near the southern suburb in which she lives with her two teenage children. When asked to describe her approach to parenting, she indicated that she aims for honesty and flexibility even if doing so sometimes leaves her in an awkward position vis-à-vis her teenage daughter: “I’m really honest with Emily [who is fifteen]. You know, ‘I’ve never done this before. I’m not an expert.’ You know, not to feel like I’m jeopardizing my authority but at the same time I guess I’m just humanly presenting it and saying, ‘We’re...

  6. II Parenting and Technology

    • INTRODUCTION TO PART II: Do You Know Where Your Children Are?
      (pp. 107-112)

      A vast new array of surveillance technologies has become a taken-forgranted feature of our daily lives. Cameras tape our behavior on the street, smart cards record our purchases at the grocery store, and our employers can, if they choose, keep track of the time we spend playing solitaire on the computer.¹ Not surprisingly, these new technologies have been subject to considerable analysis.² By and large, however, the family and its internal dynamics have been ignored in these studies.³ When the surveillance literaturedoesaddress the family, it generally assumes what I call “surveillance creep”: that is, writers suggest that the...

    • 5 STAYING CONNECTED
      (pp. 113-127)

      Before I began conducting interviews for this book, I researched parental attitudes toward baby monitors on the consumer advice website Epinions.com. Although baby monitors have only appeared on the scene relatively recently, parental use of these devices is now assumed rather than explained in consumer reviews.¹ That is, reviewers do not appear to think that they need to account for why they want or need a baby monitor, indicating that they do not view their actions as being either “unanticipated or untoward.”² Instead, they dive right in with a discussion of the benefits—and drawbacks—of the particular monitor they...

    • 6 CONSTRAINING PRACTICES
      (pp. 128-141)

      In a televised commercial for Duracell batteries, an attractive, white woman daydreaming in a park becomes aware that her young child is missing. As the advertisement says, this “beautiful day” suddenly “turned into every parent’s nightmare.” Frantically the mother looks around, only to catch a glimpse of an ominous white van driving away. She sees no sign of her son. Ever more distressed, she searches in her pocketbook to find her “child locator.” Once she has pressed the appropriate button, she is guided toward her child, who, it turns out, is simply walking calmly with his red balloon, hidden from...

    • 7 WHAT THEY’RE HIDING: Spying and Surveillance
      (pp. 142-162)

      The winter before I spoke with her, Beth O’Brien, a PhD psychologist who runs marathons and worries about her children having fun, had become increasingly concerned about the behavior of one of her four children. She explained that fifteen-year-old Melissa’s problems had gone from bad to worse. Not only was Melissa not sleeping, but “at one point she actually got out of her bed at two in the morning” and went out. Naturally Beth was consumed with worry. Believing that she simply had “to find out what [was] going on with this kid,” Beth broke down and bought — and installed...

    • 8 FROM CARE TO CONTROL
      (pp. 163-173)

      When the elite students on my college campus are asked about contact with their parents, they report that they initiate communication almost as much as their parents do. They report as well that they do not believe communicating with their parents more than ten times a week is too much. Indeed, they say they are “satisfied” with this level of interaction, and some report that they would prefer even more communication with their fathers.¹

      I’ve observed how this communication plays out in a number of different situations, even beyond my casual observations walking across the central quad. When I told...

  7. CONCLUSION: The Consequences of Parenting Out of Control
    (pp. 174-186)

    I vividly remember the moment when I first conceived of this project. As I was standing at my kitchen counter, eating a bowl of cereal, and glancing at the local newspaper, I came across one of those small “human interest” articles that described a “smart card” parents could use to track lunchtime purchases by their children. Do you know whether your children are buying nutritious meals? Are you concerned about why your daughter is gaining so much weight? Do you wonder why your son is so hungry when he gets home from school? No problem. You can find out what...

  8. APPENDIX A: Methods
    (pp. 187-194)
  9. APPENDIX B: Data Analysis
    (pp. 195-200)
  10. NOTES
    (pp. 201-232)
  11. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 233-246)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 247-256)
  13. ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    (pp. 257-257)