Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Audiobook Review: Ready Or Not: What Happens When We Treat Children As Small Adults

I just finished the audiobook version of Ready or Not: What Happens When We Treat Children As Small Adults, by Kay S. Hymowitz. The title caught my eye because it contains the premise that we should not treat our children as small adults, and I agree that our society seems to rush children toward maturity more than is warranted. Although I encourage Sarah to make some of her own decisions, like what to wear to school, I find myself to be a much more stringent disciplinarian than I expected myself to be. I learned from many years of practicing law in juvenile court that although children will resist boundaries, they need them. I want Sarah to understand the reasoning behind parental commands, but I expect them to be obeyed first. I don't want a debate when I tell a child not to go out into the road because she might get hit by a car. Once she's safely away from the danger I explain why it is important to stay out of the road. I want to raise a rational, independent human being, but it is the job of her parents to get her safely to adulthood and to teach her what will be expected of her once she gets there.

In her book, Hymowitz analyses the history of parenting in the United States, and argues that for many years after the founding of the country the goal of parenting was to raise citizens prepared to operate a free republic. Autonomy is important in American society, but Hymowitz believes that we have gone too far and that children today are so autonomous that they are not properly indoctrinated to the culture into which they were born. She calls this "anticulturalism."

The result of anticulturalism is that today's children are pushed at a rapid pace toward adulthood. For example, the copy of the audiobook I borrowed from the library, unlike the image from Amazon above, has a photograph of children passing through a metal detector to get into school. Our society has come to believe that children, given only the appropriate tools and stimulation from their parents, can find their own way to a happy and productive adulthood.
Because children are propelled toward adulthood in such a rapid pace, they fail to properly achieve it once they come of age, which is why people marry later in life and live in their parents' basements into their twenties and thirties.

As I got further and further into the book, I found it to be more and more negative, though it concluded on a positive note. As I've aged I sometimes find myself looking around at what society has become during my life, shaking my head and thinking, "It's all going to hell in a hand basket." The latter part of this book had the same flavor to it, which I found myself resisting. I usually favor history and biography, and this book was more like something that would be assigned reading in an undergraduate course, which was a nice change from my usual fare.