Friday, August 22, 2003

This will help you more than than it'll help me

Yes, I am a freeloader. But no, that's not going to stop me complaining.

I don't have kids, and probably won't have. People who do have children, and who spend the time, energy, and money to raise them, are contributing to my happy retirement - those kids' taxes and productivity will pay for my declining years. Still, I'm dismayed at the way so many children are being raised in the United States.

Jeffrey MacDonald reports in the Christian Science Monitor that American parents are spending $2.8 billion a year on educational toys for infants and pre-schoolers. Like all parents, they're trying to give their offspring a jump on the competition; they hope that these toys will make their kids smarter. The trouble is that there's no evidence that these toys make a whit of difference to IQ. The experts do agree that children should be immersed in a rich, interactive, multi-media environment. The best way to stimulate all their senses is to, gasp!, spend time with them.

Now you see the catch - people don't have time to spend with their kids. Both parents have to work in order to give the kids the affluent lifestyle they deserve. Consequently, children are parked in front of videos for hours on end. I'm sure parents feel bad about having to do this. How much better, then, to believe that the videos are in fact helping the child, rather than giving a breather to the adult.

The alternative, that one parent devotes the best years of their life to raising their children, is not an easy one. My mother did this, and I'll be eternally grateful to her for that. However, in doing so she sacrificed a promising academic career. Many low-income parents have no alternative; if the adult doesn't work, the kid doesn't eat. However, I don't accept that middle class families absolutely need two incomes to raise a family. Sure, one needs two incomes to pay for the balloon mansion and the two SUVs and the wide-screen entertainment system and all the extra-mural classes for the kids - but those are luxuries, not necessities.

I respect dual-earners' choice to have the VCR baby-sit their off-spring; they think much harder about whether they're making the best choices for their kids than I ever will. At the core we're all selfish. I wouldn't want to give up my work in order to look after toddlers (and so I haven't). My dismay at way the middle and upper classes raise their kids stems from my own self-interest: children raised on videos rather than human interaction will be less productive, and the society they build will be less caring. This will be bad news for me when I'm old and decrepit and looking to dividends and hand-outs for sustenance.

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