Category PARENTINGOUT OF CONTROL

Technological Choices

Tables B.2—B. io all show responses to questions concerning the devices of connection, constraint, and surveillance (discussed in chapters 5—7). Once again I caution that because these tables build on qualitative responses, the categories are meant to be illustrative rather than definitive. In addition, not all respondents gave responses to all questions.

Devices of Connection

TABLE B.2

Baby Monitor Ownership by Social Class

Working Class and Middle Class

Professional Middle Class

Total

Didn’t have one

19%

22%

20%

Would have wanted one

0%

6%

2%

Had one

81%

72%

nO

O4

OO

Total

IOO%

IOO%

ioo%

(N)

(55)

(34)

(89)

TABLE B.3

Cell Phone Ownership by Age of Child

Age of Child

No Cell Not Yet Phone Purchased

Has Cell Phone

Six to twelve

25%

78%

9%

Thirteen to seventeen 50%

22%

51%

Eighteen and older

25%

0%

39%

Total

IOO%

IOO%

100%

(N)

(4)

(9)

(74)

TABLE В.4

Child’s Cell Phone Ownership by Social Class

Working Class and Middle Class

Professional Middle Class

Total

No cell phone

7%

3%

6%

Will get cell phone

n%

7%

9%

Has cell phone

82%

90%

OO

vP

O4

Total

100%

IOO%

IOO%

(N)

(56)

(34)

(90)

Devices of Constraint

TABLE B-5

Attitudes toward Child Locator by Social Class

Working Class and Middle Class

Professional Middle Class

Total

Might use; would have used

42%

19%

33%

Would not use

^-/4

OO

Vp

o4

8l%

67%

Total

100%

IOO%

100%

(N)

(51)

(ЗЗ)

(84)

TABLE B.6

Sofiware Filter Ownership by Social Class

Working Class and Middle Class

Professional Middle Class

Total

Had or currently have

60%

40%

52%

Will get or might get

16%

16%

16%

No interest in owning

24%

44%

32%

Total

100%

юо%

100%

(N)

(52-)

(31)

(83)

Devices of Surveillance

TABLE B.7

Attitudes toward Keystroke Monitor Ownership by Social Class

Working Class and Middle Class

Professional Middle Class

Total

No interest in owning

28%

53%

37%

Conditional interest

OO

vP

O4

44%

53%

Would use or did use

14%

3%

10%

Total

IOO%

IOO%

100%

(N)

(54)

(ЗЗ)

(87)

TABLE B.8

Attitudes toward GPS Tracking Ownership by Social Class

Working Class and Middle Class

Professional Middle Class

Total

No interest in owning

48%

63%

54%

Conditional interest

40%

30%

36%

Would use or did use

12%

7%

10%

Total

IOO%

IOO%

100%

(N)

(54)

(ЗЗ)

(87)

TABLE B.9

Attitudes toward Home Drug Testing by Social Class

Working Class and Middle Class

Professional Middle Class

Total

No interest

25%

44%

32%

Conditional no

68%

53%

62%

Would or did use

7%

3%

6%

Total

100%

IOO%

100%

(N)

(52)

(34)

(86)

TABLE B. IO

Attitudes toward Reading Diary versus Using Keystroke Monitoring System by Social Class

Working Class and Middle Class

Professional Middle Class

Would never use key-

stroke monitoring system

28%

53%

Would never read diary

17%

10%

Difference (preference

for reading diary)

H%

43%

[1] worry about my kids not having enough fun in their childhood. I worry about them being so achievement-oriented and goal-oriented that they don’t take time to reap the pleasures, smell the roses. I worry that they have too much homework. I’d like to see them have a hell of a lot less. That’s what I worry about. That’s what I try to monitor. I’m not worried about them being a success. I’m worried about them having fun.

[2] would have no idea [what was difficult for them] because financially it was okay. I don’t think we were extremely well off, but living on a farm, I do think they provided what we needed. And anybody went to college that

[3] think kids are living in a much more immediate kind of world, where there are scary things out there and we have more things we have to be vigilant about and help our kids understand. We don’t understand them— the Internet, the constant media pressure. Please, Paris Hilton! Is this really the most important news in the world? The space shuttle is taking off, and people are being killed in Iraq every day, and what’s happening in Africa.

I just think it’s harder to raise kids today because of all that. I just think there’s too much sensationalism.

[4] think it’s interesting because I think we as parents have tried—and I’m not just speaking of us but our friends in general and our culture today— to raise children so that they’re always occupied. Every activity has to be something that strengthens their skills—they’re in organized sports leagues, they’re in special programs for music or education or whatever—and so we’ve got our kids so booked into things that I think we don’t allow our kids to have enough free time.

[5] think for my kids in some ways our relative affluence is an issue because it makes things easy for them when they want to get money. I say no some­times, but a lot of times I say yes to things. That probably makes it a little bit too easy [for them] to get hold of things—clothes, electronic things,

[6] consider myself a friend to my children, but I’m a parent foremost. . . .

I’m kind of middle-of-the-road. I think it’s important to be somewhat of a friend with them, so you do have that open communication like we did, but I do think that you also have to be a parent foremost to set the bound-

Data Analysis

Educational Aspirations

Table B. i shows responses to the question of how much education parents want their children to obtain (an issue discussed in chapter 2). The “college plus” category indicates that the respondent suggested that it might well be desirable to have education that extends beyond a bachelor’s degree; the “more than college” category indicates parents who named a professional degree or who were relatively insistent that their children continue their education beyond college. Because this table builds on qualitative responses, these cat­egories are illustrative rather than definitive. I divide the working class from the middle class here to show how aspirations for children increase with the parents’ own level of education.

TABLE B. I

Parents’ Expectations Concerning the Future Education of Their Children

Parents’ Own Level of Education

Associate’s degree

0%

5%

0%

College

40%

15%

0%

College plus

35%

70%

55%

More than college

25%

10%

45%

Total

100%

100%

100%

(N)

(24)

(30)

(35)

How Much Education They Want for Their Own Children

Less than College (Working Class)

College (Middle Class)

Graduate Degree (Professional Middle Class)

From Qualitative to Quantitative Data

With the exception of the brief questionnaire asking for information about demographic characteristics, I collected only qualitative data. In several places in the text and notes, and especially in appendix В, I do convert these data into numerical form. All tables should be interpreted with a grain of salt. Indeed, a handful of that salt might be applied to the data concerning adop­tion of the devices under consideration in part II. Respondents were asked if they had ever heard of these devices and if they had any interest in using them. Although some respondents gave clear positive or negative answers to the latter question, most answers could not be easily coded. Many parents hedged in their responses: that is, they would start by saying no, they would not use such a device, but then introduce a qualification. “Well,” they would say, “if this or that situation arose, I would consider it.” Indeed, the line between a negative response and an “interested” response was often merely temporal (that is, respondents started out saying no and then moved into a consideration of the conditions under which they might engage in this form of surveillance). For example, Patsy Doria, a working-class single mother of one teenage boy and two considerably older children, said the following about the GPS tracking system:

I’ve heard of it; I heard about it when a friend of mine was telling me about her husband [tracking her]…. No I would not [use it. I should back up on that—/ probably would for the same reasons I would read his diary. . . if I were con­cerned about drug use or a predator or something where I felt he could be in danger. . . . Currently I don’t feel I have a need to. (Emphasis added)

The relatively straightforward categories of “No,” “Conditional No,” and “Would Use or Did Use” represent my best attempt to translate these com­plex responses into a tabular form. The text discussion of the kinds of issues that arose as respondents thought about the issues represents more fully the complexity of parental attitudes.

Race/Ethnicity and Gender

Not surprisingly, there are demographic differences within the sample with respect to race/ethnicity: more of the African American respondents were sin­gle parents at the time of the interview, and more of this group of respondents lived in an urban area. At the same time, as noted, the professional middle – class and the working-class/middle-class groupings had equal proportions of white and African American respondents. Needless to say, there were occa­sions when race/ethnicity seemed of particular relevance: for example, Afri­can American mothers expressed more overt concern than did other mothers about the possibility that their children would get in trouble with the police. However, for most of the issues with which this study is concerned, race/eth­nicity seemed if not irrelevant, then at least insignificant in its effects.5

Intentionally I collected more information from mothers (who are gener­ally more engaged in the hands-on care of children) than from fathers, and I interviewed more professional middle-class fathers than fathers in the other social groupings. Once again, however, I found that with respect to attitudes, class was more important than gender: within each social class mothers and fathers gave quite similar answers with respect to most of the questions. I did not examine differences in responses by the gender of children.6 However, when an issue seemed to be of particular concern with respect to children of one gender or the other (e. g., sexual images), I have discussed that in the text.

Comparing Social Classes

None of the three social class groupings is exclusively made up of white respondents; in fact, the racial/ethnic distribution is fairly consistent across the social groups. The only exceptions to this generalization are that the working-class and middle-class group includes a more substantial Hispanic population than does the professional middle-class group, and the few Asian respondents were all members of the professional middle class.

The groups do differ in other ways, as might be expected. Not only on aver­age do the professional middle-class respondents have higher incomes than do those who are working class or middle class, but on average the professional middle-class respondents are also older than the middle-class and working – class respondents. The professional middle-class respondents were also older than their less privileged peers when they had their first child. Moreover, the professional middle-class respondents were least likely to have only one child and most likely to have the modal number of two children.

Methods

I

n this book I rely on information collected during in-depth interviews with ninety-three parents.11 asked parents to answer a series of questions about the two main issues of concern in this research: first, parenting practices and, second, attitudes toward and use of various new technologies of connection, constraint, and surveillance. In addition, I asked parents to answer questions about what worries, difficulties, and satisfactions they encounter as they raise their children today and to compare those with the worries, difficulties, and satisfactions they believe their own parents faced. I also asked some broader questions that were designed to shed light on motivations for parenting practices: for example, “What do you think are the greatest problems facing parents today?” “Do you think it is important to raise children within a religion of some sort or another?” and “Do you think there is too much surveillance in the United States today?”

I was interested in how parents across the country and parents from a vari­ety of demographic groups would respond to these questions. In order to gain access to this broad range of respondents, I hired a team of research assistants to conduct interviews in places with which I was less familiar and to which I might not have ready access. Nine of these interviewers were young men and women who had very recently been my undergraduate students; one was a woman who had been my student several years before, another was a woman who had been my student over a decade before, and another was an adult friend trained as a speech pathologist. Among the relatively recent students, five were teaching through subsidized programs such as Teach for America and Teach Kentucky. Several of these individuals conducted interviews in both their hometowns and in the places where they were working. In the latter sites, they drew on colleagues and friends as well as the parents of children in the schools where they were teaching. All but two of the interviewers were women.

Although hiring others to conduct interviews often results in the loss of appropriate follow-up to questions of interest, the reverse can be the case as well: some of the interviewers had broader interests than I did and were quick

to pick up on interesting issues I might have overlooked. In addition, these particular interviewers had access to populations with whom I might have had a far more difficult time establishing rapport. These populations include African American mothers in inner-city Philadelphia; Hispanics living in San Antonio, Texas; and whites living in rural (and semiurban) Kentucky.

Respondent Characteristics

Although only a relatively small proportion of the respondents are given pseudonyms in the text, the majority of those who were interviewed are men­tioned in other ways (e. g., with the use of quotes or as examples). An over­view of the entire sample of respondents is provided in table A. i. Altogether, four-fifths of the sample are women; a similar proportion of respondents are partners in heterosexual married couples.2 Among those who indicated race/ ethnicity on a brief questionnaire that respondents were asked to complete after the interview, 70 percent identified themselves as being white, 16 percent as black or African American, 10 percent as Hispanic, and 4 percent as Asian American. The parents ranged in age from thirty-one to fifty-nine; the aver­age age was forty-seven, and the median was somewhat lower, at forty-six.

TABLE A. I

Sample Characteristics

Gender

Working Class and Middle Class

Professional Middle Class

Total

Female

88%

66%

79%

Male

13%

34%

21%

Total

IOI%

IOO%

100%

(N)

(57)

(3b)

(93)

Marital Status

Divorced

7%

0%

4%

Married

76%

84%

79%

Single

13%

13%

13%

Widowed

4%

3%

4%

Total

100%

IOO%

100%

(N)

(57)

(36)

(93)

TABLE A. I

Sample Characteristics (continued)

Race/Ethnicity

Working Class and Middle Class

Professional Middle Class

Total

Black/African

American

17%

14%

16%

White

70%

71%

70%

Hispanic

13%

4%

IO%

Asian

0%

11%

4%

Total

100%

IOO%

100%

(N)

(57)

(36)

(93)

Age

Median age

44

48

46

Mean age

45

49

47

Median age

at first birth

28

Зі

29

Mean age at

first birth

27

Зі

30

Number of Children

I

24%

3%

16%

2

43%

56%

48%

3 or more

33%

41%

36%

Total

100%

100%

100%

(N)

(57)

(3 6)

(93)

Mean

2.3

2.4

2.4

Median

2

2

2

TABLE A. I

Sample Characteristics (continued)

Working Class Professional income and Middle Class Middle Class Total

Less than

17%

7%

14%

$50,000

$50,000-

33%

26%

30%

$99,000

$100,000-

26%

15%

22%

$149,000

$150,000 or

24%

52%

34%

more

Total

100%

IOO%

100%

(N)

(4b)

(27)

(73)

Education

Working

Class

Middle

Class

Professional Middle Class Total

High school or less

12%

3%

Some college or associate’s degree

88%

23%

Bachelor’s degree

IOO%

35%

Graduate degree

IOO%

39%

Total

100%

IOO%

IOO%

100%

(N)

(24)

(ЗЗ)

(36)

(93)

Approximately half the respondents said that they live in a suburban area; another 29 percent said that they live in an urban area, and one-fifth live in either a small town or a rural area. The vast majority of those who were inter­viewed own their own home—only n percent are renters.

On average, the interviewed parents have 2.4 children; the median num­ber of children is 2.0. All but 13 percent of the parents have at least one child who is a teenager; one-quarter of the parents have at least one child who has passed beyond her or his teen years as well as a teenager still living at home.

With regard to both income and education, the sample is a relatively privi­leged one. Only 14 percent of all parents have an annual household income of less than $50,000, and one-third of the parents have incomes over $150,000. In 2005, the median income for all U. S. families with children under eighteen was $56,886, and the mean was $74,037.3

As noted in the introduction, I divide the sample into three subgroups: I identify as working class those whose education does not include a bach­elors degree, as middle class those with a bachelor’s degree but no higher education, and as professional middle class those who have some post­graduate degree. This latter group includes two MDs, four JDs, and three PhDs. (For most of the analysis I combine the working and middle class.) Taken as a whole, the study population is well educated: only 3 percent of those interviewed have no more than a high school education, 23 percent have some college credit or an associate’s degree, 35 percent have a bach­elor’s degree, and 39 percent have a graduate degree. By way of comparison, in the United States as a whole in 2005, 40.7 percent had no more than a high school education, 25.4 percent had some college credit or an associate’s degree, 18.1 percent had a bachelor’s degree, and 9.5 percent had a graduate degree.4

Of course, there are many “deviant” cases within the groupings I identify for purposes of analysis. Among the sample, for example, are a woman who has achieved high educational status but lives on an extremely low income and a woman who, although she has but a bachelor’s degree herself, lives with a man whose professional position secures a very high income. Because I do not adjust for these exceptions, numerical differences in practices and atti­tudes (see, for example, the tables in appendix B) may often be smaller than if my measure were more precise or took into account more factors of class (e. g., by including income and occupation as well). However, because for the most part I rely on qualitative data, I can look at general trends and also high­light occasions when a respondent fits better within a different grouping than the one to which she or he has formally been assigned. The messiness that remains both within the categories of respondents—and within any given respondent’s approach to parenting—reminds us that in the United States at least, social classes are not neatly bounded and that ideal types are figments of our (sociological) imaginations.

Unequal Outcomes

Social class differences in child-rearing practices have been clearly linked to differences in educational achievement as measured by grades, standardized test scores, and college attendance; in turn, these differences in educational achievement give rise to enormously unequal life chances.4 Interestingly, now that the “hovering” of professional middle-class parents does not appear to end when children move out of the home and into college, social class might continue to matter in new ways. Indeed, the research by Barbara ffofer and her colleagues also demonstrates that the academic assistance parents offer to their children continues during the college years:

In terms of academic regulation, some parents are maintaining their involvement and monitoring. Proofing papers and editing papers are not uncommon, reported at 19% and 14% respectively, and 8% of the students responded that “my parent contacts my professors or deans when I have a problem,” although they do so infrequently. Some parents check to see if the students are keeping up with homework (32%), and check to make sure that students have written papers that are due (14%).15

If professional middle-class parents are now using their privileges to help their children not just to get into college but also to wend their way through college (and, as some commentators have suggested, in the years beyond), these class differences might have significant impacts that challenge whatever notions of meritocracy and individual achievement we might still hold dear.16

And What about the Parents?

For much of the foregoing analysis I have not distinguished between the par­enting approaches of mothers and fathers. Indeed, men and women expressed many similar attitudes during the interviews. Occasionally differences

emerged within couples, but even these were not consistent: for example, although some mothers said that their husbands are stricter than they are, other mothers said that precisely the opposite is the case in their homes. Of course, had I studied the number of hours put into providing child care and the degree of effort put into sustaining daily life, I would most certainly have found more significant differences between mothers and fathers. A substan­tial body of research demonstrates that rather than sharing equally in these efforts, women work far harder than do men.17

If parenting out of control is even more time-consuming and emotion­ally demanding than other parenting styles, the inequity between men and women might have particularly devastating consequences for women. This is precisely what a series of influential books and popular articles suggest, that at least some women in the professional middle class find the conflict between the demands of the workplace and the demands of rearing children so acute that they abandon highly successful careers.18 Although it is easy to overstate the numbers and misinterpret the data on this issue, the narratives of such women suggest two causes for “opting out”: the workplace has not proved to be particularly flexible, and parenting has become more intensive and more demanding than ever before.19 Time-use statistics support this assertion about the increasing intensity of parenting practices: since 1965 the amount of time mothers spend on all child care activities has risen even though the majority of mothers are now in the labor force. The increase in time devoted to parenting is true across the board; it is especially the case for the highly educated adults who are also putting in more time at work.20 Professional middle-class mothers thus appear to have few options: they can opt out, or they can overwork them­selves.21 Those who do opt out may need to justify that decision: defining child rearing as a full-time, totally consuming job can provide precisely that justifi­cation. Moreover, professional middle-class mothers might have considerable managerial skills to enhance that activity of raising children, and they may well set trends for other parents both within and outside their circle of peers.

In addition, I suggest that if mothers in the professional middle class find themselves in a difficult spot, their marriages might bear the costs of those difficulties. The excessive attention paid to one’s children might leave little time for the maintenance and repair of adult relationships; in turn, the unset­tled state of many marriages might lead adults to conclude that the only reli­able, and persistent, relationships are those with their children. A study by

Robin Wilson at the Washington and Lee University School of Law reports that “huge numbers of female, and male, professionals who remain in the workplace. . . opt out of family” and that “these men and women forego parenting and stable, long-term relationships in surprisingly high numbers, believing they cannot have both.” More specifically, using data from the 2003 National Survey of College Graduates, Wilson shows that women with MBAs are divorced or separated more often than those who have only a bachelors degree and that women with JDs and MDs “are also more likely to divorce or separate than their male counterparts in the same profession.”22 In short, when women have serious career obligations a high divorce rate might be both a cause and a consequence of intense devotion to ones children.

Tfie sociologist Rosanna Hertz makes the following provocative statement in the introduction to her compelling book, Single by Chance, Mothers by Choice: How Women Are Choosing Parenthood without Marriage and Creating the New American Family.

The bottom line of this book is clear: we can no longer deny that the core of family life is the mother and her children. Marriage was once the only socially sanctioned way to have a child, just as sex was once coupled with procreation. Even though it still takes both sexes to create a baby, only the availability of both sets of gametes is essential. This sea change is rendering sexual intimacy between husbands and wives obsolete as the critical family bond. . . . While this begs the question of where men fit in, it is the reality of the new family, built on the assumption that romantic ties are no longer the foundation of family life. Caregiving and nurturing, which have always long been the responsibility of women, are at the center of U. S. family life in the twenty-first century.23

Hertz reaches this conclusion through an investigation of sixty-five women who sought artificial insemination as a way to become mothers even though it would mean raising their children outside marriage. The women in Hertzs study thus are not the stereotypical single mothers who arrive at that status as a result of divorce, separation, or abandonment by men. At least theoretically, they might say that they value marriage as much as or even more than they value children but were simply (or not so simply) unable to sustain (or even achieve) the former in their own lives.

well as sound. And cell phones are being promoted for ever younger children and with ever more varied innovations.19

I also anticipate that among the professional middle class the current aver­sion to some of the other devices discussed here will disappear. Recently child locators got a major sales boost when they were advertised with Duracell bat­teries.30 And the insurance industry now promotes GPS tracking in cars as a way of keeping children safe.31 On the other hand, home drug testing seems to be in disgrace and may therefore be less likely to be used in the future by the professional middle class than are referrals to physicians and counselors.32

When I began this study newspapers reported frequently—almost daily it seemed—about predators and other dangers on the Internet; the frequency of those reports appears to be diminishing.33 Our moral panics are often time bound—here today, gone tomorrow.34 This panic may have subsided because more and more adults are themselves becoming comfortable with the new technologies of the World Wide Web. And I suspect that as anxiety decreases, parents will feel less compelled to adopt technologies that constrain Internet usage.35 (Moreover, as children become more adept themselves, they will be able to get around whatever devices their parents have chosen to use.)

There is already evidence that parents are becoming inured to sexuality and violence on television: fewer parents said they are “very concerned” about sex, violence, and adult language on television in 2006 than did in 1998, and fewer parents said they rely on ratings for television programs and movies (though more said they rely on music advisories and video game advisories).

In a 2008 piece in the New York Times, the popular mystery writer Harlen Coben described how a friend of his had put spyware on a teen’s computer. Coben suggested that, in spite of his initial revulsion, he had come around to believing this was a “good idea.” He explained: “This isn’t the government we are talking about—this is your family. . . . Loving parents are doing the surveillance here, not faceless bureaucrats. And most parents already moni­tor their children, watching over their home environment, their school.”36 Whether bringing this kind of activity out into the open and condoning it will produce more purchases of spyware among the professional middle class, I don’t know. With so many parents teetering on the brink, it just might be the case that a number of people will be persuaded by this kind of commen­tary. But, no matter what the outcome, these devices will be used within the framework of control itself, at least by the professional middle class.

Is control here to stay? Will parents continue to hover?57 In spite of some pushback in the encouragement of what is referred to as “free-range children,” hovering has roots in parental perceptions of where the burden for keep­ing children safe and secure rests and on parental perceptions of the conse­quences of educational and occupational failure.38 I argue that unless there are changes—in neighborhoods, in workplaces, in communities, in state actions—that demonstrate that child care is a community responsibility, and as long as our society continues to be marked by an extreme income inequal­ity that makes consequences of “failure” so severe, it is likely that control is here to stay. Moreover, current parents—of emerging adults, of teens, and even of younger children—are modeling parenting styles for their peers, their younger friends, and, of course, the next generation. Whether that next gen­eration—raised through control—will take it upon themselves to resist that control and raise their children some other way is impossible to predict. What is clear, however, is that to do so they will have to grow up enough to know their own minds.

♦ APPENDIX A

Concerns about Children

Cracks in a World View

No matter what the origins of the parenting style of the professional middle – class parents with whom I spoke, those parents appear to doubt themselves more often than do the working-class and middle-class parents. Indeed, the latter sets of parents often seem quite confident about their child-rearing approach.6 The style I call parenting with limits is in many ways straightfor­ward and unselfconscious. But professional middle-class parents, who adopt parenting out of control, worry a lot about the consequences of their own actions: they worry about the pressure their children face in school and on the athletic field; they worry that there is not time for their children simply to “be” children; they worry about material and psychological “overindul­gence”; and they worry that the hovering they do might have problematic consequences. As postmodern parents, they are committed to a therapeutic approach to daily life—to improving their children and to improving them­selves.7 Not surprisingly, they are particularly concerned about their perfor­mance as parents.

Recall that when Jenna Hall was asked about her approach to raising chil­dren, she said she worries that there is too much “celebration for these things that aren’t that great” and that “later on these kids are going to be really disap­pointed [because] things aren’t going to be fun enough.” Even more openly,

privileged youth might well remain closer to ongoing support structures even if they are expected to meet more of their own material needs. These differ­ent experiences make it difficult to conclude if either group of young adults is fully independent or truly autonomous.13