[Parentsgroup-list] Interesting article on 21st century parents

mhunter at fas.harvard.edu mhunter at fas.harvard.edu
Sun Mar 5 06:56:46 EST 2006

My parent is Braggart of the Month at ...

It's the battle of the boasters as parents aggressively sing the praises of
their kids

By Stephanie Rosenbloom

March 4, 2006

JACIE LANDEROS / Union-Tribune

Of the many boastful parents Adrienne Zimmet has encountered, the one who really
got her goat was a mother who bragged that her adolescent daughter was so smart
her teacher said she had a “gift from God.” Zimmet, 53, of West Lake Hills,
Texas, said the woman would not stop. “ 'Oh, gifted children. I've got 'em.
What am I going to do with my gifted children?' She would literally say that.”
Extreme boasting is something Zimmet, who has an 18-year-old son, has noticed
parents doing more and more in the last decade.

“You want them to just zip it,” she said. “It's gauche.”

A certain amount of bragging has long been considered a right of parenthood. It
mixes delight in a child's success with a dash of pride that one cannot help
but feel as a parent. But when bragging becomes competitive, making parents
feel as if they are being drawn into a game of one-upmanship, it takes on a
sinister air. The mother who bragged about her child's gift is but one example
of what some parents call an annoying trend: parents who brag about their
children's accomplishments with an aggression befitting a contestant on “The

Through word of mouth and blog entries, parents and nonparents alike complain
that bragging about the children has never seemed so prevalent. Add to this the
proliferation of ways of bragging to complete strangers: honor student bumper
stickers, Yale Dad sweat shirts and, more recently, blogs. The Indianapolis
Star reported last March on parents who were hanging banners over their garage
doors and sticking signs in their front lawns announcing that their children
had earned a spot on a school team, band or club.

Diminutive gold stars are passé, as are wallet-size photographs of children.
Nowadays parents have images of their offspring silk-screened onto tote bags
and pixilated into computer desktop wallpaper. There are now proud parent
T-shirts to celebrate nearly any accomplishment, even one that reads, “Proud
Parent of a Vegetarian.” A commercial for an Internet service reflects the
spirit of the times with two sets of grandparents pinging e-mail messages with
photos of their grandchildren back and forth in a cuteness competition.

For a generation of successful, upper-middle-class parents deeply involved in
their children's development, filial pride can easily go overboard. Competitive
bragging has become a new social sport, with a vast field of play that includes
practically any public place, from the office coffee cart to the supermarket
checkout line. The puffery is so inescapable, it has inspired a backlash:
anti-brag bumper stickers, shirts and pins with slogans like “My kid sells term
papers to your honor student.”

Amaechi Uzoigwe, the father of two daughters, 5 and 7, is upset with the whole
situation. “Let children be children,” he said. “Let them enjoy whatever
they're doing. Stop living through them. It's part of the competitive,
professional environment that has been transferred to their children.”

Uzoigwe, 38, an owner and founder of World's Fair, a music management company
and record label in Manhattan, said his 7-year-old daughter, who attends a
private school, is already attuned to which of her peers went on a better
vacation and whose father flies on a private plane.

“The only thing you can do is not engage with it,” Uzoigwe said.

Competitive bragging may stem in part from parents projecting onto kids some of
their own anxiety about living in a roller-coaster economy, said Arlie
Hochschild, a professor of sociology at the University of California Berkeley.
“There are economic trends which have made the rich richer and the poor
poorer,” she said, creating an anxious middle class that ponders whether it
will sink or rise. “I think there's an anxiety that maybe wasn't there in the
'60s ,” she said.

Zimmet grew up in the 1960s in what she described as a blue-collar town. There
was an honor roll, but no one would brag about children being on it, let alone
slap a bumper sticker on the family car, she said. In her current upscale
neighborhood, she said, parents are so determined that their progeny be
successful they do whatever it takes to help them thrive, including doing their
homework for them.

The aggressive braggers are usually in the upper middle class, Hochschild said.
Citing Annette Lareau's “Unequal Childhoods,” an ethnographic study published
in 2003, Hochschild said that the working-class parent's idea of a good
childhood means giving children “the freedom to grow up naturally and form
bonds with kin and friends.” The upper middle class, on the other hand,
believes in “intensive cultivation,” with parents running children to soccer
practices, play rehearsals and music lessons.

Parents are anxious about passing along to their children their own station in
life, Hochschild said. “And they can't do it through land or money in a
meritocracy,” she said. “You do it through your kid's skills. And that may lend
itself to bragging.”

She also pointed out that there is a “culture of blame” involving working
mothers that might lead them to brag. “The workplace doesn't adapt to the fact
that women are juggling matters at work and home,” she said. Mothers who spend
long hours at the office may become anxious about how their children are doing.
When the children do succeed, Hochschild said, “despite themselves they may brag
because their child is an emblem that, against all odds, the kid is thriving.”

Bonnie Conklin, 48, a nursing administrator in Boston and the mother of two
sons, 20 and 23, agreed. “It's almost a way of saying, 'Hey look at how well
they've done it,' ” she said, adding that when it comes to bragging, “I think
every parent is on autopilot.”

For ages, the rule of thumb regarding bragging has been to refrain from it
whenever possible, and if you cannot help yourself, do not go on too long or
too often. Cindy Post Senning, a great-grandchild of the etiquette arbiter
Emily Post, shared a bit of advice originally given to her father when he
became a grandparent: “Don't talk about your grandchildren to others. Either
they have their own, or they don't.”

Many parents say they cannot help bragging. “It's really good for your kids to
know you're proud of them,” said Senning, a director of the Emily Post
Institute in Burlington, Vt. What parents should avoid, she said, is
one-upmanship. Bragging for status damages relationships among parents and may
also set up children for failure.

Telling people that your child is the best performer in the whole dance class,
for example, can be embarrassing. “Kids have these huge expectations to live up
to,” Senning said, especially “if the brag grows beyond the reality.”

Additionally, parents who brag tend to raise children who brag, she said. The
main rule of child rearing, she said, is “always behave the way you want your
kids to behave.”

Bragging can also skew parents' expectations. “The times that it's harmful are
when parents don't really have a handle on what typical child development is,”
said Amy DeWerd, a kindergarten teacher and the mother of an 8-year-old girl in
East Greenbush, N.Y. If a teacher has to explain to the parents that their
children have actually fallen behind their peers, “they have a difficult time
hearing it,” she said.

But sometimes even the most well-intentioned tongue biters cannot help
themselves. “I was never the type to want to hear it,” said Gregg DeMammos, 32,
of Manhattan, but he admits that he now boasts about his 7½-month-old son to
family, friends and strangers. “I'm constantly thinking, 'When is it too much?'
” he said. He rationalizes that his bragging is the old-fashioned euphoric kind,
a product of first-time fatherhood.

“I don't think people will want to hear about how your 7-year-old did in an exam
or how good their penmanship is,” he said. “You get more slack from having a

Your bragging rights


March 4, 2006

Acceptable: Mentioning that your child got a leading role in the school play.

Over the top: Talking about your child's performance for longer than it takes to
see the school play.

Acceptable: Posting your child's honor roll certificate on your refrigerator.

Over the top: Posting your child's honor roll status on your front lawn.

Acceptable: Telling a friend that your toddler is successfully potty trained.

Over the top: Dressing your toddler in a “Potty Trained and Proud!” T-shirt.

Acceptable: Pinning an image of your child on your cubicle wall.

Over the top: Blowing your child's face up to the size of your computer screen.

Acceptable: Creating a blog to tell friends and family about your child.

Over the top: Bragging about your child on other people's blogs and on online

Acceptable: Sending holiday cards that include a photograph of your child.

Over the top: Sending holiday cards that include a two-page letter about your


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