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Are Parents Trying Too Hard?

Cover photo The Carpenter and The Gardener

After helicopter parenting and tiger moms, a new book tells American parents to back off!  We talk with  developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik  about her book, The Gardener and The Carpenter.  Gopnik draws on the science of the human brain and evolution to make the argument that children are hard-wired to learn on their own.  We discuss the two possible ways of thinking about the role of parents suggested by the book's title and look at insights the new science offers into the relationship between parents and kids. 

GUEST:   Alison Gopnik, professor of psychology and philosphy at University of California, Berkeley.

  This program was originally broadcast on Oct. 11, 2016.

In arguing for a different type of relationship between parents and children, Gopnik explains her gardener analogy:  "It isn't carpentry, it isn't a goal-directed enterprise aimed at shaping a child into a particular kind of adult.  Instead, being a parent is like making a garden.  It's about...producing a robust, flexible ecosystem that let's children themselves create many varied, unpredictable kinds of adult futures.  It is also about a specific human relationship, a committed, unconditional love, between a specific parent and a specific child."

It's about providing a rich, stable, safe environment that allows many different kinds of flowers to bloom.

Gopnik suggests parents can become a bit overwrought when it comes to children and technology: "Inevitably, the year before you were born looks like Eden, and the year after your children were born looks like Mad Max."

To some extent, Gopnik says, parents need to let go:  "What I can't do, and shouldn't do, is expect that my children and their children will exactly replicate my values, traditions, and culture.  For good or ill, the digital generation will be their own generation and make their own world, and they, not us, will have the responsibility of figuring out how to live in it."

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