Tiger Moms do not want their children to be cool. They do not even want their children to be popular. They want their children to work hard, to persevere and to build good character. They want their children to develop the skills that will serve them as adults in the real world.
As you know, many parents reject Tiger Mom parenting. They do not want their children to be raised according to strict disciplinary standards. They want their children to be cool, to be hip, to have fun and, especially, to be popular. They justify it by saying that they want their children to be free-spirited and creative, not repressed grinds.
Jan Hoffman reports on recent studies that examine what happens when children are allowed to grow up too soon. Specifically, the studies target children who adopt adult behaviors in middle school, at around age 13.
Strangely, Hoffman makes very little mention of the role that parents might be playing in these cases. She does not ask about whether these 13-year-olds receive any parental supervision. Are they just allowed to run around and party? Or are they encouraged to do so?
Again, where are the parents? Are these children unsupervised? Are their parents are so anxious that their children be “popular” that they allow them to pretend to be adults? Wherever did their parents get the idea that children need to learn how to excel at partying?
Hoffman hints at parental dereliction:
At the same time, other young teenagers were learning about soldering same-gender friendships while engaged in drama-free activities like watching a movie at home together on a Friday night, eating ice cream. Parents should support that behavior and not fret that their young teenagers aren’t “popular,” he said.
One suspects that parents are playing a more active role in encouraging this pseudomature behavior.
As for the children, Hoffman describes them well:
At 13, they were viewed by classmates with envy, admiration and not a little awe. The girls wore makeup, had boyfriends and went to parties held by older students. The boys boasted about sneaking beers on a Saturday night and swiping condoms from the local convenience store.
They were cool. They were good-looking. They were so not you.
How did they turn out? In most, but not in all cases, not so well.
“The fast-track kids didn’t turn out O.K.,” said Joseph P. Allen, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia. He is the lead author of a new study, published this month in the journal Child Development,that followed these risk-taking, socially precocious cool kids for a decade. In high school, their social status often plummeted, the study showed, and they began struggling in many ways.
It was their early rush into what Dr. Allen calls pseudomature behavior that set them up for trouble. Now in their early 20s, many of them have had difficulties with intimate relationships, alcohol and marijuana, and even criminal activity. “They are doing more extreme things to try to act cool, bragging about drinking three six-packs on a Saturday night, and their peers are thinking, ‘These kids are not socially competent,’ ” Dr. Allen said. “They’re still living in their middle-school world.”
The children tended to live lives that best corresponded to what the media defined as cool. Or better, they lived lives that would entertain others:
A constellation of three popularity-seeking behaviors characterized pseudomaturity, Dr. Allen and his colleagues found. These young teenagers sought out friends who were physically attractive; their romances were more numerous, emotionally intense and sexually exploring than those of their peers; and they dabbled in minor delinquency — skipping school, sneaking into movies, vandalism.
As they turned 23, the study found that when compared to their socially slower-moving middle-school peers, they had a 45 percent greater rate of problems resulting from alcohol and marijuana use and a 40 percent higher level of actual use of those substances. They also had a 22 percent greater rate of adult criminal behavior, from theft to assaults.
The children might have received encouragement, overtly or covertly, by parents who wanted them to grow up faster, be more popular and never be alone.
Strangely, a child who pretends to be an adult cannot be anything but alone. If a child is acting like a character in a play, he cannot enjoy the everyday and, as Hoffman mentioned, non-dramatic everyday socialization.
A pseudomature child will learn how to act out, to play a role, but will never learn how to function in the world.