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Review: How To Raise Kids Who Aren't Assholes by Melinda Moyer
A book of broken promises
On second thought, I’m not going to write much about Melinda Moyer’s How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes. It was a book. You can read it. I didn’t find it very insightful or noteworthy. Maybe I’m underrating it because I had high hopes and was disappointed. Maybe it was because I’ve read a bunch of other parenting books which covered the same ground better. Maybe it was that the advice ranged from the uncontroversial common sense to the trendy but debunked fad psychology to the blatantly political pablum. Or maybe it’s the fact that the book simply doesn’t live up to its title.
For a book about kids, it has surprisingly little to say about assholes. There’s one chapter about being kind, but the book never gets very deep into the problem, never asks itself why kids have become more misbehaved (or does much to prove they have), and therefore never attempts to answer that question, much less find a solution to it. That’s what disappointed me the most. The book is a broken promise.
But it’s worth asking ourselves what happened. If kids of this generation have a greater tendency to be assholes than previous generations, what changed between then and now that might account for the difference?
If I wanted to be cynical, I could point out that one thing that changed is that people began writing books like How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes. Is it only a coincidence that we are getting more assholes ever since we started adopting the parenting styles promoted in this book, with its therapeutic underpinnings, child-centric orientation, and reliance on up-to-the-minute trends in social science? Maybe.
Obviously, anything as complex as human behavior, especially across an entire society, cannot be reduced to a single factor. Many things have drastically changed in the last generation or so. The advent of the internet and social media might be the biggest, with the related consequences of less in-person socialization, more balkanization by interest and identity, and increased competition and comparison among and between peer groups over a much larger social network. Rampant safetyism has reduced the risks we are willing to take or accept, both as parents and youth. Religious affiliation and practice is on the decline while political activism and polarization are on the rise. Single-parent homes have continued to increase, having affected the upbringing of large portions of both the parents and now their children. Childbirth has been pushed later and later in life while the average number of children per family has fallen.
All of these (and many others) are plausible factors in the rise of the Modern Asshole. This book doesn’t explore any of them. A good book might have tried to fashion some unifying thesis that would present a coherent answer to the question it raises, but this book is content to dish out a bunch of random social science studies with nothing to connect them but the author’s interest. Some of them even contradict each other. Do you think the apparent incoherence of modern (parenting) philosophies might contribute to childish assholes, young and old, throughout society? This book doesn’t care.
One book that does explore this question and offer a coherent, plausible explanation is, ironically, Leonard Sax’s The Collapse of Parenting, a book Moyer disses in her introduction. You can imagine why she would be defensive. Sax argues that, for a variety of cultural, philosophical, and technological reasons, many parents have lost the proper exercise of authority over their children, resulting in a dynamic where peer groups, rather than parents or adult figures, define the standards and incentive structures for kids. It’s not difficult to see how competition for attention and standing among other kids, with no concern for what adults think, could foster the kind of disrespect, teasing, bullying, and abuse that we often associate with assholes. That’s exactly the behavior we often see among school cliques and online communities.
Maybe that is correct, maybe it’s not. But you don’t have to agree with all of his analyses or prescriptions to appreciate the fact that at least he offers some. If all you want are some quick tips on parenting, you can read How to Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes. Or you can save yourself the time and just scroll Facebook or Instagram for a few minutes to find endless posts on the latest fads. But if you are at all interested the question hinted at in the title, don’t bother with the book itself. You’ll have to look elsewhere. I do recommend The Collapse of Parenting as a good place to start. It’s a much better book than this.
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