Tuesday, 11 June 2013

They f*ck you up these parenting 'experts'

Posted by Bronia Arnott

Oliver James, author of They f*** you up: How to survive family life, spoke at the Hay Festival recently criticising modern parenting as too 'parent-led'. He said that infant’s needs should be responded to immediately and children should be given a sense of control for optimal development.

As someone who has studied parenting styles in infancy, the effects of infant-led parenting on breast feeding continuation, and the role of parental representations on attachment security in infancy you might think I would be nodding my head in agreement with him.

You would be wrong.

Instead I was doing this:

Thanks to @RachelStocker for bringing this gif to my attention

Firstly, because I think James is misguided in what being a ‘child-led’ parent is all about. He talks about responding “immediately” to infants, but responding quickly does not equate to responding sensitively. You can imagine a scenario where a parent responds quickly to a crying baby by shouting at it; the response is immediate but few would consider it to be very 'child-led'. Moving on to consider older children, James thinks that we should ‘love-bomb’ them. This ridiculous-sounding term apparently involves taking children away for a one-on-one weekend of activities directed by the child. That’s great, I’m all for fostering children’s sense of agency, but what happens when your child requests that you go to Disney World when you have been saving for weeks just to buy them some new school shoes?

The second problem that I have with what James had to say is his blatant disregard for scientific evidence. There is evidence out there which concludes that infant-led parenting and that treating your child as an individual with a mind of their own have positive effects. However, there is no evidence for what James specifically proposes. Unlike other scientists and researchers who actually need evidence to support our ideas, if you are Oliver James apparently you just announce it to the media and claim that you are far too busy and “don’t have time to muck about doing intervention studies”. 

You know Oliver, I feel your pain – I’m a busy working mum. It might seem like a lot of a hassle having to go through ethical approval, research governance, piloting, and assessing whether your intervention is effective. However, that is the way that research works. If I have a hypothesis then I am expected to test it, and then to publish my findings for scrutiny by others. I need to have evidence of efficacy, feasibility, and acceptability of any interventions I propose, not just anecdotes from parents who have emailed me to tell me that they think that I am right.

This brings me to the final point. James talks about 'parenting' but when you dig a bit deeper what he is really talking about is mothers. It is mothers who "should respond immediately" and what children really need is "a weekend with their mothers". Do fathers not have some role to play in this? Is parenting solely the domain of women? Does James not have anything to say about men? Actually he does have a lot to say about men. He says that men are “unpleasant, psychopathic, narcissistic, and Machiavellian”. He argues that we live in a society in which women are to blame for wanting to be like men and to beat mean at their own game. A game which clearly doesn’t involve love-bombing their children…

I disagree with what James had to say as a parent, as a scientist and as a woman.

But, I’m not writing this because I disagree with what he has to say. I can choose not to read any other articles by him. Instead I feel compelled to write this because there are many other parents out there who will read his comments. I’m not overly concerned that they might go out and ‘love-bomb’ their kids; maybe James is right and it “wouldn’t do any harm”. What I am concerned about is that parents are constantly overloaded with conflicting ‘advice’ from so called parenting ‘experts’. James is not alone in providing unsubstantiated ‘expert advice’ on parenting - yes, I’m looking at you Susan Greenfield and also at you Gina Ford. 

Mothers and fathers trying to do their best for their children are constantly bombarded with all sorts of unsupported conjecture dressed up as science through the media. If parents are looking for information then why can they not be given evidence-based research rather than being exposed to the uncorroborated opinions of self-styled parenting gurus? Parenting is hard enough without trying to fight your way through pseudo-science pedalled by these so called ‘experts’.

This kind of parenting expert could really f*ck you off, if not f*ck you up.

All quotes in this post are taken directly from this article.

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