Anthropologists who've been studying the U.S. middle class for the past decade have confirmed some theories we've long suspected thanks to various New York Times trend pieces: American kids are self-obsessed brats, and it's all their parents' faults.
Ten years ago, a team of UCLA sociologists, psychologists, and archeologists chose 32 Southern Californian families — all homeowners with two or three kids — and recorded video footage of them for a week straight, Real World style. After analyzing their behavior, the group determined that the American middle class is extremely child-centered compared to other cultures around the globe. In the U.S., parents will kneel at their childrens' feet and repeatedly tie and un-tie their shoes if they deign to say the word, "please," while on the other side of the world, children serve food to their elders and help chop wood for fires. American middle-class kids are rarely expected to substantially contribute to the household, and when they're actually asked to do chores, it's proposed as a favor ("Please, Billy, would you mind setting the table?") with negotiations or compromises sure to follow.
"The kids are oblivious to their parents' perspectives," says Dr. Ochs, the lead researcher. That may be because American kids are taught to focus more on objects than faces, while, in other countries, parents teach their kids to be aware of other people instead of, say, dancing Teletubbies. The saddest part is that these well-meaning parents want the best for their children — that's why they pay so much attention to them — and idealize scheduled "family time" to the point that no one ends up having that much fun under all that pressure to have the perfect board-game-playing or ice skating experience.
The researchers plan to publish two books this year in hopes that their findings will encourage families to be "closer and healthier" — and stop treating their kids like mini-royalty.
Image via Shane Trotter/Shutterstock.