[quote]Every society has what it intuitively believes to be the right way to raise a child, what Harkness calls parental ethnotheories. (It is your mother-in-law, enlarged to the size of a country.) These are the choices we make without realizing that we’re making choices. Not surprisingly, it is almost impossible to see your own parental ethnotheory: As I write inBaby Meets World, when you’re under water, you can’t tell that you’re wet.
But ethnotheories are distinct enough, at least to an outsider, that they are apparent in the smallest details. If you look just at the words parents use to describe their children, you can almost always predict where you are in the world. In other words, your most personal observations of your child are actually cultural constructions. In a study conducted by Harkness and her international colleagues, American parents talked about their children as intelligent and even as “cognitively advanced.” (Also: rebellious.) Italian parents, though, very rarely praised their children for being intelligent. Instead, they were even-tempered and “simpatico.” So although both the Americans and the Italians noted that their children asked lots of questions, they meant very different things by it: For the Americans, it was a sign of intelligence; for the Italians, it was a sign of socio-emotional competence. The observation was the same; the interpretation was radically different.
Every society interprets its children in its own way: The Dutch, for example, liked to talk about long attention spans and “regularity,” or routine and rest. (In the Dutch mind, asking lots of questions is a negative attribute: It means the child is too dependent.) The Spanish talked about character and sociality, the Swedes about security and happiness. And the Americans talked a lot about intelligence. Intelligence is Americans’ answer. In various studies, American parents are always seen trying to make the most of every moment—to give their children a developmental boost. From deep inside the belly of American parenthood, this is so obvious it isn’t even an observation. It is only by looking at other societies that you can see just how anomalous such a focus is. [quote]
More at Slate.com
I would think that one thing we could all agree on is that babies around the world are the same, it's parenting and the transmission of culture that makes each society different. This article at Slate talks about cross-cultural parenting styles.
This piece at the Atlantic shows how parents across cultures answered the same questions. Olga Khazan surmises that the difference between the parenting is work culture, citing that parents in the US have little choice but to return to work quickly after their baby arrives, which drives the way they spend time with their children, which changes what they'll value the most.
I can't discount that idea, but what about the idea that we focus on intelligence because intelligence translates into society's rewards in our country? We tell our kids that they have to do well in school so that they can get into college, so that they can get the right kind of job. People who go through these steps typically earn the middle class lifestyle while those who don't do well in school, don't go to college (or don't go far) typically don't achieve a middle class income and therefore, deserve the struggle at the bottom of the socio-economic scale. I wonder if we overvalue intelligence because we effectively allow people who work hard, but who aren't highly intelligent, to live in poverty. And middle-class income isn't just about the difference between real and fake Uggs or authentic Vera Bradley handbags, but about access to goods and services that allow children to thrive, like access to health care, good nutrition, healthy living environments.
What do you think? Why does our culture produce such a distinct parenting style?