Benches in playground are deserted these days. Instead, parents are swinging their children while chanting the ABC. Raising my small children, I have observed that parenting has changed dramatically since I was a child – today’s parents are much more involved in their children’s lives than ever before. In our paper titled: “Over-Parenting,” my co-author Zvi Triger and I describe this new trend of parenting, which we call “Intensive Parenting.” We show that the law already enforces Intensive Praneting and argue that despite the advantages of Intensive Parenting, its norms should not be hastily incorporated into the law.
The intensive parent is on a constant quest to obtain updated knowledge of best child rearing practices and use this information actively to cultivate her child and monitor all aspects of the child’s life. Intensive parenting begins as the pregnant mother accesses an ever increasing amount of information instructing her on how to achieve an optimal pregnancy and does not end when the child enters college. Colleges and more recently even law schools have adjusted to accommodate a new generation of parents who insist on being in direct contact with administrators and professors in order to continue to monitor their children’s life.
But, Intensive Parenting is not just about social norms. We show that it is actually a socio-technological trend. Parents use new information technologies to enhance their ability to monitor and be informed. For example, parents use the cellular phone to stay in constant touch with their children. Commentators observing Intensive parents using the cell phone to communicate with college aged children about the smallest anecdotes of life, have called it ”the world’s longest umbilical cord.”
And what does the law have to do with it? We find that the law is already enforcing Intensive Parenting norms, and is particularly powerful in molding parental rearing norms during custody disputes. For example, courts determining custody allocations consider as a factor the parents’ pre-divorce care taking roles and division of labor. The parent who was more involved in the child’s life before divorce has an advantage in custody resolutions. In practice, attorneys are advising their clients on the eve of divorce to engage in Intensive Parenting. The time period before custody determinations becomes a race for involvement, particularly for the parent who was not originally the primary caretaker. Unfortunately, parents eager to gain custody and operating in a world governed by Intensive Parenting norms often become overly dominating in their interaction with children. For instance, by taking over sport practices leaving their child with no independent outlet or by overwhelming their child with constant messages and phone calls.
In addition, several legal structures open the door for the incorporation of additional Intensive Parenting norms into the law. For example, the law repeatedly incorporates monitoring norms that are based on newly acquired knowledge of best child rearing practices. A recent example involves childhood obesity. As the dangers of childhood obesity became known, courts increasingly consider child obesity as a cause for removing a child from her home to foster care. We expect increasing pressure on courts and legislatures to turn forms of sophisticated child rearing practices adopted by intensive parents into legal standards.
We acknowledge that Intensive Parenting has important advantages, such as improved academic achievements and enhanced ability to negotiate institutions. Yet, we caution that Intensive Parenting can be excessive and has the potential of becoming over-parenting. Intensive Parenting is a culture and class dependent practice originating from the American middle-class and affecting particularly women. Members of other cultures or social classes tend to resist Intensive Parenting, whether for lack of resources or desire to engage in its practice. And, furthermore, new research indicates that Intensive Parenting can carry adverse ramifications for children’s psychological well-being. Studies tied Intensive Parenting to an impaired sense of independence and higher rates of anxiety, depression and substance abuse.