Katie Roiphe over at Slate is worried about helicopter parents screwing up their kids by trying to perfect them:
You know the child I am talking about: precious, wide-eyed, over-cared-for, fussy, in a beautiful sweater, or a carefully hipsterish T-shirt. Have we done him a favor by protecting him from everything, from dirt and dust and violence and sugar and boredom and egg whites and mean children who steal his plastic dinosaurs, from, in short, the everyday banging-up of the universe? The wooden toys that tastefully surround him, the all-sacrificing, well-meaning parents, with a library of books on how to make him turn out correctly— is all of it actually harming or denaturing him?
The article’s title “If we try to engineer perfect children, will they grow up to be unbearable?” grabbed me (of course). The “engineering” bit wasn’t, to my chagrin, referring to actual, genetic engineering. Instead, Roiphe was referring to parents obsessing over every aspect of their child’s lives, as if some misstep in the minutia would produce an invalid. These parents seem to accept the nature/nurture divide and, realizing there is nothing they can do to improve the genetic make-up of their little bundle of joy, attempt to overwhelm nature with nurture. Yet in the process parents are inhibiting the, ahem, natural ways in which children learn and develop: unstructured play, exploration, discovery, and getting hurt. How can we get helicopter parents to back off? Maybe with genetic engineering? Read More
The whole discussion about what we’ll find immoral in the future got me thinking about that little group often described as our collective “future”: children. We often hear about children as our future when someone says, “Think of the children!” or “We shouldn’t leave this problem for our children to solve!” Children of Men, Ender’s Game, and A Wrinkle In Time, to name a few sci-fi classics, all place the symbolic future in the hands of either children or a specific child. If children are our “future” then who gets to have and raise children in the future will probably be pretty important.
Why then are we so cavalier about who we let have and raise them? As technology enables more people to reproduce, environmental pressures make each new life a bigger burden, and our understanding of child psychology improves, it’ll become more and more evident that just because a person can have kids doesn’t mean they should have kids. My guess is that, decades down the road, future generations will require a license to reproduce and start a family. That sounds like a pretty good idea to me.
The thing is, we already have sort of a “family license” system. It’s called adoption. If you are adopting, or trying to use an assisted reproductive technique (ART), then you have to meet some requirements. Adoptive parents must meet not just minimal standards like “no history of violence” but also quite high standards of stability, concern for the child’s welfare, wealth, and other characteristics reviewed through applications and interviews. Those who would use ARTs are often given more than an eyebrow raise by their physicians if they’re over a certain age or have a given lifestyle choice. Regardless of what criteria must be met, the point is they are always stricter than the criteria a couple must meet to be able to reproduce in the, uh, standard fashion, because there are no criteria (besides the reproductive biology) for being able to have kids unassisted.