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How to Combat a Family-Unfriendly Culture (With Timothy Carney)

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy
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March 18, 2024 1:59 pm

How to Combat a Family-Unfriendly Culture (With Timothy Carney)

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy

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March 18, 2024 1:59 pm

This week on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs welcomes Timothy Carney, author of Family Unfriendly: How Our Culture Made Raising Kids Much Harder Than It Needs to Be, to discuss how America has created an increasingly family-unfriendly culture and what parents can do to combat it. 


Welcome to Family Policy Matters, a weekly podcast and radio show produced by the North Carolina Family Policy Council. Hi, I'm John Rustin, President of NC Family, and each week on Family Policy Matters, we welcome experts and policy leaders to discuss topics that impact faith and family here in North Carolina. Our prayer is that this program will help encourage and equip you to be a voice of persuasion for family values in your community, state and nation. And now here's the host of Family Policy Matters, Tracey Devette Griggs. Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters.

Why are younger American adults opting less and less to prioritize family and children? Well, today's guest argues that to be a sane and happy parent, you need to be countercultural in our family unfriendly culture. We're pleased to welcome Timothy Carney, who has been a Washington, D.C. columnist, author and editor for more than 20 years.

He's currently a senior columnist for The Washington Examiner and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Following the success of his twenty nineteen bestseller, Alienated America, Tim's newest book, Family Unfriendly. How our culture made raising children much harder than it needs to be is being released this month. He joins us today to talk about what he learned as he traveled the country, asking families and experts why parenting is harder and yet kids are less happy than a generation ago. Timothy Carney, welcome to Family Policy Matters.

Thank you for having me. So what happened in your life that you started asking these important questions and decided this deserved a book? Well, there's a few things. You had mentioned Alienated America, where I wrote about the collapse of community and belonging in America. And I thought one of the biggest consequences of that might just be the collapse in the birth rate, the reduction in marriage in the United States. And then I looked, my wife and I, we have six children, and I found that the sort of social circles we swam in were very countercultural, that we weren't expected to put our kids in travel sports. We weren't expected to helicopter our children at every moment to make sure they don't sub their toe and that our aspirations for our children, while very high, didn't necessarily include a D1 scholarship or an Ivy League or a job at some major law firm. And so I realized that our culture was imposing these pressures on parents that made parenting so much harder, while at the same time taking away the kind of supports people need, which is neighborhoods, schools, churches, extended families. And so I realized if the biggest story of the last 30 years was the collapse of community in the U.S., the biggest story of the next 30 years, I think, is the shrinking American family and the falling birth rate. So you mentioned some of the examples about why it might be harder to be a parent these days.

What's behind this? Why did we make it so much harder? It's like a lot of things in economics or sociology.

They're sort of a vicious cycle. People started having smaller families for one reason or another and then started, sociologists put it, investing more in each child. And this helped drive home the idea that the point of parenting is some worldly, measurable success and that you shouldn't sign up for parenting unless you could give your kids all the best. That parenting became such a deliberate choice rather than kind of a natural thing that most adults do. And that mindset, this sort of materialism and idea that you can plan your whole life, all of that led parents to think, OK, I have to give my kids the best of absolutely everything.

And then families started shrinking and then it became more of that. And the results are, and family unfriendly, I call it the travel team trap, the belief that youth sports is about making your kid a pro athlete. It's helicopter parenting, the expectation that you should be hovering over your kids. And just more broadly, the cultural belief that if you chose to have kids, that's all your problem. It's nobody else's job to support you in raising your kids. And then you make the contention that despite all of this increased attention, kids are less happy. Do you have some data to throw at us about that?

Oh, absolutely. I mean, the fact that some people say, well, we're choosing quality parenting over quantity. It is not high quality to invest so much time and money and giving your kids a tutor, putting them in the best school and all that. Children's mental health is in absolute crisis. You've had this declared by the American Association of Pediatrics.

The Biden administration even chimed in on that. Adolescent and teen and youth mental health are at all time lows. And there's lots of evidence, and I point to the studies in the book, showing that it's sort of over control by parents that causes this. What kids lack is independent play. Just think about our generation. We were told, go ride your bike, run around, come home when the street lights come on.

That was actually good for our mental health. Parents obviously are much more harried because they're micromanaging max effort in their kids lives. But really, I think the more the tragic consequence is that children are more anxious.

They have less confidence in themselves because they're less free to just either be bored, make up a game, wander the neighborhood with their friends. What is it about the American culture then? I mean, we've been kind of talking about the parenting culture.

Are there some things about the American culture that are also family unfriendly? A big thing is our car dependence. This is something I didn't think I'd be writing about, but I realized that as a parent, what we need is to let our kids run around a neighborhood. And some of the neighborhoods we lived in, we were just surrounded by massive roads, three lanes in each direction. There was nothing we could send our kids to that we didn't have to drive them to.

So their walking was hampered by the way the environment was built. Their ability to do stuff was hampered by how distant and car dependent everything was. And we realized what a drag that was on family culture, that if one kid had a baseball practice, some parent had to drive them there. Maybe another parent had to drive another kid. So that car dependence and then as when they're little, you know, that has the buckling and the unbuckling and the rebuckling, that car dependence. That's a very American thing.

That's family unfriendly. There are other things in other cultures that have these really low birth rates as well. But that probably is the most American aspect of it. And also our independence.

That's that's really one of our strengths. You have responsibility for yourself. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps. That doesn't quite work with a family.

If you don't have extended family, if you don't have neighbors, if you don't have a church community, then it's going to be impossible for you to stay sane and raise kids. And that's one of the trends in American culture right now. So if someone's listening and they say, oh, I see what you're saying because I grew up where I could run around behind our house and down to the pond, my particular instance. But what do we do about it? In family unfriendly, I try to have suggestions for parents and for policymakers. You know, local governments need to build sidewalks. Local governments need to build more playgrounds.

You might need to slow down traffic. But another thing is if you just make the effort to, A, get to know your neighbors, B, tell your kids to get to know the neighbors and then touch base and connect in that way, you will find that you feel liberated. If you've been cooping your kids up because you don't know what's out there, you have to go out there and figure out who your neighbors are.

Say hi to them. Explain to them, oh, these are my kids. Your kids can hop over the fence anytime they want. Those connections between neighbors, that's what makes a childhood free and liberated. But I'd also say do everything you can to resist the maximum effort parenting.

If there is a little league as opposed to just a travel team, sign up for the little league. Sign up for whatever's closest, whatever works into your family culture. That's a phrase I use in the book that I think not enough people think about that you have the ability to build a culture for your family. A final note and the advice for parents. One of the biggest things that undermines family culture is social media and smartphones, keeping social media and smartphones away from children. That's a way that you get to be the people who build the culture within your household.

And that culture is really only going to thrive, though, once it's connected to the broader community outside of the home. What are the practical suggestions that you would make regarding the smartphones and social media? The first thing is if your child does need a phone, there are phones that are basically dumb phones. They don't have Internet access, but to the institutions need to support the parents. A lot of parents give their kid the social media, the smartphone because everybody else has it. So schools need to say, OK, no phones out during the school day.

My wife and I, we get together with our daughters and our son's new classmates and say, by the way, we're not giving our kid a smartphone. We're certainly not telling you what to do, but don't let them tell you that everybody else has them because we're not. And always then a show of hands goes up and says we're not either.

We're not. And you can build solidarity that way. Parents need support.

That's why the subtitle of the book is about our culture making things harder, but our culture can make things easier. So churches, schools, local governments need to do what they can to support parents who want to say, no, there's going to be no smartphone in my kid's hands. We're not going to ever give our kid a smartphone when they're 18 and go off to college.

Hopefully we've introduced them to the technology enough that it's not going to be a shock. But right now, if they need a phone and they can text their friends, but they can't get on the Internet. And you mentioned pornography, absolutely destructive for boys, for girls, the social media and the comparison, the looking at the filtered photos of photos of other girls having a good time. That's absolutely devastating to girls mental health. And again, I've got the data in the book that shows that you mentioned family culture.

So talk a little bit more about that. What is a family culture? How can we get a family culture that is countercultural and healthy for all of us? One way of looking at it, I had a friend who once said children hear nothing and see everything. That is, if you lecture them on how to live on table manners, on whatever, that isn't as effective as you might think.

And I think of myself as a good speaker. It doesn't really sink in if you build a way of living. So my wife and I were Catholic. We raised our children Catholic. And I realized that the most important thing is for that to be part of our home, part of our week, part of how they see us living. And so a family culture, I mean, there's tons of research on the importance of having family dinner together, all of you whenever possible, but also being a fun place.

That's another thing. My own friend's parents said what we tried to do is we tried to be the house that kids wanted to come to and hang out and have pizza. And we tried to do that on a Friday night so that we could get to know these kids and sort of set a culture for that. And so that idea of building a family culture, it allows you to let your kids go free a little more to some extent, because they're not just walking with your words echoing in their ear, but a way of life that's sort of residing in their heart.

So whether it's your faith, whether it's your values, whether it's just customs and norms and games that you play, that's what makes up a family culture. It's about letting the kids run free idea, because that is also, as you've mentioned, countercultural. And I can just see parents being accused of being neglectful. And how do you combat this perception that they're being neglectful?

I mean, a lot of it is just going to be overcoming the fear of being judged. Now, there are some places that have bad laws. In Connecticut, for instance, you used to not be able to leave your 13 year old babysitting an 11 year old.

So some place you need to actually change the laws because you could do something that's perfectly safe if you trust your 13 year old, but it's illegal. But in most places, that's not the case. It's about fear of being judged by society. And if you're confident enough that your kids can go to the playground, that they know how to cross the street, that they know to stick together, then you can project that confidence and it trickles out. That's the other thing.

All these things, there's so many vicious circles, but you can create a virtuous circle. And we had people tell this to us that the more they saw our kids at the playground running around, the more they felt, oh, we can let our kids run around. A, because of the example of our children, but B, because of the company of other children. So sometimes it really does involve sticking your neck out there, doing something that's a little uncomfortable and saying, no, we're confident this is safe. We can protect our kids from every possible harm.

But we know that this is not actually any sort of exceptionally dangerous thing to do to let our kids go to the basketball court and play pickup basketball at age 11. That's a perfectly fine thing to do. And other people will follow you. I like that term virtuous circle. So why do you argue that the root of this decline in family culture is tied to a very basic misunderstanding of humanity?

So what's happening there? The two things that are happening here is, A, there's a belief that we are good if we accomplish lots of stuff in our life. There's a belief that then our job as parents is to make sure our kids have this worldly success in career or academics. And that's a false view of humans.

Humans are good by being humans, by giving love, by receiving love, and by just trying to do good work regardless of how prestigious it is. So that's my own view of humans. That's the way I think the Western civilization has largely seen people. But in our modern age where we think we can measure everything, we get this materialistic view. But there's another one, which is that having children is just another lifestyle choice. Like if you had a boat, I would not think, OK, it's my responsibility to help her take care of her boat. Once we apply that same logic to families, to having children, then that's how you get a family unfriendly culture. Oh, have as many kids as you want. Just don't let me hear them at the local coffee shop. Don't bring them on the airplane.

Don't expect me to help out. You're the one who chose to do it. That's really the poisonous mindset. Children are the next generation. Having children has historically been considered kind of what most adults, not all, but most adults do. Just as we were to help somebody grow up, society is going to help people raise children. That's the mindset that's really been lost. That makes our culture family unfriendly.

OK, well, we're about out of time for this week before we go. Timothy Carney, where can our listeners go to follow your work? And of course, find your books, especially the newest one, Family Unfriendly.

How our culture made raising kids much harder than it needs to be. You can find me all over. Tim Carney dot org has a link to my book. American Enterprise Institute is and the Washington examiner dot com of pick up family unfriendly at your local bookstore is the best place to get it.

But Amazon Barnes and Noble dot com anywhere, anywhere has it in the shelves right now. Thank you very much. Timothy Carney, thank you for being with us today on Family Policy Matters. Thank you for listening to Family Policy Matters. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe to the show and leave us a review to learn more about NC Family and the work we do to promote and preserve faith and family in North Carolina. Visit our website at NC family dot org. That's NC family dot o r g and check us out on social media at NC Family Policy. Thanks and may God bless you and your family.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-03-18 18:00:46 / 2024-03-18 18:08:24 / 8

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