Ethical Parenting

New York Magazine:

Imagine this ­scenario: It’s a Tuesday evening and you’re just home from work, still panting from the subway ride, when you determine without doubt that your fourth-grader has lice. The teeny pale eggs, they could be dandruff, but they’re not; ugh, dozens of them, everywhere, clinging to the silky hairs, and all you can think is, Not tonight.

Having been through this before, you know that the only way to help arrest a schoolwide epidemic is to spend hours, three at least, dealing with the vermin right now—combing, vacuuming, washing, drying—not including the inter-spousal fighting and the hysterical kid meltdown that invariably accompanies such an outbreak. Which puts bedtime conservatively somewhere around 11 p.m.

And tonight, of all nights, you just can’t afford the drama. You can’t. Because tomorrow is the ELA, the statewide ­reading-and-writing test whose scores in this crucial year will help to determine your kid’s middle-school placement, and sending her into the exam emotionally wrung out and insufficiently rested is not an option. It is not.

So while the kiddie race to the top among the most competitive people may elicit the most grotesque behaviors, the fact is that all kinds of parents seize advantage for their kids when they can. (Jeff Zucker’s 15-year-old son somehow found his way onto the advisory board of Cory Booker’s tech start-up. If you could rustle up something similarly high-flying for your kid, wouldn’t you be tempted?) In fact, the very state of being a parent obscures clear ethical reasoning, creating blinders, explains the Duke University dishonesty expert Dan Ariely, “as to what’s moral and not moral.” The same person who would never lie on his own résumé may lie on his kid’s school application and feel that “they’re doing something for a good cause, that they’re actually being altruistic.”

“It’s the opposite of the free-rider problem,” the Swarthmore psychologist Barry Schwartz explains: If everybody recycles, then you can be the one person who doesn’t, and you still benefit from all the recycling that goes on. But if everybody is occupied full time making sure their kid wins and other kids lose, then taking the high road doesn’t serve you at all. “It’s a corrupt system, and your opting out won’t change it. You gain nothing, and you lose a lot.”

Jason Stephens is an associate professor of educational psychology at the ­University of Connecticut who studies cheating among adolescents and is interested in what he calls the “judgment-action gap”: why high-school students cheat, even when they know it’s wrong. Parents, he says, are displaying a similar disconnect, seizing advantage for their children while discounting the gnawing feeling in their gut

Read the whole story: New York Magazine

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