New Book: Do the French Parent Better than Americans?

An excerpt published in the Wall Street Journal is making the social media rounds, prompting reflection and reactions on the question of whether French parents are "superior" to American parents because they teach their children to be independent and to respect "adult time."  Last year, the newspaper garnered widespread attention for publishing a controversial excerpt from Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," which argued that the Chinese parenting philosophy produced smarter, higher-acheiving children than the permissive American parenting culture.

France is the perfect foil for the current problems in American parenting. Middle-class French parents (I didn't follow the very rich or poor) have values that look familiar to me. They are zealous about talking to their kids, showing them nature and reading them lots of books. They take them to tennis lessons, painting classes and interactive science museums.

Yet the French have managed to be involved with their families without becoming obsessive. They assume that even good parents aren't at the constant service of their children, and that there is no need to feel guilty about this. "For me, the evenings are for the parents," one Parisian mother told me. "My daughter can be with us if she wants, but it's adult time." French parents want their kids to be stimulated, but not all the time. While some American toddlers are getting Mandarin tutors and preliteracy training, French kids are—by design—toddling around by themselves.

Image: Girl wearing beret, via Shutterstock.


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