As David Brooks says, managing social relationships is a far more important and difficult life skill than academic or artistic performance
This is from my Debates with My Daughters column that appeared in the Deccan Herald in 2019-20
This column was supposed to be about why your “respect for elders” shouldn’t mean unquestioning acceptance of everything that they say. As I was writing this however, I had to interrupt regular programming to answer a profound question that a parent first gets asked when the kid is around ten years old: “Can I have a sleepover?” Despite being an experienced parent — I’ve handled this question twice already — I still find it a hard to readily say yes or no.
When I asked the girls to offer their arguments in support of sleepovers, their answer was “It’s just fun!” Not satisfied with this, I asked them to elaborate (without rolling your eyes, please). The answers I got were still variants of the “because it’s fun” argument, which they contended is enough reason in itself, and further justification was unnecessary.
I then recalled a famous column in the New York Times several years ago where David Brooks, the conservative commentator, had called Amy Chua a wimp. Chua had just then published a book called the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, where she criticised the “weak, cuddling” American parenting style and held up the demanding Chinese method (that Indian parents will be familiar with) that insists kids get top grades, excel in extra-curricular activities and generally be hyper-competitive about everything. Brooks turned the tables on Chua, arguing that it was Chua who was “coddling her children…protecting them from the most intellectually demanding activities because she doesn’t understand what’s cognitively difficult and what isn’t.”
“Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention,” Brooks argues “but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale.”
Lydia Denworth, author of “Friendship: The Evolution, Biology and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond” wrote that after her research, she is “looking with fresh eyes at sleepovers, video games and many of the other ways children and teenagers like to spend their time together. I’ve realized that the critical thing is exactly that: that they spend time together. One of our chief jobs as parents is to encourage them to make and maintain strong friendships. It is one of the skills they will need most in life.”
So sleepovers help kids become more independent, learn to manage social relationships, make strong friendships and are fun. What’s the argument against them? My instinctive reluctance comes from a sense that that my kid is entering the personal space of people who I don’t personally know. My wife is concerned about their safety. Some people I know worry about “what they might get up to.” I have misgivings about intruding into someone else’s private space, albeit at their invitation. The safety risk can be managed by getting to know the families of the children’s friends. Even considering that part of the reason why kids like sleepovers is to push the envelope of what they’re allowed to do, the risk that the kids might do something that they shouldn’t be doing is, on the balance, perhaps overstated. That’s because all parents are concerned about it.
There are many more Debates with my Daughters here
I am, therefore, inclined to say yes to sleepovers. But there is a final deterrent: Bangalore traffic. This doesn’t daunt my heroic wife, but I find myself looking for powerful arguments against parties and sleepovers whenever Google Maps shows a lot of red.
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