Pricing the Priceless Child
by Vivian Zelizer
Vivian Zelizer argues that modern individuals believe children must be protected from the world of work, even from a just share of household chores, yet immersed in the world of consumption.
Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs is cool. Cuckoo for laundry is cuckoo. Zelizer argues children who contribute to the family—not in token ways and not in exploitive tasks—develop better self-worth, understand the needs of others better and develop feelings of belonging. They feel needed. Zelizer cites a study suggesting part time jobs help children feel competent and work improves their personalities.
Zelizer points out that queen bee parents, treating their children almost as if they were invalids, see their worth threatened when children contribute to household duties. Wives and husbands fight over housework, rarely expecting children to help. Situations with self-denying adults and irresponsible children harm adults and children alike. Marie Winn and Neil Postman, however, argue for a more childlike childhood.
While we protect children from the “offensive” adult world of contributing, children bathe in the adult worlds of drugs and violence, escapism and voyuerism.
Zelizer writes that America is not child-focused. That idea is a “saccharine myth.” The valuing of children ends at the doorstep. When the sentimental value of children rose, practical economic considerations were ruled “morally” offensive. Worth skimming. Book review article by J.T. Fournier, last updated July 21, 2009.
— J.T. Fournier