Thursday, September 9, 2010

A whole new cultcha

My friend, DoulaK, is spending the year in Prague. Her husband, SustainableK, is on sabbatical, and they have two boys. Recently, she posted the following on Facebook:

Playgrounds here have a serious Lord of the Flies edge to them. We've seen kids throwing pebbles/stones/sand at each other with impunity on at least three occasions. The third time [the boys] were the targets. Our fear, in this environment, is that B is going to get bullied. And G will become a bully.


It's not that [parents] are not watching, they just don't seem to care. In the worst incident we saw, some bigger boys (~7-8 YOs) were throwing pebbles down at a little boy (4-5?), who finally started crying. Karl and I (way on the sidelines) had already vowed not to do anything b/c we'd intervened at another site and the adults looked at us like "what are you so uptight about?"

After the little boy cried for 20 seconds or more, a woman (who had been very close by the whole time) finally stood up and sauntered over to pick him up and soothe him. Mom? Babysitter? Random court-appointed guardian? We have no idea.

When B&G got pelted it was kind of comical. It was by a girl (~7 or 8) who felt the boys had encroached on her territory and weren't playing the way she wanted. (BTW, B had knocked her off the zip-line platform 15 mins earlier. He stopped immediately to apologize, and we ran over to help ... but she may have held a grudge!)

Anyway, when she started complaining to them about the pulley system they'd all gathered around, B stood up to her and said, "you're not the only one who's playing with it!" She gathered a handful of large pebbles, threw them at the boys, and yelled "Bye bye!" B&G looked at each, kind of shrugged and went back to the pulley thing. SustainableK and I, mouths agape, chuckled and shook our heads.

It's a whole new cultcha.

What followed DoulaK's status updates were comments from her friends offering sympathy (and luck) with her concerns about bullying, also observations about differences in cultural and social expectations about what parents ought to do (or not) - for example, if Czech parents are less and American parents more "interventionist," then what does that mean?

In previous semesters of ANTH 100, I have assigned an article titled, "Our Babies, Ourselves," which is an excerpted version of biological anthropologist Meredith Small's 1999 book of the same title. Small's perspective, which she calls ethnopediatrics, is that practices of child care ought to be understood both in terms of their diversity across culture and, especially, in terms of their contribution to child health and well being (in other words, survival and adaptation). A point that I like for students to discuss is that it can be challenging to consider child rearing practices with a stance of cultural relativism. In fact, I find that ANTH 100 students can be harshly judgmental about parenting. Not so different from parents themselves, I think.

Putting aside the issue of bullying (at least for the moment), in future posts, I plan to consider what anthropologists can tell us about parental "intervention" or "mediation": The point being not that parents in some cultures do less / more, but that there might be much more to understand about when and how adults do or do not involve themselves in children's interactions.

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