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Friday, February 4, 2011

Git it, gurl!

If you have ever attended a child beauty pageant, or watched TLC's Toddlers and Tiaras (aka T&T), you will know this expression. Or, "Yes, MA'AM!" And you definitely will have heard my favorite grammatically incorrect phrase, "You did so goooood!"

Last night's installment of T&T, featuring Texas' Groovy Girls pageants, did not disappoint linguistically, or stylistically (although, I must say getting a glimpse of the infamous Makenzie, but not seeing that "hard working lady NiNi," was a definite disappointment).  We had the usual spray tanning, flippers, etc., and we saw a six-year-old getting acrylic nails.

As someone who has studied child beauty pageants, and who is currently studying the health effects of age cutoffs in organized activities (along with Rebecca Casciano), the most interesting part of this episode was the discussion of "fallbacks" in pageants.  I have long been fascinated by this practice, but never seen it discussed in the popular media.  Basically one of the contestants, Taralynn, was six-years-old the day of the competition. However, she was allowed to compete as a five-year-old, because on January 1, she was still five. So five was her "fallback" age and this gave her a big advantage over the younger girls she competed against.  Fallbacks really matter when you are four and competing in the 0-3 "Grand Supreme" category. Taralynn ended up winning "Ultimate Grand Supreme" of the pageant.

I've studied a lot of children's competitive activities and while many deal with biological age in different ways (i.e. dance competitions average the age of the participants in a routine, or soccer teams use a birth year as a determining factor), I have only ever seen "fallbacks" in child beauty pageants.  Have any of you experienced fallbacks in other activities? Please tell me about your experiences!

[PS. If you've never watched T&T, tune in next Wednesday at 10 to see the return of "pageant supserstar" Eden Wood. Oh yes, the CUTIE PATOOTIE, Eden Wood.]

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Gruffalo Elite

Last week's Economist on the global elite is a must-read for anyone interested in studying (or becoming) part of the cognoscenti.  I thought the best part of the special report was the piece entitled "The rise and rise of the cognitive elite."  The authors argue that assortative mating is alive and kicking, and perpetuating inequality, as highly educated men and women pair off and start families in greater numbers than ever before.

Interestingly, a few pages later, the Bagehot column on Britain ("The Gruffalo years") focuses on the nations' senior politicians with young children.  Bagehot argues that having little ones in their Gruffalo years-- "an innocent interlude stretching from birth to a child's ninth birthday or so"-- produces better MPs as their families directly engage various social services and learn to balance work and home life.

Of course, as the columnist writes, it helps that some of the mums are "high-flying lawyers," who earn a lot of money.  These MP-kids seem destined to become part of the global elite with highly educated, powerful, successful, and rich parents.  In what ways are their childhoods preparing them to be responsible adult members of this new global elite?

Lately I've been thinking more generally about the children of politicians and how they help shape a politician's image both on the campaign trail and in office.  This Bagehot piece claims that top British politicians are "(mostly) shielding their children from press attention." Do you all think this is true?

If so, is there something different going on in the US? The Palin kids are certainly on display, Megan McCain has now made a career out of being the child of a politician, and some of the most iconic images from 2008 include Sasha and Malia Obama.  Would love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Inaugural Post- Worlds Collide over Competitive Parenting

What better way to kick off my blog than by sharing my thoughts on a discussion about competitive parenting by a Harvard economist held at a somewhat-snotty/secretive academic meetings? I know a bit about all of these subjects-- in one way or another.

Yesterday the WSJ ran an interesting piece on a Davos discussion panel featuring Larry Summers (he of economic brilliance and the infamous Harvard presidency) and Amy Chua (she of the Tiger Mother phenomenon and Yale Law). Turns out that while Summers considers himself a "hard-ass" parent, he isn't sure being a Tiger Father is the pathway to a $50-billion Goldman valuation-- though it is likely the way to an Ivy League education. Chua seemed to agree, saying she is currently far more lenient with her daughters, as she flitted from event to event and interview to interview at the elite gathering, presumably a world away from her family in New Haven.

Just imagine a conversation between Chua's and Summers' daughters... Wonder who will get a crimson-colored thick admissions envelope and who will get a blue-hued one in a few years?

(For some of my own thoughts on the merits of "Chinese mothering," check out my recent op-ed in USA Today.)