Freakanomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner and Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein. I’m not sure how many people would put these two books together and on top of that call them both must-read parenting books, but I would and I do. These books came highly recommended after a very interesting debate with some beloved friends. I feel a bit smarter for having read both.
The first is a collaboration between a journalist and an economist. Levitt and Dubner take on issues (among others) such as “Does what you name your child affect his success in life?” “Does the number of books in your home help your child be more successful?” The answer to both turns out to be a surprising “No.” Both are actually indicators (rather than causes) of a child’s socioeconomic status which plays a bigger role than many other factors in a child’s future success. I’m sure the writers did not intend this to be a parenting book, but it presents answers to many issues that parents will care about and actually may make parenting a bit less stressful. BTW, I know I must be the last person in the world to read this book since it came out in 2005.
In the second, Orenstein confronts the princess and pink culture created for girls by juggernaut Disney and others out to market their goods to your daughters. The most interesting part of this book is when she takes a break from hating on Disney, Nickelodeon and Mattel to really explore the reasons (aside from nearly 24/7 marketing campaigns) that girls are so drawn to the whole pretty-pretty-princess thing. Turns out it may have more to do with a developmental period around ages 3-6 when girls (and boys) are trying to understand the permanence of gender, rather than the hypothesis that girls just like pink. She cites studies that are investigating the natural differences between boys and girls. She discusses how same- and cross- gender play helps children develop. I would have liked her to spend more time on discussion of self-esteem development despite the influences of our consumer culture, but maybe she covered that in her first book Schoolgirls.
The book appears thoroughly researched with quite the bibliography, but reads like it was written by an intelligent women who has been driven slightly mad by too many hours of the Disney Channel. The tone of the book fluctuates from militaristic feminist to rational discussion. Feels like it was written fast and not really edited for consistency of tone. But it was good enough that I read it in less than a week, and I would be willing read more of her work.
Neither book is written by a psychologist, but rather by journalists examining problems they see in the world. I feel like Orenstein’s book may be making a mountain out of a mole hill, while Freakanomics does just the opposite.