10.06.2006

A fifth reason to leave New York City

I didn't want to be flip and just post this. I wanted to write a whole essay on children, wealth, jealousy, sharing bedrooms, and what was said to me on the playground by a classmate in 1989. But the hour is late, the author is exhausted, and this brief posting will have to do.

From last Sunday's New York Times Real Estate section, go read an article called "The Toughest Critics are the Smallest" about competition among New York's youngest residents for the biggest and best house, and how one feels about kids who don't have nice houses. Here are some choice quotes, since I think it won't be available after this Sunday, and here it is, already early Friday morning:

“A lot of my son’s friends are in private school because of our neighborhood,” Ms. Bruder-Frydman said. “When he goes to a friend’s house whose bedroom is three times the size of his, even though his is professionally decorated with fancy furniture and hand-painted, and he has everything that he needs, he says, ‘Mommy, how come my room isn’t this big?’ ”

I don't know who to be annoyed with more--the kids or their parents. I think their parents...

“I think the kids are more aware of how much other people have,” said the teacher, who spoke on the condition that her name not be used because it’s against school policy to talk to reporters. “Teaching kindergarten, I was overhearing kids after a play date with each other. The children spoke along the lines of, ‘I’ve been to his house — he had so many toys, and his playroom is bigger than my own.’ ”

“I think they’re so young that they’re not doing it to be mean,” said the teacher, who recalled how two of her young students visited her studio apartment and asked, “Where is the rest of it?”

“They have no idea how their comments can be hurtful to someone else,” she said. “They’re just kind of sponges for what they hear at home.”

Yeah, the parents. Definitely the parents.

A study of privileged suburban children suggests that parents with smaller homes have reason to feel self-conscious. Two years ago, Heather Beth Johnson, an assistant professor of sociology at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., interviewed 20 children ranging from 5 to 12 years old in affluent suburban enclaves of Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Half of the children attended private schools.

“When asked how they viewed families who lived in smaller houses, they said, ‘I feel sorry for them that they have a bad house, but if they really wanted to, they could work harder and have a better one.’ They would look down on the parents, and they felt sad for the kids,” said Dr. Johnson, the author of “The American Dream and the Power of Wealth” (Taylor & Francis Group, 2006).

Perhaps it's not so much about the individual parents or children, as about this statement:
Children in New York City “are as in tune with real estate as sneakers,” Ms. Friedman said. “It’s just a commodity. And in a lot of New York City families, it really is a topic of conversation just as much as what happens on the front page.”
Who would want to raise children in such a place?
Youngsters are particularly apt to ape their parents and society at large, said Daniel Gilbert, a psychology professor at Harvard and the author of “Stumbling on Happiness” (Knopf, 2006). “You’re bringing children up in the single most materialistic culture that has ever existed on the face of the earth,” he said.
Yeah... Like I said, a good reason to leave NYC before starting a family.
But in Manhattan, where the giddy heights of wealth, status and ego can induce as much vertigo as the tallest Trump tower, parents at all levels evinced a reluctance to discuss with their children issues of class inequality or its subset, conspicuous real estate, leading to the sort of finding that Dr. Johnson, the Lehigh sociologist, found chilling.
Or, if you stay, to talk about wealth, power, money, and ego. With young children. Because they'll talk about it even if you don't.

* * * * * * * * *

[This is part of a continuing series. Previous reasons to leave NYC included:
1. "My Daddy owns more buildings than your Daddy!" (Abacaxi Mamao, 12/19/05 )
2. mongrammed spit-up cloths (Abacaxi Mamao, 2/9/06)
3. higher incidence of depression and general mental distress (New York Times, 4/10/06)
4. toxicity in New York City dust and dirt (Science & The City, 4/10/06)]

Categories: New York

4 comments:

ALG's mother said...

I think you won't escape comparison of material wealth by leaving NYC--It happens all over the world. Unfortunately, this is a fact of life.

BZ said...

Yeah, my reaction when I read this article was precisely "I am not raising kids in NYC."

ALG said...

I think that comparison of material wealth happens all over the world, but I suspect that adults are more "into" it themselves in New York, which carries over to their children. It might be possible to raise children with some decent values in New York as long as you, as the parent, are able to impart your less-materialistic values to them. But I think it might be easier somewhere else. Money and prestige are SUCH commodities here, whereas I think that other things are ALSO important in other places--things like being open, warm, friendly, hospitable, articulate, intelligent, etc. Of course being rich always buys you prestige, and kids will always recognize both that some have more money than they do and others have less money, but what you do with that realization as a parent is what matters.

Stepping off my soapbox now...

BZ said...

Also, outside NYC, the socioeconomic range isn't so extreme, so there are fewer comparisons to be made.