I have two new stories in this week’s Sunday Styles section of The New York Times, both of them on our darker moments: The first, The Playground Gets Even Tougher, looks at the trickling down of mean-girl behavior from fifth grade into kindergarten and even preschool. As the mother of a young girl, I found the stories people relayed to be upsetting — but believable. And from the comments on the NYT website, it seems that while many people aren’t sure this is something exactly new, most agree that relational bullying is getting younger and more intense. Two points touched on in the story seemed to resonate in particular with readers: One, that parents, sometimes inadvertently and sometimes deliberately, can encourage mean-girl behavior. That is, in our highly competitive world, having a daughter be on top means helping her put other girls down. And the second point, that the media often abets mean-girl behavior through sassy, talk-back and back-biting female characters on programs watched by girls as young as four years old. (And good luck to those girls with older female siblings!)
The second story, a bit more lighthearted, explores whether there’s any upside to gossip. The story, for my Studied column, asks Can Gossip Be Good for You? According to two new British studies, it may not be exactly beneficial but talking about other people in a positive way certainly doesn’t have the negative impact that badmouthing others does. At the same time, research indicates that one’s sense of social support is bolstered by gossiping, whether it’s mean-spirited or harmless. Though perhaps people just think others like them more when they’re catty.
I think I’ll write about something happy next…
In this Sunday’s issue of The New York Times Magazine, I have an article about preschool depression. The questions I ask are, first off, Is there such a thing as clinical depression in preschoolers? If so, how can you diagnosis such a disorder when three- and four year olds are generally unable to articulate their emotions with any degree of sophistication?
I worked on this story for almost a year, trying to show both sides — really, ALL sides because it’s such a complicated issue — of the story. Some readers may say, off the bat, that it’s impossible for young children to have a mental disorder. That the problem is parents or overreaching buy xanax professionals or the pharmaceutical industry. Others will be appalled that the question of early onset depression can even be in doubt. Many of those readers will probably have experienced or witnessed familial depression in their own lives. I hoped to fairly represent both points of views, and the many nuanced views that lie in between.
So far, the story seems to be generating a good response, and their are lots of comments on Facebook as well as on Tara Parker-Pope’s Well blog. I’d love to hear from other readers here about what you think of the story and of the issue in general.
I have a story that ran in the New York Times Sunday Style section yesterday about how the widespread practice of redshirting is affecting parents, children, and kindergarten classes nationwide. While I was not surprised, as a parent, but the amount of angst this causes parents (whether to redshirt, what happens if you don’t, what’s more important — academic or social/emotional readiness, etc.), many aspects of the story were news to me. For one thing, the economic gap between those who can afford to redshirt and those who can’t — and the long-term consequences is concerning. I was also intrigued by a political angle: That the earlier a state sets its cutoff date, the better its students do on standardized testing and the more likely the state is to win federal funds. Also, the more likely the students are to get into competitive colleges. Or so the theory goes. The story has generated 201 comments on The New York Times website, and counting. I’d love to hear from more parents and educators about what they think of redshirting and their own personal experiences.
My latest Studied column for The New York Times Sunday Styles section is available online now, looking at whether self-professed liberals are actually as liberal as they think. The column looks at a new study out of England, which analyzes data from the World Values Survey. According to the study’s author, James Rockey, an economist at the University of Leicester, people who self-identify as left-wing are actually more likely to believe in efficiency of the market than in equalizing the distribution of wealth. Sounds like good fodder for conservatives, who generally see liberals as misguided, confused, or yet-to-be-mugged. But a professor from Stanford, Jonathan Rodden, made some interesting points about the study’s limitations. Do you think Rockey or Rodden is right? Or neither?
In yesterday’s Sunday Styles section of The New York Times, I wrote a profile of Stephanie Dolgoff, author of the forthcoming book, Formerly Hot: Dispatches from Just This Side of Young. The book is hilarious and the author is completely charming. I found the comments about the article to be very interesting — many people seemed to react to the fact that Ms. Dolgoff cares about the way she looks to mean that she only cares about the way she looks.
This is a phenomenon that I encounter frequently when I write, whether it’s an article or a book. Let’s take some of my writing about sexuality: If I write an article about a particular study, readers will ask, Why didn’t you write about this other study? If I write a book about heterosexual pornography, people ask, why didn’t you write about homosexual pornography? If I write an article about a lesbian couple’s struggle to adopt a child in West Virginia, people ask, why didn’t you write about the difficulties of gay adoption in Florida?
These are all valid questions, but the limitation of any story or book is that you can only write so much — that as journalists and authors, we have to draw the line somewhere, or we’d end up with 10,000 word articles all the time (which we, as writers, would love but readers probably wouldn’t) and with 500-page books (which we, as writers, would hate and readers would too — not that there’s anything wrong with 500 page books, but I’ll leave that to Robert Caro and Robert K. Massie).
In this case, I wrote about Ms. Dolgoff’s interest in the implications of aging (but not aging that much) on what you wear and how you look. It’s an interesting issue, and one I think Ms. Dolgoff addresses interestingly — and hilariously — in her book.