“Researchers at UCLA are studying the habits of middle-class families,” reports the Wall Street Journal today, “asking intriguing questions like why are American kids so helpless and dependent?”

The story, “A Field Guide to the Middle-Class U.S. Family,” reports on the work of anthropologist Elinor Ochs and her colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles, who have studied family life as far away as Samoa and the Peruvian Amazon region, but more recently have been studying the American middle class and asking questions like this one: Why do American children depend on their parents to do things for them that they are capable of doing for themselves?

Among the findings: The families had very a child-centered focus, which may help explain the “dependency dilemma” seen among American middle-class families, says Dr. Ochs. Parents intend to develop their children’s independence, yet raise them to be relatively dependent, even when the kids have the skills to act on their own, she says. How kids develop moral responsibility is an area of focus for the researchers. Dr. Ochs, who began her career in far-off regions of the world studying the concept of “baby talk,” noticed that American children seemed relatively helpless compared with those in other cultures she and colleagues had observed.

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