Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Children … Baby-Brit, Baby-Yank

No doubt that Americans and British people have different ways of making friends, finding jobs; people talk different languages in the general tone and meaning. There are tremendous cultural differences between the US and the UK. I would like to touch another interesting point – the differences in the way parents bring up their children. I am going to interview Mrs. Flora Prestileo, American-Italian, who was an English teacher at the University of Messina and who has also two children.

-                      The first and I think the most general question: “Are there really so many differences in the way children are brought up?”
-                      I don’t think that there are many differences, but I can’t say much about the British. My impression is that the Americans are more casual in the attitude to their children whereas the British are more formal. This is probably the most general difference that I can see.

-                      The author of the book “Ameri-think and Brit-think” insists that one of the differences is in the way of thinking about this process. “America is the land of Opportunity where any kid can grow up to be President”. So, Ameri-parents do everything to help a child get the jump on others, to achieve the best education (from the preschool to the university), to be a winner and to go forward. Can you comment on this?
-                      Well, I agree with this. I think that American parents teach their children that everything is possible. In fact, one of the proverbs is “Where there is the will, there is a way”, which means that if there is something that you would like to achieve in life, you can do it if you really want to. So, they give a lot of value to education especially university education. American universities are very, very expensive and parents try to put their children in college or university which will some day give them the opportunity in finding a good job and success.

-                      Is it really important for Americans to have a prestigious and successful life and to transmit this desire to their children?
-                      I think so, yes. I think that they have an American Dream which means to be successful in life. Yes, I agree with this.

-                      Another aspect is that Brit-parents think that too much praise isn’t good for children considering that modesty and humility are virtues. Do Americans exaggerate in always giving complements or providing encouragement to their children, even if they don’t deserve them?
-                      Yes, well, Americans do this. And I think one of the reasons for Americans is self-confidence that is very important. It’s not enough to be intelligent but you have to present yourself to others. And if you have a lot of self-confidence, you are able to show, you know, that you are worth something in life. So, one of the ways of building up this self-confidence is by complementing children and making them think that they are very good. It’s exaggerated, I think. It’s exaggerated, but so it is.

-                      So we can’t say the same thing about Brit-parents?
-                      I don’t think so, but as I’ve said before I don’t have much experience with the British. I have some British friends but they have smaller children, and I don’t know honestly about the British so much.

-                      Is it possible to say that American kids are more spoilt that their counterparts from Britain?
-                      Yes, I think so. I think you can make the difference between American kids and European children. Because America is a consumer society, where everything is based on having more and giving more and so, I think their children tend to be spoilt because they can get what they want because that’s how the society is.

-                      Do you really agree that Ameri-parents spend on their children enormous amounts of time, energy and money? And if so, what do they focus on in particular?
-                      I don’t know how much time Americans spend with their children, but they do focus on sports a lot. They make their children do a lot of sports. So if boy’s playing in a baseball team, the father has to bring him or a mother. In that sense they spend a lot of time and then, of course, the fact that not so many American grandparents baby-sit. So, parents are often forced to take their children with them, it’s not like in Italy. Yes, they spend time with their children. I don’t know if it’s exaggerated or a normalcy especially if both parents work and if they find a time.

-                      And what about money?
-                      Do they spend too much money? Oh, yeah, yes, definitely.

-                      It is said that on the contrary, the British usually  pay more attention to good table manners and the right accent?
-                      Yes, because I’ve said before, I think the British tend to be very formal, so they teach them good manners, whereas American parents, yes, they try to teach their children manners but maybe not in such an exaggerated way.

-                      Ok. Do you know how Americans usually spend time with their kids?
-                      As I’ve said before maybe by doing sports and vacation. Of course, they take their children on vacation with them. And the impression I got that more to sports and taking them to the movies.

-                      Is it right that American parents take their offsprings everywhere and that they like to “expose” them to everything?
-                      Yes, I think so, but probably one of the reasons is that grandparents are not willing to baby-sit. (Smiles)

-                      This is a personal question. How did you bring up your children using the Italian or American style?
-                      I tried to take the best of both. I tried to teach my children that material things aren’t so important. What’s important is the person you are. Maybe I tried to teach them that it’s always good to be humble.

-                      But was it difficult to combine European and American styles together?
-                      It was, for example, I sent my children to study in the North and then to America and a lot of my friends said that I was crazy and asked why I was sending my children away when they were so young. Because my older son was only seventeen when he left Messina, but I knew that they will become more mature if they were on their own instead of staying in Messina.

-                      What about the names? What names do Americans usually choose for their children?
-                      Well, the boys usually get the father’s name. the first boy usually is named after his father. And I think they like short names too, because they aren’t very complicated and they like nicknames. I don’t know in particular.

-                      Brits take names very seriously according to the traditions of class and family, while Americans are more casual.
-                      Yes, I have a British friend who has four names whereas in America they tend to give you first name and the middle name. Yes, they are more casual, this is in general.

-                      There is another problem – nicknames. Brits try to give first names which can’t be shortened to show their respect while Americans use nicknames to show their liking to the person. Is it right?
-                      It’s right. Of course, yes, it is. They give them a short nickname or add some kind of syllable to it. Yes, that’s true.

-                      And they also use the nicknames when the children become adults?
-                      Yes, of course. Some nicknames could be initials, you know. I don’t know – Tom which is short for Thomas. A lot of names are shortened – Joe for Joseph.

-                      How can you comment the fact that American people put the ee-sound at the end of their names to produce Dickey, Jamie, Katie? Is it really so widespread in the US?
-                      It was so. I don’t know how widespread it is today, but it was once. And as I said it’s a sign of affection, I think. 

-                      So, British people don’t do it?
-                      Let me think, no, no. The friends that I have don’t shorten their children’s names, the British friends I have, no.

-                      Another surprise for me was that such names as Robin, Leslie, Jamie in America are girls’ names whereas in Britain these are boys’ names.
-                      Yes, that’s true. Even if sometimes we do get as we get Robin Williams or Leslie Nilsson. Jamie is a girl’s name in America. You know, I guess, it’s just now accustomed usage.

-                      So, would you like to add something?
-                      In general? What can I say personally, I tried to take the best possible characteristics from both the Italian and the American society. And I don’t know what else? You mean for the names or in general?
-                      I think in general.
-                      To be honest, one of the things that I hate about Americans is the fact that the American society is such a consumerist society that disturbs me a lot. That’s one of the things. And as far as children I like the idea that, you know, children can dream of being successful one day whereas I think in Italy, for example, it’s just the opposite for children today. If I were a parent today of a young child I would feel very pessimistic about his future. So, that’s one of the good things about American society that you can dream whereas here you can’t.

-                      Do you think there are differences in a way of behavior of children outside or with other children?
-                      Oh, yes, indeed. American children may be spoilt for material things whereas Italian children are spoilt in their taking the things, they think they can do what they want to do. Whereas in America – no. A child is taught that he has to behave in a certain way. He may want and maybe his parents buy him all – the toys, gadgets – whatever he wants. Materially speaking he gets, but I think he is taught better manners than Italian children. In my opinion, Italian children have bad manners, they show no respect for anybody.
-                      Yes, but that is another topic. Thank you very much.
-                      You are welcome.

It’s not enough to give birth to children, raising a child is the hardest, most responsible and satisfying task a human being can face. Therefore, the parents need to create for their kids a suitable environment full of love, respect, knowledge and values. The Koran says “Childhood is a symbol of the future and the hope of all victories to come”. To sum up, it doesn’t matter what country are you from, the most important thing is – to be your own parent. 
Dina Chashchinova

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