New York Times parenting columnist Judith Warner revealed she is exploring the "exciting new field of developmental neuroscience," where the best and the brightest may be headed for careers now that Wall Street has collapsed.

Will that world, in which highly motivated and intelligent parents like Warner labor intensely to master phrases like "single nucleotide polymorphism," be a happier one for our children?  Or are kids better off playing mindlessly by themselves or with other kids in the playgound?

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The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, March 13, 2009. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

Will Our Kids Be Happy? Why we don't allow them to find out for themselves

Will neuroscience discover what makes our kids happy, or would playing on a swing set do more than any laboratory discovery?

New York Times family columnist Judith Warner revealed she is exploring the "exciting new field of developmental neuroscience," where "the best and the brightest" may be headed for careers now that Wall Street has collapsed.

Will that world, in which highly motivated and intelligent parents like Warner labor intensely to master phrases like "single nucleotide polymorphism," be a happier one for our children?  Or would they do better simply going out and exploring the world on their own or with other children?

At the same time as the Warner column, New York old timer, author, and journalist Pete Hamill appeared on MSNBC's Morning Joe and spoke of driving through middle-class neighborhoods in Brooklyn: "There are no kids on the street, getting into fist fights, falling in love with the wrong people. They're all inside, typing on keyboards, leading virtual lives. I hope they appreciate how privileged they are."

Immediately on his saying that, the show's two hosts Mika Brezinski and Joe Scarborough looked stricken with recognition, as they quickly recapitulated in their minds how their own lives differed from their children's. Their childhood worlds - in which they rode bikes in their neighborhoods, walked with friends to the movies or community swimming pools on Saturdays, organized their own games with balls and jacks - has disappeared. They now subsidize and support their children's veal-like existences, where they are bred, and fed, and cultivated to produce the best possible outcomes - kids capable of going to elite schools and getting the few slots in society allotted to the "best and brightest."

Will those children be - are they - happier? We know they are more medicated for their various conditions - bipolar disorder, depression, ADHD. Does this make them happier?

Of course, middle and upper-middle class parents can think, "So who goes out and plays on their own any more? Ghetto kids and immigrant children? What's so great about their lives? They'll end up struggling to maintain borderline existences in the new information economy." I have lately been accompanying my small grandson and his parents to their local Queens playground where I spend my time alternately following him on various climbing apparatus as he encounters the polyglot nation - Polish, Dominican, Serbian - and reassuring my son and daughter-in-law that the experience isn't life-threatening.

I watched as Keith Olbermann discussed with Washington columnist Margaret Carlson the play set the Obama's had built for their two young girls in the back yard of the White House, within view of the Oval Office. Upon seeing it, the kids - ages 10 and 8 - rushed out and played by themselves for an hour. Twice in the brief time allotted to discussing this small topic, Carlson predicted one of the children would suffer a "broken shoulder." No good can come from leaving kids playing unsupervised on dangerous climbing surfaces and swings!

If the Obama's raise children in their uber-privileged environments who are capable of playing on their own and taking themselves to town on public transportation, it will be a greater accomplishment than if the President rescues the economy. For the choice now seems to be protecting children from being exposed to life on the streets - or allowing them to enter that uncertain world where anything can happen, meaning we can't guarantee our kids' success.

And we just can't chance that.