Lately my twins and I have been enjoying the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.  I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Mr and Mrs. Heffley, the mom and dad in these stories, seem totally clueless.  My kids occasionally ask me if the Heffley parents are “bad.”  My response: “They’re not exactly bad.  They just don’t remember what it’s like to be a kid.”

In the story, the result of this oddly familiar amnesia is twofold. 

First, the Heffley parents pointlessly alienate their kids by pushing them into activities that aggravate parent and child alike.  The dad forces his reluctant son to join the swim team.  The result: the son freezes, and the dad is humiliated before his fellow dads.  The mom forces her pleading son to join the school play.  The result: the son loathes the whole experience, pelts the star with an apple during the performance, and mortifies his mom.

Second, the Heffley parents largely ignore all sorts of kid-on-kid abuse, leaving their older sons in a brutal Hobbesian jungle.  When they do respond, it’s awfully arbitrary – and not in a clever Beckerian way.

The power of the Wimpy Kid series is that it feels real.  Many parents really do forget what’s it’s like to be a kid.  (Another reason why I think responsible kidults make the best parents!)

I honestly don’t know why.  I bet Robin Hanson would have a clever functionalist story.  Yet if you read the Wimpy Kid series – or just look around – it seems like it would be better for the whole family if parents thought more like kids.

Note: This doesn’t mean that parents should let their kids do as they please.  What it means, rather, is that remembering your childhood is useful parental heuristic.  It helps you figure out when you should leave well enough alone – and when to lay down the law.