Parenting sweet spot

Interesting (and somewhat encouraging) NPR story on how parenting can affect childrens’ likelihood of binge drinking.  It’s good to know that what we do as parents might actually matter.  Basically, really lenient parents and really harsh parents are most likely to have children who engage in problem drinking.  Here’s the details:

The teens who were being raised by so-called indulgent parents who tend to give their children lots of praise and warmth — but offer little in the way of consequences or monitoring of bad behavior — were among the biggest abusers of alcohol.

“They were about three times more likely to participate in heavy drinking,” says Bahr.

The same was true for kids whose parents were so strict that no decision was left to the teenager’s own judgment.

“Kids in that environment tend not to internalize the values and understand why they shouldn’t drink,” says Bahr. They were more than twice as likely to binge drink.

The social scientist in me loves this really cool U-shaped pattern of dependent/independent variable.  The parent in me would like to think I’m actually doing a good job on this.  Kim and I are certainly more towards the lenient side, but I think the description of the “parenting sweet spot” describes what we are at least trying to do:

The parenting style that led to the lowest levels of problem drinking borrowed something from each of the extremes. From the strict parents: accountability and consequences for bad behavior. From the indulgent parents: warmth and support

Bahr says these parents tend to be more balanced.

“They recognize their kids when they do good things and praise them, but they offer direction and correction when they get off a little bit,” he says.

It also recommends talking to kids about alcohol as early as 4th grade to help them develop healthy attitudes.  Check on that.  I’ll report back to you on David in 6-7 years and let you know how it’s gone :-).



Census interactive

I don’t think I ever got around to commenting on last week’s big news about the Census report and the impact on Congressional seats around the country.  Now I will.  First, one comment I read at a number of blogs (and now I mostly forget, but I’m pretty sure Yglesias mentioned this) is that the growth in the population and Congressional seats of several red states, i.e., Texas, Florida, Arizona, is coming primarily from blue voters (largely Hispanic).

Anyway, of all the stuff on the matter, my favorite is this very cool interactive graphic at the Post.  It shows the changes in Congressional seats dating back to 1900 (hover over a state and watch the graph below).  Anyway, I think this is great for disabusing from “conventional wisdom” I had fallen prey to myself.  In short, we’re always hearing about the massive internal migration to “the sun belt.”  I think most people take that to mean Southern states.  It doesn’t.  It basically means Texas and Florida and to a lesser extent Arizona.  Texas and Florida have both gained around 20 House seats over the past century and Arizona close to 10.  Otherwise, MS, AL, LA, AR, SC, NC, TN, GA are  basically flat or only a very modest rise (GA, NC).  That really puts thing in perspective.

Death panels are back!

Good news– the “death panels” are back!  Of course, if you do not rely on Fox News or Sarah Palin’s facebook feed for your news, you realize that “death panel” was actually Republican shorthand for simply reimbursing doctors for taking time to address end-of-life issues with their patients.   And just so we’re clear, that’s an unequivocally good thing.  Anyway, it may not be part of the ACA, but apparently Medicare is simply going to re-write the regulations on the matter:

When a proposal to encourage end-of-life planning touched off a political storm over “death panels,” Democrats dropped it from legislation to overhaul the health care system. But the Obama administration will achieve the same goal by regulation, starting Jan. 1.

Under the new policy, outlined in aMedicare regulation, the government will pay doctors who advise patients on options for end-of-life care, which may include advance directives to forgo aggressive life-sustaining treatment.

The article does a really nice job explaining how increasing these sorts of conversations is a very good thing for patients.  I’ll skip the excerpt on that, as the fact that you’re here instead of Palin’s facebook page means you get that.  It does go on to talk about the potential political fall-out, which intrigued me:

“While we are very happy with the result, we won’t be shouting it from the rooftops because we aren’t out of the woods yet,” Mr. Blumenauer’s office said in an e-mail in early November to people working with him on the issue. “This regulation could be modified or reversed, especially if Republican leaders try to use this small provision to perpetuate the ‘death panel’ myth.”

Moreover, the e-mail said: “We would ask that you not broadcast this accomplishment out to any of your lists, even if they are ‘supporters’ — e-mails can too easily be forwarded.”

The e-mail continued: “Thus far, it seems that no press or blogs have discovered it, but we will be keeping a close watch and may be calling on you if we need a rapid, targeted response. The longer this goes unnoticed, the better our chances of keeping it.”

In the interview, Mr. Blumenauer said, “Lies can go viral if people use them for political purposes.”

There’s the rub.  So, do Republicans bring back this cynical death panel non-sense or find a new target?  Or was that just an effective ploy in trying to prevent the law, but less so in the future political maneuvers they’ll attempt of de-funding, etc.  If they bring back the death panel nonsense after its been so thoroughly debunked, it will be quite clear just what their “moral values” are (i.e., more suffering for terminally ill patients).

Finally, I would be remiss as a Political Science professor if I didn’t point out that this whole episode also shows how important political control of the bureaucracy can be.  There’s a lot that can be accomplished simply through changing bureaucratic regulations, regardless of legislation (next up, EPA regulation of carbon emissions).


Presents of 2010

I’ve been inspired by Big Steve to do a post on the presents I received in 2010.  Let’s start with my actual Christmas presents.

  • Telephoto lens for my DSLR.  I’ve gotten really into photography this year and it’s great to finally have a serious telephoto lens.  I’ve been disappointed in the depth of field I’ve been able to achieve with the standard lens, and even on the back of the camera I can now see I’ve just needed this lens.
  • Aston Villa long-sleeve jersey.  I’ve been a big soccer fan for a long time, but I watched a ton of this Summer’s World Cup and was not ready to give up watching high-quality soccer.  I’ve started watching English Premier League games this season and it has greatly enhanced my Saturday and Sunday mornings.  Aston Villa is one of my favorite teams (along with Arsenal and Tottenham), but I like their jersey the best.

And the non-Christmas presents

  • Sarah.  We seem to be adjusting surprisingly well to four kids.  I’m really enjoying having another kid.
  • CASL Boys U11 Blasters.  I had no intention of being a head soccer coach for a bunch of 10-year old boys after a scant one season as a 2nd assistant coach, but when David’s league needed another coach, I figured why not me.  I had an absolute blast with a great group of kids.  Huge learning curve.  My major goal was simply not to be a bad coach and therefore do a disservice to the kids. I’m pretty sure I accomplished that.  Really looking forward to getting back to it in the Spring.
  • The NCSU Teaching Award.  I really don’t want to be brag-y and I am truly sure there’s plenty of great teachers who’ve never won an award, but anybody knows me knows just how important teaching is to me.  Thus, it was incredibly rewarding and validating to be recognized for my work in the classroom.  I’m convinced I’ve got the greatest job in the world.
  • Obamacare.  Sure, lets throw in some politics.  I’ve become quite the health care policy wonk in recent years, and though the ACA is certainly far from perfect, it is nonetheless hugely important legislation and I was most definitely hugely emotionally invested in this.  More Americans will have access to decent health care and that’s undoubtedly a good thing.
  • Friends and family.  It’s cliche, but I’m a really happy person and as I like to quote Coach K “it’s all about the relationships.”  I’ve got a lot of good ones that I’m thankful for (including some of you reading this).
  • Readers.  The fact that you are reading this.  Thanks!  I love the feedback I get and it certainly is nice to know that somebody other than my wife (who does actually read my blog despite her minimal interest in politics– although she’s known to skim most posts) cares about my musings and meanderings.

Merry Christmas

to all.  And to all a good night.

Social desirability and church attendance

Given that today and tomorrow mark the time of year where millions and millions of Americans will make their sole or (semi-annual) visit to church, it’s the perfect time to share this fascinating piece from Shankar Vedantam.  One largely unquestioned bit of research I’ve been teaching my classes for years is that Americans are much more religious than citizens of other modern democracies.  Turns out, though, we only say we are much more religious.  Turns out there’s huge social desirability effects in America (but not so these other countries) when we ask people about their church attendance.  Vedantam:

Two in five Americans say they regularly attend religious services. Upward of 90 percent of all Americans believe in God, pollsters report, and more than 70 percent have absolutely no doubt that God exists. The patron saint of Christmas, Americans insist, is the emaciated hero on the Cross, not the obese fellow in the overstuffed costume.

There is only one conclusion to draw from these numbers: Americans are significantly more religious than the citizens of other industrialized nations.

Except they are not.

Beyond the polls, social scientists have conducted more rigorous analyses of religious behavior. Rather than ask people how often they attend church, the better studies measure what people actually do. The results are surprising. Americans are hardly more religious than people living in other industrialized countries. Yet they consistently—and more or less uniquely—want others to believe they are more religious than they really are.

What’s really interesting then, is what this says about the psyche of the average American compared to the average European on matters of religion.   Clearly, it’s got something to do with a sense of religion and personal identity:

Why do Americans and Canadians feel the need to overreport their religious attendance? You could say that religiosity for Americans is tied to their identity in a way that it is not for the Germans, the French, and the British. But that only restates the mystery. Why is religiosity tied to American identity?

Good question.  Surely (as speculated in the article), our unique history is involved to some degree.  Regardless, I do think it is still really telling us something that Americans a) place a greater importance on religious identity regardless of their belief and behavior; and b) they clearly feel that this is something where the socially desirable thing to do is to overemphasize their religiousity.  If I was a Sociologist, I’d be all over this.  As a political scientist, I wonder if there’s something there with the religious right worth investigating.  Anyway, interesting stuff.  And it will definitely change the way I teach about the uniqueness of American political culture.

Oh, and Merry Christmas.

Dog Training

Anybody who’s come over and met my dog Sasha knows I’m no expert on dog training, but I found this article on changing patterns in the general approaches to the matter to be quite interesting.  I read a Cesar Millan book, and though I don’t have enough follow-through to have been particularly effective, his approach certainly makes the most sense to me.  Dogs are wolves.  Basically, perpetually adolescent wolves, but wolves none the less (the fact that they can still easily interbreed is telling you something).  We know wolves have evolved a very specific social structure with alpha wolves.  It only makes sense that the human is thus the leader of the pack and should act accordingly.  Sure, you should be nice to your dog and show it plenty of love and affection, but when it comes to having your dog obey and understand its role in your home, the human needs to be the alpha (or so it seems to me).  This past summer David watched a bunch of a show on Animal Planet called “It’s me or the dog.”  More often than not, it seemed that the problems with severely misbehaving dogs boiled down to owners who completely let their dog run the household.  Obviously, that doesn’t meant that positive reinforcement can’t work at that Cesar’s is the only way to go, but as with being a parent, I don’t think you are doing your dog any favors by simply trying to be their best friend.


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