The best parenting advice

I love David Roberts’ post on parenting advice.  Especially this:

If the David Brookses of the world were honest, their parenting advice would begin: Have a healthy kid, live in an affluent area (with low crime and good schools), be from a socially privileged demographic, and make a decent amount of money. From there on, it’s pretty much coasting.

Check, check, and check.  Look at me– awesome parent ;-).  And my parents, too.  Clearly, very wise of them to be born white, healthy, and middle class.  And some more:

Like any parent, I would love to believe that my awesome kids are a result of my awesome parenting. Sadly, expert opinion indicates it ain’t so. Genes have an enormous influence. Peers and culture have an enormous influence. But parenting styles inside the home, apart from extreme cases like abuse or neglect, have very little long-term influence on a person’s personality or success in life, at least that social scientists have been able to detect. (Vox’s own Matt Yglesias wrote about some of this research recently.)

This isn’t to say parents and parenting aren’t important. Parents supply the genes, except in cases of adoption (or remarriage). They control, at least to some extent, the peers and environments to which children are exposed. And of course they crucially affect a child’s quality of life at home, which, as I will argue shortly, is not some minor detail.

But it’s safe to say that your kids’ long-term fate will not be meaningfully affected by the speed and timing of potty training, the brand of educational videos you purchase, or the precise tone of voice in which you discipline. A large proportion of the Parenting Industrial Complex isn’t about kids — it’s about generating content for nervous parents who feel like they should be doing something.

Another way of putting this same point is that an enormous amount of a child’s fate is determined by luck, by accidents of birth, socioeconomics, and geography. My kids are about the luckiest little bastards on the planet. They were born to stable, reasonably well-adjusted parents who have good jobs, a home in a safe neighborhood, and a large reservoir of social capital upon which to draw. (Their parents were lucky, too, in other words.) They were born healthy and haven’t been injured or suffered serious illness. They have parents who haven’t divorced, or been laid off, or faced a serious health crisis. They attend good schools alongside the children of other educated, engaged parents. They are white males, with all the advantages, seen and unseen, that come along with that. [emphasis mine]

If any one of those things had been different, parenting would be a greater challenge, no matter my parenting style. I don’t have the standing to offer any wisdom to the single mother working two jobs. I know very little about the struggles of raising children with serious mental or physical disabilities. I’ll never have to have the kinds of conversations about hatred and vulnerability that every parent of minority or LGBTQ children eventually must.

Also, seems like a good time to plugSelfish Reasons to Have More Kids (which I haven’t done in a while).

And, as long as I’m on parenting.  Maybe, you need to parent more like a Cameroonian farmer.  From NPR:

Now for the first time, there’s a study reporting on what happens when psychologists give the marshmallow test to kids outside Western culture, specifically 4-year-old children from the ethnic group Nso in Cameroon.

“The Nso are a community who live off subsistence farming, mainly corn and beans,” says Bettina Lamm, a psychologist at the Universitaet Osnabrueck, who led the study. “Most of the children live in mud brick houses without water and electricity. They have to work a lot to take care of younger siblings and help their parents on the farm.”

Guess what? These kids rocked the marshmallow test.

“The difference was huge,” Lamm says. “The Cameroonian kids really behave very differently, and they were able to wait much better.”

Lamm and her colleagues ran the experiment on nearly 200 Cameroonian and German kids. The Cameroonian kids were offered a puff-puff — a little doughnut popular there.

Compared to German children in the experiment, the Cameroonian kids waited, on average, twice as long for the second treat. And way more Cameroonian kids — nearly 70 percent — waited the full 10 minutes to snag the second marshmallow. Only about 30 percent of the German kids could hold out, Lamm and her team reported in the journal Child Development in early June…

Lamm says they don’t know exactly why the Cameroonian kids were so good at the marshmallow test. Kid behaviors are complicated and sophisticated. But one reason may be the Nso parenting style, which is completely different than Western parenting.

“Nso children are required very early to control their emotions, especially negative emotions,” Lamm says. “Moms tell their children that they don’t expect them to cry and that they really want them to learn to control their emotions.”

This parenting style starts very early — when children are newborns.

“The moms breast-feed their babies before they start to cry so they don’t need to express any negative emotion,” Lamm says. “This emotion is already regulated before it’s expressed.”

Western moms spend a lot of time looking at their babies for signals to figure out what their babies need. The Nso moms don’t do this.

“They believe they — the moms — know what is good for a baby, and they do what is good for a baby,” Lamm says. “They don’t need to look for signals from the baby.”

As the children get older, this parenting style continues.

“Kids are really expected to learn to control their needs and not ask for their desires or wishes,” she says.

Given the amount of whining and negative emotion that comes from my kids, I just may be the opposite of a Cameroonian farmer.  But, at least I gave them good genes and good socio-demographics.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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