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It always interests me the many conclusions “experts” draw about parenting.  From  month to month they say completely different things, often contradicting what was previsouly established as the best parenting practices.  In all honesty it all sounds like a load of bullshit to me.  Freakonomics jumps on this disbelief and attempts to draw its own conclusions from data rather than theoretical speculation.

Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study (ECLS) the authors point out eight factors that, through regression analysis, are positively correlated with academic performance upon entering elementary school:

  1. Parents have a high level of education
  2. Parents have a high socioeconomic status
  3. The child’s mother was thirty or older at the time of first child’s birth.
  4. The child had low birth weight
  5. The child’s parents speak English in the home
  6. The child is adopted
  7. The child’s parents are involved in the PTA
  8. The child has many books in the home.

These eight factors were found to have no correlation:

  1. The child’s family is intact.
  2. The child’s parents recently moved to a better neighborhood.
  3. The child’s mother did not work between birth and kindergarten
  4. The child attended Head Start
  5. The child’s parents regularly take him to museums
  6. The child is regularly spanked
  7. The child frequently watches television
  8. The child’s parents read to him every day.

Do you see a pattern?  Generally speaking, the eight factors of influence detail who a parent is rather than what a parent does.  This seems to turn conventional theory  of importance in parenting on its head.  So does this mean parenting style really is of little importance?  Despite the evidence here, that does not appear to be the case.

Using data from two adoption studies in the United States and one in Britain economist Bruce Sacerdote analyzed the impact of adopting parents.  His results initially mimic those presented above, showing lower test scores for adopted children.  This would seem to prove the role of genetics outweighed the fact that adoptive parents we generally higher educated and more wealthy.  However, by the time the adopted children became adults this couldn’t be further from the truth: Based on a comparison to similar children who were not adopted the adopted children were far more likely to attend college and earn higher wages than would have been predicted by their IQ alone.

For me personally these findings by no means provide a satisfying alternative to the speculative bullshit and “scientizing” of parenting I see and hear all the time.  However, I do think the insight into the nature of things is important.  I am confident my children will be successful.  It may be because I am intelligent and educated.  It may be because I will only be happy marrying someone of similar intellect and education who can challenge and support me.  It may be because more than anything else I want to be a great dad and I will read to my children and participate in their lives.  I don’t know the answer to why they will succeed, but I know they will.  And I’m not going to stop trying to help those children who need inspiration and motivation just because some “experts” say it is of little consequence.  It can’t possibly hurt, and it definitely feels right!

Shout-out to all the great parents out there!  Your children appreciate you, even if they don’t know it yet 😉