Thursday, August 25, 2011

Nature vs. Nurture

I was listening to a Freakonomics podcast on parenting that I am positive that almost everyone I know will disagree with one or many points made in podcast.   A variety of studies were reviewed in both twins and adoption settings (where they could isolate as best as possible) the effects of good parenting.  It turns out that for the most part your kids are who your kids are and it is unlikely that any pressure of piano lessons, fancy pre-schools or athletic leagues will help your kids chances for success.

I also thought it was interesting (as a post- over programmed child) that many of the parent economist interviewed still engage in behavior designed to help your child along in the journey-- organic diets, lessons, weekend trips to the museum. . . maybe an insurance policy in case the data doesn't net out?

I was thinking about my own over programmed childhood-- my mom was big on "Experience".  Experience is code for: I took a lot of lessons.   I don't think she ever thought that my taking Karate (for a 2 week trial) that I would gain discipline which would eventually lead me to college and a good work ethic.  But I do think that exposing us to a variety of experiences and people has rubbed off on me on some level.   I like to do things and I like to learn.    I am not sure if it made my mom a better parent or me a better adult but it did add something to my approach to experimentation and whimsy.

I have often thought about how I will parent once I get to those stages and I don't intend to change a whole lot about my upbringing other than to slow it down for my kids. I would still like to keep exposure to a lot of activities high and commitment (fairly) low and support through the roof.  I am not hoping for a professional pianist or a soccer player- but I am hoping James and the futures try a variety of things with enthusiasm.

Check out the podcast or read an excerpt here:

Their findings surprise almost everyone.  Health, intelligence, happiness, success, character, values, appreciation – they all run in families.  But with a few exceptions, adoption and twin researchers find that nature overpowers nurture, especially in the long-run.  Kids aren’t like clay that parents mold for life; they’re more like flexible plastic that responds to pressure, but returns to its original shape when the pressure is released.

The most meaningful exception to this flexible plastic rule is appreciation – how your kids feel about and remember you.  One Swedish study asked middle-aged and elderly twins – some raised together, some raised apart – to describe how their parents raised and treated them.  Twins raised together painted much more similar portraits of their parents than twins raised apart.  If you raise your children with kindness and respect, they will probably remember it for as long as they live.

The upshot: Parents spend too much effort trying to mold their kids for the future, and not enough just enjoying life together.  Vainly struggling to change your kids isn’t fun for you or them.  And the struggle can easily hurt the main outcome where parenting really matters: the quality of the bond between parent and child.  Bryan Caplan

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