Counter-Intuitive Methods for Parenting Successful Kids

I was reading Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J Dubner and they had a really interesting section on what actually matters (statistically speaking) in parenting and raising smart and successful kids.  I pulled out a few of their points to expand on for our readers, because I think they are fascinating.

What Matters:

1. The child’s parents have high socioeconomic status

Levitt and Dubner proved that the higher the economic status of the parents, the more educated and successful the children.  This is not too much of a leap as typically parents with higher economic status can put their kids in the right schools, programs and get extra help if needed.

2. The child’s mother was thirty or older at the time of her first child’s birth.

I thought this one was very interesting.  I believe women who are 30 and older have more life experience and are might be more settled in careers, homes and finances to provide a great growing environment for their kids. (Yet see 2 below)

3. The parents speak English in the home.

Parents who speak English in the home can help with homework, be involved in the PTA more easily (see number 4) and tend to have higher education in the US (which was another indicator of more successful children).

4. The child’s parents are involved in the PTA.

I think this one is great.  Parents should be involved!  I think there are a few reasons for this fact.  First, parents that are involved in the PTA tend to be around school more, they know the rules and can be a partner in the child’s education.  These parents know teachers and administrators and it is easier for them to get missed work or extra help because they better know the school system.  Plus, parents who are willing to be in the PTA are also more likely to be more helpful with homework, career success and extra curricular involvement which is surely a factor in a child’s academic and future success.

5. The child has many books in the home.

I think this is interesting compared to number 5 below.  Having books in the home matters, yet reading everyday doesn’t? That means that a child could visit the library every week and read books with parents every night before bed, but that would not matter as much as the child being surrounded by 300 books in a language he could not read! I think this must be because being surrounded by books usually implies having parents with higher education and income (both indicators of success) and being surrounded by books puts a subliminal importance on education.

What Doesn’t Matter:

1. The child’s family is intact.

Whew.  I come from a very ‘broken’ home. There is a lot of love, but my mom has been divorced twice, my step mom has been married twice, my step dad has been married and divorced 3 times, I have 2 half sisters, 1 step brother, 1 former step brother, 1 former step sister and 1 former step brother in law.  But seriously. I do.  Whether you have my mess of a reunion, single parent, homosexual parents or adoption, this does not negatively affect a child’s academic or future success!

2. The child’s mother didn’t work between birth and kindergarten.

This might give more fuel to the mom at home, mom at work debaters.  Whether a mom is at home for the youngens or not, does not seem to affect future success.

3. The child’s parents regularly take the child to museums.

I wish this was true because many museums are free and a great way for parents to expose their kids to history and art.  Yet, no importance for later.

4. The child frequently watches television.

This one is a hot topic.  The amount of television watched does not seem to affect or negatively impact future success.

5. The child’s parents read to him nearly every day.

As I mentioned earlier, I think it is crazy that a kid could read every day, but that would not matter as much as being surrounded by untouched books.

Now, these statistics do not mean you should stop taking your kids to the museum, let them watch all of the TV they want and go to the dollar book store to fill your shelves.  It simply means parents should think twice before losing possibly college-tuition paying income to stay at home with the kids.  It also means choosing your battles.  TV doesn’t seem to be so bad, but quality time is always good.

Just something to think about….

3 Responses to “Counter-Intuitive Methods for Parenting Successful Kids”

  1. Lindsay
    March 25, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

    Actually, Levitt said these factors are correlated with “standardized test scores”…not “smart and successful kids”. You made a big jump in your interpretation here.

    Perhaps he should have studied the correlation between test scores and how well the students ultimately are able to support themselves with joyful work, to nurture loving relationships, and to appreciate a life of learning. I believe test scores would not correlate closely with these outcomes, but that some of the factors that “don’t matter” for test scores would matter for these outcomes.


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