Bryan Caplan  

Can Billions of Parents Be Wrong?

Best Ridicule of the Week... Medicare and Overfishing...
In the comments, Gary asks the $10,000 question:
Bryan, I'm mostly on board with Judith Harris's hypothesis, but one thing bothers me: why do parents believe so strongly that they can influence their children? Perhaps parents' intense efforts at influencing their children has some informational value about the parental profitability of such behavior.
This is a challenge for me, too, because my previous book argues that people tend to make the biggest mistakes in areas like politics and religion where the private cost of error is very low.  When parents falsely believe that they have to break their backs to raise decent human beings, though, the private cost is quite high.  Ever looked into the eyes of an exhausted parent at Tae Kwon Do?  The horror!  The horrror!

So how can billions of parents be so wrong about something so privately important? 

Here's my best answer: The nature-nurture question is intrinsically hard.  Until twin and adoption studies came along, there was really no way to even start to resolve it.  What's more, with the benefit of twin and adoption studies we have discovered that intrinsic difficulty is only the first stumbling block.  For the nature-nurture question first-hand observation actually turns out to be directly misleading.

How so?  One of the big lessons of twin and adoption studies is that the short-run effects of parenting are much bigger than the long-run effects.  So when a parent nags a kid and sees immediate improvement, his first-hand observation confirms that nagging works.  It's very tempting to infer that the difference between an average kid and a great kid is several thousand hours of nagging. 

What twin and adoption studies have taught us, though, is that nagging isn't cumulative.  It's not like trying to hold back the ocean by building a sea wall brick by brick until it's high enough to get the job done.  It's more like building a sea wall out of sand - you have to keep building just to stay in place.  And once your kids grow up and start making their own decisions, the tide comes in whether you like it or not.  Or as I've put it before:
Instead of thinking of kids as lumps of clay that parents "mold," we should think of kids as plastic that flexes in response to pressure - and springs back to its original shape once the pressure goes away.
To repeat myself, though, the glass is half-full.  You have little effect on your kid's long-run prospects, but most kids' long-run prospects are still bright.  If you're the kind of parent who reads econ blogs, your kids' prospects are probably very bright indeed, because they're going to painlessly inherit your brains, charm, good looks, and modesty.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (37 to date)
Babinich writes:

"Instead of thinking of kids as lumps of clay that parents "mold," we should think of kids as plastic that flexes in response to pressure - and springs back to its original shape once the pressure goes away."

Please define original shape.

HispanicPundit writes:

I have a different question and I was hoping you can answer it as well.

The claim that parents have little to no long term effect on their children is true assuming one stays within the realms of middle class culture. In other words, there is some minimum effort parents must perform in order for effort to have minimal effect.

If you disagree, what do you think about the new book by Richard E. Nisbett, a prominent cognitive psychologist who teaches at the University of Michigan, who writes:

"As Nisbett observes, “adoptive families, like Tolstoy’s happy families, are all alike.” Not only are they more affluent than average, they also tend to give children lots of cognitive stimulation. Thus data from them yield erroneously high estimates of I.Q. heritability. (Think: if we all grew up in exactly the same environment, I.Q. differences would appear to be 100 percent genetic.) This underscores an important point: there is no fixed value for heritability. The notion makes sense only relative to a population. Heritability of I.Q. is higher for upper-class families than for lower-class families, because lower-class families provide a wider range of cognitive environments, from terrible to pretty good.

Even if genes play some role in determining I.Q. differences within a population, which Nisbett grants, that implies nothing about average differences between populations. The classic example is corn seed planted on two plots of land, one with rich soil and the other with poor soil. Within each plot, differences in the height of the corn plants are completely genetic. Yet the average difference between the two plots is entirely environmental."

The full review can be found here. What say you?

Arare Litus writes:


I think you can do better than "You have little effect on your kid's long-run prospects, but most kids' long-run prospects are still bright. If you're the kind of parent who reads econ blogs, your kids' prospects are probably very bright indeed, because they're going to painlessly inherit your brains, charm, good looks, and modesty."

The results support ~ 50% genetic factors, but also seem to support the traditional view that peoples personal responsibility and efforts are important (as the other ~ 50% seem to be due to what one learns and earns from their environment):

This seems to be a very positive and important aspect, and one that fits with the classic view of personal responsibility and potential.

Mike Hammock writes:

I suppose this suggests that parents who adopt from the foster care system (or anywhere, for that matter) can expect to have nearly zero impact on the long-run well-being of their adopted children as well. That's pretty depressing.

Larry writes:

Much of the original shape isn't inherent in the child, nor is the child even temporarily reshaped.

Instead, they learn two-facedness. They present one face to the parents and often a completely different one to their siblings and peers. The peer face is the real face...

David Jinkins writes:

Arare: Harris argues quite convincingly that while "environment" matters, "parenting" mostly doesn't. I highly recommend her book, in which she makes the case that the environmental influence on children's personality is largely their peer group (i.e. other kids). Parenting matters mostly to the extent that parents decide where their kids live and with whom they go to school.

Can't wait for the book, Bryan. This sequence of blog posts is already providing great talking points for conversations with my wife :)

Rich writes:

Bryan, I'm normally a big fan, but in this case I don't think that your explanation makes sense. Evolution does not require an intellectual pathway or proof in the form of a scientific study in order to select for behavior. There is presumably some natural variation in how much care parents are predisposed to provide, and given that such care has an opportunity cost (presumably in terms of either having more offspring or possible providing greater material benefits or bequests to existing offspring and thus increasing their survival and reproduction expectations), one would expect parents who are predisposed to provide less care would outproduce those who are predisposed more care. The evolutionary mechanism works regardless of the ease or difficulty of designing an appropriate experiment to test the hypothesis.

You may believe that we are not naturally predisposed to provide excessive parental care, but this is something that we have been conditioned into by society in recent (non-evolutionary) timescales, but if so I don't think that you say so in your post.

Gary writes:

Bryan, I just re-read Robert Trivers's Parent-Offspring Conflict paper, and I wonder if we're too quick to assume that parental nagging is an effort to benefit children.

The many reasons parents might want to influence their kids may help explain those instances where it is ineffective, as well as why the effects it does have don't last.

Babinich writes:


"When parents falsely believe that they have to break their backs to raise decent human beings, though, the private cost is quite high. Ever looked into the eyes of an exhausted parent at Tae Kwon Do?"

What does Tae Kwan Do have to do with raising an ethically sound individual?

Raising decent human beings and having an effect on your kid's long-run prospects are not identical goals.

Albert writes:


You certainly are greatly overgeneralizing here. The literature only shows that parents have barely any affect on the PERSONALITY of the child. Skills are obviously different and your example points it out. A child who is taken to Tae Kwon Do repeatedly by an exhausted parent will wind up growing into an adult that knows Tae Kwon Do. Even though his personality may be the same whether or not his parents took him took the class, his attributes and skills will certainly be different. And of course this argument applies to a host of other important aspects such as: education, ethics, etc.

In summary, parenting definitely affects the future success of a child (even though they can't change the underlying personality of the child).

Unfortunately, sometimes the exhaustion of being a parent is necessary.


jb writes:

Yes, taking the kid to TKD will result in a kid that knows TKD. But it is does not follow that knowing TKD will affect the future success of the child.

If I understand Bryan's point, it is that whether you take your kid to TKD or not, it has no measurable impact on the kids' future success either way.

Troy Camplin writes:

Let me reword his question: why did human beings *evolve* to believe they have a huge influence on their children? Nature does not expend energy at such a high rate for nothing. Such high-energy expenditures would have been selected against in favor of "lazier" parenting if this belief did not result in something. That, at least, is why my instinct is that Harris is fundamentally wrong somewhere. One must reconcile her claims with our evolved parenting behaviors.

Albert writes:


Tae Quan Do is obviously a simple example to show that parents do have clear effects on a child. Let's do a thought experiment. Take two identical twins separated at birth, both with high IQs. The first goes into a family where education doesn't matter. The second goes to a family where they nudge the kid constantly to do 3 hours of homework a night.

The first kid winds up going to a community college and getting some sort of average job. The second goes to Harvard and winds up with a high powered education and a high paying job. (I'm not saying that one outcome is intrinsically better than the other. However, the outcomes are completely different.)

At the end of the day when both kids are 30 years old and take a personality test, they wind up having extremely similar personalities and temperaments. But regardless what the personality tests show, you can't tell me that the parents didn't have a huge impact on the child's long-run prospects.


eccdogg writes:

"Yes, taking the kid to TKD will result in a kid that knows TKD. But it is does not follow that knowing TKD will affect the future success of the child. "

What about teaching a child to read?
Or take baths and brush his teeth?
Or do math?
Or say please and thankyou.
Or even self reliance (we have all known children spoiled by their parents never making them do anyting hard)

Most of these skills are taught and they have big payoffs down ther road.

While I think Bryans point is probably valid at the margins of middle class society and is worth hearing there are definitely some skills passed from parents to children and boundary cases make this clear.

Arare Litus writes:


"Parenting matters mostly to the extent that parents decide where their kids live and with whom they go to school."

I had started reading the book, and had to put it back on my "too read" pile, so I'm basically arguing from a vacuum (I only read the first 1-2 chapters) - but from the interviews and essays I've read from Harris, and commentary/essays on this blog, and some general thinking I would say that parents do something very important that you suggest: they structure and limit choices.

This includes food, study habits, what you can watch on TV, and much more - up to large ones like where you live (and thus the peer group).

I will simply say this - selection of "good" choices is good, and will have an impact. Think about **opportunity cost**. If the kid eats something healthy and brushes their teeth and is involved in sports and read they will have something that some kid who eats junk and doesn't brush their teeth and watches TV - namely experiences that they learn from, and a decently healthy body and mind. Even if nothing else is gained this is huge, for it gives that kid a big head start: both in current "location", and in experiences and mindset that *they* will have learned "from their peers". A kid raised on junk options will have a sparse and poor experience to learn from and grow in.

Harris points to the importance of ones environment & genes in development - and backs it up with evidence from the literature - but how is this different than the classic view of humans? That we have traits from family, and that we learn and grow from our experiences? To me this corresponds with the classic view of humanity, and is very positive.

Of course I will have to read the book to see how Harris makes the claim the parents don't matter - from the simple perspective that parents *are* (well, some are) a "peer" (i.e. someone you interact with) you can see they will have some effect. Sure, this is "diluted out" since they interact with many others and the amount of effect of parents is therefore going to correspondingly smaller - but like teachers they have a stronger influence then mere "face time" would suggest, they structure choices & environment and often make the opportunity cost trade offs for the children.

I personally see Harris' views (at least the ones I've been exposed too) as following in line with both the intuitive view of people, and the classic view. I must read the book to see what she really means when she says "parents don't matter".


"Yes, taking the kid to TKD will result in a kid that knows TKD. But it is does not follow that knowing TKD will affect the future success of the child."

If they use TKD to survive an attack then it will. If they decide to exercise then it will. If it improves their "self esteem" then it will. If it increases their health and then they are stuck with a hard illness and they barely survive, then it did (and there it doesn't even matter if later in life they give up exercise...). If they make a friend in the class that connects them with an great job it will.

Again, picking to do X that is better than Y will have tend to have some effect on you.

As far as I can tell the motivation behind this work is a response to an extreme position that is widely held in social sciences - that people are blank slates that are determined strongly by their parents. We all heard the "before you are 5 you are set" comment, and see parents driving themselves (and their children) nuts in trying to "create their children". Harris, Bryan, and others have a good point - there is a line of diminishing returns (and further I'd say, crossing that line is actually *negative*, not merely wasted efforts) and there is only so much effect one can have.

Arare Litus writes:

"At the end of the day when both kids are 30 years old and take a personality test, they wind up having extremely similar personalities and temperaments."

Perhaps the literature is simply showing that the personality tests and other metrics used don't measure anything really meaningful? Maybe this is an exercise in demonstrating that better tests are needed?

For example, IQ tells you something, and apparently it is fairly stable, but we have all met people with high IQ's who are basically idiots. They can write an IQ test, and that is about it. Other people with the same score are sharp and clear thinkers. They have the same engine in the car, but one is a much much better driver. Our test might be measuring the engine, which is important, but ignoring the skill with which the engine is put to use. Perhaps parents, peers, and life experiences in general "teach us to drive" - it certainly seems that way.

Bryan read Rothbard's FANL 10X times, by the end he was a changed man and found some things compelling that seemed weak at the beginning. He learned to drive differently, Rothbard showed him something. We all have examples like that, see it all around us. Bryan is quite likely at GMU right now due to Rothbard (Bryan? True?), and as far as I can tell this is his dream come true - a dream he probably didn't even have until he saw the choice and option existed.

Is Harris simply pointing out that we can't change our engine too greatly? And that our tests measure this engine, and sure enough it doesn't change much? Sure, we can all buy this - after all even with the greatest exercise of a muscle there are limits on how it will change. That doesn't mean that change is not significant, and things not measured, say by a bench press, are not also developed in the training process...

Now imagine a young potential Bryan, his parents buy him FANL when he asks - as they value reading and want to encourage this. They structure and encourage some choices. This young Bryan is changed. Yeah, his IQ is likely the same pre & post reading (maybe it gets a little bit higher is he is really changed and starts really studying after this), but his life is changed in a meaningful way. Did his parents "not matter"? Does this IQ measure tell us anything of vivid use? It tells us *something*, but perhaps it is simply not measuring the really significant parts.

Unit writes:

You point to nagging but the same goes for systematic praise and positive reinforcement, right?

Henrico Otto writes:

I think Rich and Troy have framed the puzzle correctly. If you take Harris to be correct you have to explain why/how evolved predispositions to presumably reasonable levels of parental investment, have been overridden to such an extent that we now see pervasive parental over-investment (or give perhaps give some explanation of the evolutionary equilibria, and explain why evolved predispositions would result in over-investement).

floccina writes:

I think that HispanicPundit makes a good point. It may be true that the differences in families for 99% of American families make no difference in outcomes but the 1% can be destructive. E.g. if you lock a child in box and just feed him and remove enough waste to keep him alive even with normal IQ he will end up retarded. The fact may guess is that 99% of parents try to do well by their children. I have noted in the pasted that even more heavy drug addicts make reasonable provision for their children and show love to them.

Zac writes:

I'm on board the behavioral genetics train when it comes to things I think it has a measurable value in explaining: IQ, income, health, even personality. I think an important lesson from behavioral genetics is that constant nagging, worrying, and microparenting are largely fruitless endeavors and parents needlessly inflict self-torture and use the false justification that their actions are necessary to the long-run success of the child.

But I think that is where the point ends. As a parent, you have a significant effect on "intangibles" that I think it would be silly to deny, such as the passing on of cultural memes. As a parent, you'll determine which language(s) your children speak, whether they will follow a religion and which religion they follow. You effect their cultural identity. If Bryan had been adopted in infancy by Old German-speaking strict-Anabaptist communitarian racists, he might have about the same IQ, income, and temperament but I doubt he'd be an atheist, anarchist professor and blogger.

To a large degree, what you do as a parent will determine if your children will actually like you and want to call you when you're 60. The statement "what you do as a parent is meaningless in every respect in the long term" is nonsensical on the face, but that is not the lesson of behavioral genetics.

I'll also note that adopting children from other countries confers all the benefits of immigration to your own country upon them, even though I think the general lesson of behavioral genetics wrt adoption is somewhat bleak.

Colin Fraizer writes:

But why is Bryan nagging us parents to stop nagging? It might work for a while, but I'll soon be back to spending thousands of hours nagging my kids.


Dave writes:

I haven't read the book but I have heard of it and my colleague B mentioned the book and told me a little about it. Although the blurbs always say Harris says "parents don't matter", B never said that. B told me that Harris says parents have a great effect on what kids are like at home, and almost no effect on what kids are like outside the home.

That's a much more nuanced view, and it's a lot easier to square with experience, which says behavior is highly situation-dependent.

The clinical experience of therapists seems to be that parental behavior and effects at home can have profound effects on later relationships. And relationships are a more 'home-like' domain, so maybe that's not at odds with Harris's argument either.

Caliban Darklock writes:

I think of children as flowers.

You can't make a flower grow, let alone bloom. You have to create the environment that will ALLOW them to grow and eventually bloom. If they don't grow enough, they won't bloom, and they're not going to bloom until they're damn good and ready.

Now, you can INFLUENCE the flower's growth and blooming. You can give it specific kinds of soil, varieties of fertiliser, and amounts of water. You can direct the light it receives, so it will grow and ultimately bloom in a certain direction. But you're not really in control... you're simply applying conditions to the existing behaviors of the flower. With a different flower, the same soil and fertiliser and water and light direction may achieve an entirely different result.

And ultimately, no amount of soil, fertiliser, water, and sunlight is going to make a peony into a snapdragon. You have to recognise what you have, and understand the parameters under which you operate. You can nag the peony all you want - via modifications in its environment - and in the end, it will still be a peony. The most you can accomplish with all that work is to create a tortured, anemic peony that could have been a really beautiful peony if you had just STFU and let it grow... instead of trying to make it into a snapdragon.

George writes:

Henrico Otto wrote: have to explain why/how evolved predispositions to presumably reasonable levels of parental investment, have been overridden to such an extent that we now see pervasive parental over-investment...

More time and energy to devote, and fewer kids.

Imagine that our genes incline us to pay as much attention to our kids as we possibly can. This could make sense if our circumstances (farmers with twelve children) left us with so little time and energy per child that over-parenting was impossible. There'd be no reason to evolve "limiting" inclinations.

But we've slipped evolution's lead, and we now have several times as much leisure time, and about a fifth as many kids, leading to something like twenty-five times as much we can be doing for each kid. In this case, our strong inclination to spend time and energy parenting pushes us way too far.

Another way to put it is that evolution never had to deal with our current circumstances.

You could check this idea by looking at cultures or subcultures where large amounts of time are spent farming, and family sizes are large: the Amish, subsistence farmers pretty much anywhere. You could also look at what happens to people in the same culture (presumably ours) when they have more leisure time.

Bob Murphy writes:

I'm sorry Bryan I refuse to believe this. Call me anti-empiricist.

What is the exact claim? You're saying, for example, that if you have a kid who keeps getting in trouble at school, that that information has no predictive value on whether the kid's parents are divorced?

If not, then what exactly do you mean? I assume it means that if you control for 87 different things, then the kid's parents' marital status drops out.

But that's not what you are saying in this blog post. You are saying that parents do not at all affect what their kid is like when he's 50.

I refuse to believe that. That is crazy. That can't be right.

(I rest my case, ha ha.)

In all seriousness, I would love it if you could give a very specific description of what the research finds. E.g. in Freakonomics, I thought there were all sorts of holes in Levitt's anti-parental-influence argument. It was like, "If you tell your kid to read, he won't, but if you yourself read, then your kid will."

Well holy cow, that is still showing that parents influence their kids.

So are you quibbling on this type of detail, or do you really really mean it when you say parents don't influence how their kids turn out?

8 writes:

Lazy parenting works when the other parents, teachers, and culture reinforce the lessons parents want to impart on their children.

eddie writes:

I'm still reading through Harris' first book. But I've read a good bit about it, thanks in no small part to Bryan. I have the following doubts about the bottom-line conclusion that Bryan is making ("You have little effect on your kid's long-run prospects"):

1. Harris' book focuses on personality, not outcomes. Bryan asked Harris about this here and here. She said that shared family environment has virtually no effect on outcomes... but offered no evidence. Maybe the evidence is in her book, and I just haven't gotten there yet? Meanwhile, Bruce Sacerdote has evidence that families do affect outcomes.

2. The evidence for no-family-effect comes from adoption studies. But adoption studies, as HispanicPundit and Richard Nesbitt point out above, may not provide sufficient diversity in families to draw useful conclusions.

3. As Bruce Sacerdote and others point out, the findings that the variation in some quality is is minimally attributable to shared family environment is not really what we're interested in. We're interested in the effects of specific interventions. If I read to my children, or give them sugary foods, or get a divorce... how will that affect their futures, and to what degree? The behavioral genetics studies don't help us answer those questions. Specifically, they don't tell us the answer is "Nothing you do will have any effect." Or even "You have little effect on your kid's long-run prospects" as Bryan puts it.

And finally, a point that I haven't seen fully explored by anyone else yet:

4. The behavioral genetics studies don't show at all that the things you do will have no effect on your children. They show that the things most parents do differently from most other parents don't have much effect.

I doubt anyone would suggest that if you lock your child in the basement for eighteen years there would be no effect on their personality or outcomes. This fact doesn't show up in the studies because (happily) very few parents do that - especially those included in the adoption studies. Similarly, suppose there were a magic pill that made children grow into happy and successful adults. If very few parents knew about this pill, then that also wouldn't show up in the studies.

The things we're looking for don't have to be as extreme as my examples in order to not be discernible in the behavioral genetics studies. I suspect that there really isn't that much variation in family environments, at least not along dimensions that most people would consider important. Most people probably raise their children with sufficiently adequate methods such that most kids turn out about the same. The negative outliers end up on daytime television, and are rare.

But as a parent, I'm not interested in being "good enough". I want to know what the magic pill is. I want my family to be a positive outlier. Tae Kwan Do probably isn't the magic pill, because that's probably both sufficiently common and sufficiently uncommon to show up in the BG studies (i.e. neither the families whose kids do TKD nor those whose kids do not do TKD are rare enough to be outliers). But the BG studies don't rule out the existence of shared family effects that are exceptional and positive. If they do exist, I want to know what they are... and Harris' book doesn't help me.

Bryan's point is "relax - there's no magic pill." But that's a conclusion not supported by the evidence. The evidence only supports the idea that if there is one, most people don't know what it is.

I don't see why I shouldn't try to find one.

divorced dad writes:

For years now I've been reading Bryan's posts on this topic, and no one asks the question that bothers me. If all this is true, why should divorce affect children as it apparently does? If home environment has almost no effect, why should a "broken" home have a significant, measureable effect? I have a daughter who has shown some of the typical behavior problems attributed to divorce. Why should this be?

Zac writes:

@Bob Murphy- "You're saying, for example, that if you have a kid who keeps getting in trouble at school, that that information has no predictive value on whether the kid's parents are divorced?"

That would be a clearly, observably false claim.

A better question is, if you adopt a child and she keeps getting in trouble at school, does that have more predictive value on whether you are divorced or whether the kid's biological parents are divorced?

My guess: the former, but it might be close. After all, in the short term, the emotional distress of a divorce obviously effects a child's behavior. So, a better question: you observe an adult, who was adopted in infancy, who is highly neurotic and disagreeable, leading to relationship issues. Is it more likely that his biological parents or his adoptive parents are divorced?

David Jinkins writes:

Troy, Rich, and Henrico:

In traditional societies there is a lazy attitude towards parental care. Kids basically play outside in their villages all day, and come home to eat, etc. Over-parenting is as evolutionary as obesity and hyper-tension. These are problems that are uniquely modern, so you can't wave your hands and say that hyper-tension must have an evolutionary use.

Troy Camplin writes:

Actually, the modern problems of obesity and hypertension do have evolutionary origins. The environment changed so that what were good adaptations have become maladaptations.

The argument of the environment having let loose the tether is probably more accurate. However, those traditional societies to which you refer are not lazy in parenting -- the parenting is tribally distributed. The entire tribe raises the children, and all adults act as parents to all the children. The modern difference here is that parenting has become almost individualized. Two people are having to do the work of a tribe. From that perspective, the tribal parents look lazy compared to the modern parents, but in fact, they are not. Certainly if our daughter's grandparents and some other relatives lived with us, we could be a lot lazier parents. But they don't, so we can't.

Nooman Haque writes:


I wonder if what's happening is that parents believe that their children are the marginal cases and moreover, that in those marginal cases, parental efforts can be decisive.

Why would parents think that? Well, I'm well educated, read econ blogs, enjoy arts, books etc. etc. but I also had the genes that made me shirk at school; have a propensity to laziness and so on. If I hadn't had the good example of my parents to remember as I matured, would I have turned out this way as an adult?
The research would say, 'probably' but we know that parents would like to be more certain than that.

aretae writes:


You spend a lot of time talking about what we can't do in parenting...I look a little at what we can do, largely from the same theoretical foundation, over at:

Larry Peoples, Sr. writes:

Here are some rules in parenting that I have found to work if used properly and consistently.

Rule #1: Parents always get to make the rules.
Rule #2: Parents should always say what they mean and mean what they say.
Rule #3: I am not my child’s friend – I am his parent.
Rule #4: If you are doing your job as a parent then sometimes your kids will really dislike you.
Rule #5: Parents should not be afraid to be really disliked by their children.
Rule #6: Being disliked by your children does not mean they don’t love you anymore.
Rule #7: It’s OK for your children to fear you sometimes. Discipline and fear go hand in hand. Without fear of punishment society would crumble! (Like it is right now!)
Rule #8: Corporal punishment should always be an option - but not always the first option. (OK Psychologists let me hear it!)
Rule #9: Don’t reward bad behavior.
Rule #10: Learn to say NO and mean it. (Refer to Rule #2)
Rule #11: Rules should be adjusted for the age and understanding of the child.
Rule #12: If there are any questions - see Rule 1.

FYI: I have six children ages 25 through six-years old. Two in the military. Two still in school. One a happy stay-at-home mom. One a six-year-old on his way to being a Major League Baseball Player or a Fireman or a Paleontologist or a Policeman or in the Army

Larry Peoples, Sr. writes:

Oh. One more very important thing I forgot to impart in regards to using these rules. You and your partner must be on the same page when it comes to the discipline of the children.

Or you are pretty much screwed!!!

The Cupboard Is Bare writes:

I believe that people operate on two levels.

Healthy parenting generally results in children who are competent and confident in their abilities and capable of making rational decisions on their own. This increases the likelihood that the child will be more successful in their adult years. So, even if the child's views on politics, religion, etc. should change over the years, the basic foundation upon which their personality is based should remain intact.

By the same token, unhealthy parenting, such as what occurs in homes where there are addictive personalities, can produce children with all sorts of issues...feelings of insecurity, the need to please/placate. For example, children in such situations frequently become mini-adults and, as a result, become the caregivers of their parents. This frequently extends into adulthood and generalizes into their becoming the devoted employee, devoted friend, devoted neighbor, etc. and ad nauseum, until they are overwhelmed with caregiving and yet find themselves unable to say no.

The effects of unhealthy parenting can at times be neutralized by a friend or an adult who is able to provide what the parents cannot.

Patri Friedman writes:

The evolutionary answer is so obvious I have a tough time even seeing this as a puzzle.

Parental happiness means nothing to evolution, kids' success means everything. So finding that parents are willing to put in huge amounts of work for small benefits to their kids shouldn't be surprising at all - it is exactly what we should expect from selfish genes. Why would you expect anything different?

Even if good parenting has only the tiniest positive effect on the kid, it's still worth it from the genes point of view. What do they care about the parents' welfare?

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