Bryan Caplan  

The Point of Stitches

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Tyler says that David Small's graphic novel Stitches is "professionally done but pointless."  I say it's an eloquent illustration of one of the most important exceptions to the behavioral genetic conclusion that parents have little long-run effect on their kids.  The exception: How kids feel about and remember their parents. 

This Swedish twin study, for example, finds that parents leave a lasting impression.  Even when your kids are in their fifties and sixties, they'll remember if you were kind or cruel, warm or cold, encouraging or discouraging.  The article confirms some genetic effect - how your kids remember you depends partly on them.  But unlike many behavioral genetic studies, this one (like several others) confirms a fairly large nurture effect.  Identical twins are only moderately more likely than fraternal twins to see their parents the same way.

So what's the point of Stitches?  The author's parents - especially his mom - failed to show him kindness and respect.  Their treatment did not prevent him from becoming a successful adult.  Yet his parents' cruelty and indifference gave him such horrible childhood memories that he had a whole book's worth of angst to share.  And share he did. 

The lesson: While most mistreated kids won't grow up to write a tell-all book, parents should live by the mantra of "kindness and respect."  It's the right thing to do, it costs you nothing, and the impression you make will stay with your children as long as they live.

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COMMENTS (5 to date)

I aggree with everything except "it costs you nothing" part. I have not finished Tyler's latest book yet, but I think he argues against exactly that kind of reasoning.

William writes:

it costs you nothing

Are you still taking nominations for most ridiculous sentence about economics? Why not just say "the benefits outweigh the costs"? That's at least conceivably true.

Steve Sailer writes:

Even if upbringing has no effect on adult lives, which I doubt, childhood is a big chunk of your child's life, so why not make it a happy chunk?

jb writes:

Partial and William - I guess you're right, I would have more free time if my kids were perpetually in terror of me, and tried to stay as far away from me as possible.

Except that they'd probably do a terrible job with all the chores because of the fear, and I'd have to do them over again, which would suck up all that free time.


Robert Johnson writes:

Like Partial spectator and William, I take issue with "it costs you nothing". Probably the hardest thing about parenting, and the most important, is to continually get up off the couch, suspend/abandon your conversation, put down your book, stop working, etc. to take care of your children's immediate needs. But the benefits DO outweigh the costs. I believe in the theory that children have needs that relate to their developmental stage and must be met or the result is stunted emotional development. The cost of stopping what I'm doing in order to help my child is almost always lower than that.

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