Bryan Caplan  

10 More Things I Learned in My First 10 Years of Parenting

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After I finished my last post, parenting life lessons kept coming to mind.  Ten more:

1. You cannot be a bad spouse and a good parent.

2. Do not let your kids ignore you.  If your words call for a response, immediately make your question more and more blatant until you receive a response.

3. Do not give your kids a good reason to ignore you by being a repetitive windbag.

4. Do not change your parenting decisions in response to your kids' complaining, repeated requests, or other rent-seeking.  Caplan family motto: "Complaining gets you nowhere in this family."

5. If you lack the willpower to resist your kids' rent-seeking on an issue, magnanimously give them what they would have extracted from you under duress.  You won't get your way, but at least you won't blatantly reinforce their bad behavior.

6. At minimum, behavioral economics accurately describes children's behavior: myopia, the endowment effect, availability bias, the works. 

7. Other parents are pathological hazers.  Ignore them.  The average parent is probably less happy than the average non-parent, but being average is a choice.

8. "To have kids" or "Not to have kids" are the fundamental lifestyle options.  Once you have your first child, the marginal cost of another child is small.  By the age of two, a pair of twins is often easier than a singleton.

9. T.V. is your friend - and if you think T.V. rots the brain, you aren't searching hard enough for good shows.  The Simpsons is at least as good as Shakespeare.

10. Reduce the ambition of your family vacations until you have zero desire to scream at your kids or your spouse.  The memory of one bad parental fight can easily overwrite a child's memory of an otherwise magical week.

Bonus lesson: "I'm your parent, not your friend" should mean "I'll treat you better than any friend ever will" - not "I'll treat you worse than any friend will ever dare."

To close on a sad note: Show zero tolerance for irresponsible driving, and don't worry about being "fair" when you confiscate car keys.  Driving is the most dangerous activity young people in our society engage in, the accident rate is highly responsive to choice, and the real world often refuses to give a high-risk driver a second chance.


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COMMENTS (33 to date)
Nicholas Weininger writes:

"Once you have your first child, the marginal cost of another child is small."

Says a man who has never priced three-bedroom houses in San Francisco.

Martin Spencer writes:

You obviously assent to the idea that children must be beholden to their parents wishes under a kind of benevolent dictatorship (see point 7 of your previous list).

However you later say that parents should be like an amazing friend (see your bonus lesson in this list).

These ideas seem incongruent. How do you reconcile them??

IK writes:

Dear Bryan,

Under point 7 it seems you are implying a relationship between parents and children that resembles a benevolent dictatorship. How does that go together with your bonus lesson?

Charlie writes:

I'm not a parent. Can you give an example of point 2?

Joel writes:

if you think T.V. rots the brain, you aren't searching hard enough for good shows.

I'll admit there are good shows (I agree with you about the first N seasons of The Simpsons), but even so I suspect that TV-watching is *bad* for developing brains. The science isn't totally clear, but it's plausible enough for me. I disconnected my TV when my daughter was born, and I've never regretted it.

chipotle writes:
The Simpsons is at least as good as Shakespeare.

I'm glad you wrote this sentence. It has convinced me that I never have to take you seriously again.

dcp writes:

"8. "To have kids" or "Not to have kids" are the fundamental lifestyle options. Once you have your first child, the marginal cost of another child is small. By the age of two, a pair of twins is often easier than a singleton."

Genuinely curious - why is this? What if I want to send my children to private schools? What if I don't want to pile 'em high in bunk beds in the same room?

I know a lot of your point is that this won't affect their lifetime intelligence, earnings, etc. but even granting that it probably will affect their happiness before they leave home. I've met people who have been bitterly resentful that they never had their own room or went to a good school - even if they're wrong to think it dramatically affected their later life.

an1 writes:
"The Simpsons is at least as good as Shakespeare"

Even if you actually think this is true, you'd be better off keeping statements like this to a minimum in your education book. People won't take it seriously otherwise.

Ritwik writes:

" being average is a choice."

Parenting style does not have a genetic component?

Warren writes:

About driving; by the time your youngest is 16 we could all have driverless cars and that point will (hopefully) be irrelevant.

RPLong writes:

I don't own a TV, and I think television is about as vicious a brain-rotting drug as anything.

...But my wife learned to speak Hindi by watching TV as a child. So I guess it can't be all bad.

Michael writes:
chipotle writes:
The Simpsons is at least as good as Shakespeare.
I'm glad you wrote this sentence. It has convinced me that I never have to take you seriously again.

I agree, The Simpsons is strictly better than Shakespeare.

Ken B writes:

As for driving ... I am under the distinct impression that kids -- 16 to 22 I mean -- are more serious and responsible about driving than my generation was. My step daughters, who lost friends to (older) drunk drivers and their entire circle have their own zero tolerance policy, socially unquestionable. They would no more have a single drink and drive than parade naked down main street.

Nickolaus writes:

Correction: The Simpsons was as good as Shakespeare through Season 9. After that it has been as good as Twilight.

Finch writes:

> 4. Do not change your parenting decisions in
> response to your kids' complaining, repeated
> requests, or other rent-seeking. Caplan family
> motto: "Complaining gets you nowhere in this
> family."

I've generally agreed with your points. Shakespeare was good because he was better than what came before, not because he was better than anything that's come since, like the Simpsons.

But I wondered about this one. In my experience, sometimes the child is right, and it does make sense to listen and be thoughtful. You can (and usually will) still disagree and implement your own plan, but it's worth considering the child's thoughts. Change your mind once in the face of a child's reasoned argument and they'll accept it better later when you listen but don't change your mind.

Finch writes:

> "Once you have your first child, the marginal
> cost of another child is small."

> Says a man who has never priced three-bedroom
> houses in San Francisco.

The bunk bed is a wonderful invention. Don't let classism or signalling get in the way of your life.

Jardinero1 writes:

To those who take issue with the Shakespeare/Simpsons comparison. How much Shakespeare have you read, listened to, watched? Stand and be counted!

I don't like Shakespeare, not because it's not good; on that, I have no opinion. I don't like it because it is not written in English and I don't understand it.

Noah Yetter writes:

As a parent of one small child, I flatly reject #8. The marginal cost of a second child would be lower, yes, mainly because I/we would simply be enduring the pain rather than also constantly surprised by it. That is, we would be used to it. But "lower" is not equal to "small".

Marginal tax rates being what they are, it is often that case that even a second child makes working outside the home unprofitable for mothers. A third does in almost all cases, unless free family-provided day care is available. If a mother prefers to stay home with the kids this is not a big deal. If she finds that lifestyle maddening, it IS a big deal.

It affects dad's lifestyle too. Currently I have some limited scope for engaging in activities of my choice between the hours of "get home from work" and "kid's bedtime". With two children that scope would be zero (the experience of my friends with 2+ children confirms this). Similarly the scope for "eating a nice dinner out", "taking a sans-children vacation", and even "leaving the house" all shrink substantially.

Y'know as I type this, it occurs to me that the combination of a professor's flexible (not to mention minimal) work schedule, and/or an unusually child-happy or subservient wife (pure speculation), may be warping your perspective.

Finch writes:

> Marginal tax rates being what they are, it is
> often that case that even a second child makes
> working outside the home unprofitable for
> mothers. A third does in almost all cases, unless
> free family-provided day care is available. If a
> mother prefers to stay home with the kids this is
> not a big deal. If she finds that lifestyle
> maddening, it IS a big deal.

This is a really good point. I make the argument that both genders way overvalue careers, but I understand that reasonable people can differ.

A nanny that can take care of a large family for you is expensive enough to price out working (especially when combined with punitive taxation for families) for all but top income women when they have several small children.

Andrew writes:

#9

Dora the Explorer via Netflix taught my 2 year old to count to 20 in Spanish.

Dan Carroll writes:

Generally agree.

#7 - don't compare yourself either. You don't have all of the facts. And your child is different.

#8 - depends on the child. Some are easier than others.

#9 - read/seen both. "Appreciating" one is more about signaling intelligence but is otherwise boring, the other about signaling counter-culture merits but is also funny.

TV is fine, but monitor shows and ensure adequate physical, social, emotional and intellectual stimulation. Varies by child. Ditto for video games.

On the comments:
Agree: The cost of childcare/education does get prohibitive as children multipy. Easier with stay-at-home mom for small children, though nannies are often cheaper than SAHM's if that is a problem. Housing costs are prohibitive in certain zip codes, too, which is why I don't live there.

Tax code and workplace regulations are mostly anti-natalist. Which makes it more expensive and difficult.

Yetter: Don't know many SAHM's that are subservient to their husbands. Usually it is the opposite. They run the house so they are in charge; husbands tag along for the ride.

Don't agree that kids are better drivers today, though some are, especially if they have been exposed to tragedy. Kids brains don't develop proper risk assessment until college or later.

Ken B writes:
"The Simpsons is at least as good as Shakespeare"
Bryan does not disdain The Simpsons. Conclusion: The Simpsons was created in his lifetime.
Matt C writes:

> Once you have your first child, the marginal cost of another child is small. By the age of two, a pair of twins is often easier than a singleton.

Heh. I see your little "by the age of two" qualifier there. Our second infant was at least easier than our first, but hardly easy.

> 9. T.V. is your friend - and if you think T.V. rots the brain, you aren't searching hard enough for good shows.

How about a list of your favorite TV shows? My wife and I are always on the lookout for a good new series. If you post about this, I'll chip in my own list in the comments.

Ben Southwood writes:

Subjective opinion:

The Simpsons seasons two to nine give me a similarly valued aesthetic experience to some Shakespeare plays in my experience.

Philo writes:

You wrote: "Complaining gets you nowhere in this family." But another phrase for ‘complaining’ is ‘petition for redress of grievances’. It shouldn’t be automatic that this gets you nowhere.

Arthur_500 writes:

I have felt that many of life's answers are found in economics. Parenting creates a variety of situations in which everything is not possible and economics has been a great guide.

One responder stated the idea of parenting as a benovelent dictator. I believe that could be one intrepretation but respect is another. I suppose it depends on the parent and how the child understands the message.

Although I do not feel subservient to the waitress in the restaurant, I do respect her and what she offers to me. She, in turn, will show respect to me as a customer. I am neither a benevolent dictator nor subservient to her. Rather we respect that each of us might want something and the other can help us to acquire it.

Kevin Monk writes:
"The Simpsons is at least as good as Shakespeare"

Why is this controversial?

Personal preference aside, on a purely numerical basis it seems likely that the best writers who have ever lived are either alive today or within the last 200 years. Therefore the best of our contemporary writers are better than Shakespeare. Firstly, it's estimated that ~7% of everyone who has ever lived is alive today. Secondly, the tools of production have been democratised to an extent where the pool of talent competing to be "the best" is much greater now than at any point in history. Broadly speaking, before 1800 people were illiterate farm workers with no access to candle light; nevermind Wordpress.

Shakespeare is one of the greatest writers to have ever lived in the same way that Kim Jong Il is one of North Korea's greatest golfers. I'm sure they have better golfers and an equivalent of Gangnam's PSY but they're probably breaking their back in a paddy field somewhere.

The Wire > South Park > The Simpsons > David Mamet > Chaucer > Shakespeare

David Friedman writes:

"Do not change your parenting decisions in response to your kids' complaining, repeated requests, or other rent-seeking."

Still more important:

Do change your parenting decisions in response to good arguments against them by your kids.

renfort writes:

Kevin Monk: One counter to that: Shakespeare is basically the most famous author from the entire nearly 1000 year period English existed before the 19th century. Probably the only one most people know. So really he comes from a larger pool than just 'the best writers alive in 1570'. When we look at contemporary writers we don't know which ones are going to stand the test of time.

Another thing about Shakespeare is that it is full of cliches. The extent to which he has moulded our language and culture mean that he will always be more significant in many ways even than 'better' contemporary writers who haven't had time to make much long term impact, or who are simply lost in the melee.

Ken B writes:

Anyone remember Colley Cibber?
He improved Shakespeare. For this he was much lauded, and his plays much performed. Some would argue that of course he probably did improve Shakespeare; after all he came after Shakespeare. Others might argue that many people are locked into the prejudices and consciousnees of their own time, and that a smug bias in favor of us and against those foolish enough to have died before we were born has been quite common in some cultures, and amongst those who see themselves as the elite. It's hard to judge, but the one test I can suggest is the passage of time.
Anyone remember Colley Cibber?

Kevin Monk writes:
Kevin Monk: One counter to that: Shakespeare is basically the most famous author from the entire nearly 1000 year period English existed before the 19th century.

And Kim Jong Il is one of the most famous and impressive golfers in North Korea from 1994 to 2011. It's less impressive when you realise that he's one of the few that had any golf clubs. Famous? sure. One of the greatest? never.

Liam McDonald writes:

Bryan, I really like this and the other post as well.

I have only 3 rules in my house.
1/ No Lying
2/ No Telling
3/ Always stick up for the family even when they're wrong

Rule #3 is by far the hardest to follow.

Though I feel there is one thing I learned and by pure chance. Alsways speak to your children as a you would have someone speak to you.

sourcreamus writes:

7. What is a pathological hazer?

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