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Kevin Geary

Should We Lead Boys & Girls Differently?

Janet Allison from BoysAlive.com joins me to discuss the innate differences between girls and boys and what adjustments we can make as parents and teachers to make sure we’re able to connect with these differences so we can stop leaving so many boys behind.

Inside Look: A Private Revolutionary Parenting Consult with Kevin

Audio Issue Fixed.

We’re making a shift in our approach at RevolutionaryParent.com. In the past, we’ve been strictly focused on education, motivation, and community building. Now, we’re shifting our focus to implementation—rolling up our sleeves and getting into the trenches with parents all over the world to provide guidance on putting the strategies, tactics, and principles we talk about into practice.

Our strategy has two main parts: An online academy that contains online courses focused on solving specific challenges and a private consult platform where parents can schedule a call directly with me to get help on challenges they’re facing.

Since parents may not know how a consult works or the value they will get out of doing one, I offered to do a free consult to a parent in our Facebook group with the goal of publishing the consult as a podcast episode so that everyone could experience what doing a consult is like.

I’m going to expand that to 3 consults and 3 episodes. Every consult is different and goes in a different direction, so I think letting you see the variety will help more with understanding the value.

Like what you heard and think a consult would be of value to you? Click here to schedule one.

I’d love your feedback on this episode. You can post it in the comments section below, email me, or post in the Facebook group.

Preparing Your Kids for a Rapidly Changing Economy with Isaac Morehouse

Isaac Morehouse joins me to discuss the importance of nurturing entrepreneurial skills in your children, protecting them from having their problem solving and innovation skills destroyed by schooling, and the keys to raising children who will be successful in the evolving economic landscape.

This is a highly valuable and engaging discussion with a lot of gold in it. Even if you have no interest in starting or running businesses or raising children who start or run businesses, there are still a gang of takeaways for you and your children in this dialogue.

Mentioned on the show…

The “Age Appropriate” Measuring Stick For Expectations is Broken

Many parent-child struggles are manifested by requests and expectations that are not “age appropriate.” It’s one of the first recommendations parenting “gurus” and “experts” recommend assessing when you’re sailing in troubled waters. While it’s a good concept (better than the normal alternative of expecting too much, too soon), it leaves A LOT to be desired. In fact, it has the potential to be destructive to the relationship.

I’m going to use two examples to help make this case, one smaller one, and one larger one…

Example #1: My almost 4-year-old daughter wanting me to get up and get ketchup out of the fridge for her sausage (and why I did it).

Example #2: A parent wants their 4-year-old to clean up their playroom when they’re done.

Let’s take a look at both of these examples from an “age appropriate” measuring stick and then from the approach that I recommend…

Example #1: My almost 4-year-old daughter wanting me to get up and get ketchup out of the fridge for her sausage (and why I did it).

Is it an “age appropriate” expectation for my daughter to get her own ketchup out of the fridge when I’m in the other room working (I work from home and need few distractions to stay on task)?

For some kids this age, this might not be an age appropriate expectation. In my specific situation, however, we’re talking about a 3-4 year old who gets her own oatmeal out of the pantry, opens the canister, puts the appropriate amount of water in it, pushes a chair over to the microwave, puts it in for 2 minutes, gets the cinnamon out of the cupboard over the stove, and then mixes it and eats it without any assistance.

Can she get ketchup out of the fridge? She gets everything else out of the fridge, so why not? She’s gotten ketchup out of the fridge herself in the past. By all accounts and the historical record, a ketchup deficit is a problem she’s equipped to solve on her own.

So let’s assume I say, “I’m working, you know how to get your own ketchup out of the fridge.” And then she melts down. Or we get into a power struggle where she’s making demands and I’m “holding a limit” because “I know what she’s capable of.” And then she has a meltdown.

Remember, this was an age-appropriate request. And I’m being a “peaceful parent.” I’m not yelling or raging or punishing or shaming or anything else. I’m very matter of fact. But is it the right move? 

Example #2: A parent wants their 4-year-old to clean up their playroom when they’re done.

Is it age appropriate? Many parents will say, “My 4-year-old has cleaned up their playroom before so I know it’s an age appropriate request.” That’s the measuring stick for which many things are determined to be age appropriate or not.

So the parent says, “You know how to clean up your room. I can’t let you play with any more toys until the ones you’ve used are picked up.” And then a meltdown happens. Or a power struggle ensues, followed by a meltdown. Maybe even a parental meltdown.

And once again, this is “peaceful parenting.” The parent is setting limits. The parent is very matter of fact and calm and not punishing or shaming or threatening.

The parents may fear that if they don’t hold this limit, their child will learn that they don’t really have to clean their room. Or the parents fear that if they help clean the room, they’ll always be expected to help and the power struggle will go on indefinitely.

There is legitimacy to those fears. And their request is “age appropriate.” But is it the right move?

The “age appropriate” measuring stick is often too black and white and rationalizes a less productive and less empathetic course of action.

For some reason, the default is to treat children differently than we treat adults. Even for those who have tried to detach from the idea of “training” children and “bringing them up” in the world, there are leftover ideas and feelings that continue to manipulate our choices and tactics.

When my wife or a friend asks me to get up and get the ketchup for her, I’m very unlikely to respond with, “You now how to get your own ketchup out of the fridge.” But she does. She knows. And I know she knows. So it leads me to think, “there must be a reason why she’s asking when she knows she can get it herself.”

Guess what? We can think the same about children. When I stop to ask myself, “why is my daughter asking for this when she’s capable of doing it herself and knows she’s capable of doing it herself?” a lot of insightful doors open.

But we don’t ask that question about kids. Instead, we get consumed with the fear that if we don’t train teach them to get their own ketchup, we’ll be failing as parents. So we stand our ground.

What if my daughter is asking me to get the ketchup for the same reason my wife or friend is asking me to get the ketchup? What if my daughter is asking me to help clean her room for the same reason my wife asks me to get up in the middle of the night with the teething baby when it’s her turn to do so?

Usually, my daughter gets her own ketchup without asking for (or demanding—kids!) my help. Usually, my wife gets up in the night when it’s her turn. So if they’re asking me (or otherwise freaking out), there must be a reason. What is it?

Pro Tip: Sometimes kids ask by melting down or whining. It’s not necessarily a logical, measured attempt at communication.

Instead of assessing whether an expectation is “age appropriate,” let’s start assessing the current PME resources of the human in question.

To be clear, this is a lesson I’ve learned the hard way and one that I’m still learning to this day. I’m a type-A, highly independent only-child. If I wanted something done in the past, I did it myself and I expected the same from others. This usually manifested as not being thoughtful or helpful. I’m not going to go into too much detail, but needless to say that the approach I’m about to outline wasn’t my default. But I’m glad to have figured it out…

The reason my wife may ask me to get the ketchup or get up with the teething baby when in the past she’s gotten her own ketchup and gotten up with the teething baby is because right now, in this moment in time, she’s lacking resources. She might be lacking physical resources—her body is physically too tired, her knees hurt, she has a headache, whatever. She might be lacking mental resources (probably not in this specific situation). Or she might be lacking emotional resources—she has no patience left, she’s drained, she’s starving, she’s stressed to the max, whatever.

My daughter might ask me to get the ketchup for different specific reasons, but all related to the same concept. In other words, she’s capable of getting her own ketchup, but at this particular moment her resources are too exhausted to close the gap and make it happen.

The ketchup seems trivial to me, but to my daughter, it’s the straw that might break her. Getting up in the night when it’s not my turn seems unfair to me, but it might be the straw that breaks my wife at this particular time.

Where my wife might begrudgingly drum up the energy to get her own ketchup if need-be or take the teething child downstairs, children don’t typically have this capacity. When their physical, mental, or emotional (PME) resources are low, it’s a nuclear meltdown. This is why children flip their shit over what seems like the smallest stuff (adults sometimes do this too, btw!).

When PME resources are high, kids are able to meet age-appropriate expectations. When PME resources are low, they’re unable to. So using the measuring stick of “age appropriateness” is a total failure since PME resources are dependent on circumstances that have nothing to do with the expectation.

If you’re in a situation where there’s a struggle or you foresee one, it’s helpful to do a quick PME assessment.

  • Does my child currently have the physical resources to meet my expectations (are there any physical barriers?)?
  • Does my child currently have the mental resources to meet my expectations (are there any intelligence/logic/reason barriers?)?
  • Does my child currently have the emotional resources to meet my expectations (are there are any mood-based barriers)?

This assessment has nothing to do with what your child has previously done. If they’ve cleaned their room 150 times in the past but they want your help right now and you hold the attitude that they need to do it themselves because they’re capable and this is “age appropriate,” then you’re totally missing the human angle. You’re being as detached and unempathetic as if you told your wife, “you’re capable of getting the ketchup yourself.”

So if you do the PME assessment and can put an X in ANY of the boxes, the situation doesn’t have to be about limits and expectations anymore. There doesn’t need to be a power struggle. You’re allowed to be a human who steps in to help another human, even if the task seems menial.

And you know what? You’re still teaching your child a lesson. You’re teaching them to tune in to what’s going on in someone else and to provide a helping hand if you realize that they’re exhausted or otherwise ill-equipped at the present time to tackle a certain task.

My daughter was starving. She was quickly running out of PME resources. I could tell that she just didn’t have it what it would take to push a chair over to the fridge and get the ketchup herself. So I got it for her even though it meant stopping the work I was doing and going to a different part of the house to help her out.

Maybe one day she might do something helpful for me when she realizes my PME resources are low instead of “pushing my buttons” the way so many parents describe…

Revolutionary Parenting Discussion (Kevin on the Isaac Morehouse Podcast)

Listen to Kevin’s discussion with Isaac Morehouse on Revolutionary Parenting where we discuss: praise & punishment, the problems with demanding obedience, respect vs fear, cultivating empathy, tools vs rules, the importance of letting kids fail, modeling, nurture vs nature, and sooooo much more. Lots of gold in this one!

The Viral Popularity of Child Abuse

A grandmother pulls a knife on her grandson in the car. A mom rages at her pre-teen son over his grades and forces him to come get hit even as he prays to God for safety. A mom writes a lengthy post on Facebook of her dumping her kids’ ice cream in the garbage because they forgot to say “thank you.” People cheer on a cop who body slams a young teen girl who won’t get out of her desk. A mom films two school teachers preparing to paddle her child as he begs her for help.

These are just a few examples from the recent rash of viral child abuse videos that seem to be racking up a collective applause on the internet. The videos themselves are tragic enough. The comments, as usual, are even more tragic.

You may feel like some of these examples aren’t child abuse. Most wouldn’t consider throwing your child’s ice cream in the garbage as child abuse. And while that may not be child abuse as its typically defined, publicly shaming your children on social media in exchange for hearts from friends *is* abusive behavior.

It also makes you a hypocrite.

None of these parents want to be publicly shamed, but they’re all too willing to do it to their children. None of these parents want to be assaulted, but they won’t hesitate to hit their kids and film it. None of these parents want to be body slammed by a cop, but they cheer it on when it’s a young teenage girl. None of these parents want their ice cream thrown in the garbage, but it’s a “great lesson for Facebook” when it involves kids.

What drives this? Why is this behavior on the part of parents so encouraged and celebrated that it continually goes viral for all the wrong reasons? Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to…

Many adults are caught in a generation vs generation war. They believe in the “kids-these-days” myth and the “leniency” myth. They want to prove to the world that they’re on Team Adult.

Today’s adults are in an us-vs-them leadership model. Rather than seeing a child as an innocent human being that deserves to be nurtured, children are mostly seen as wild animals that need constant behavior correction to be tamed and domesticated, else they become dangerous.

This is why mainstream parents use operant conditioning tactics, treating their children more like dogs and mice than human beings. This is why children’s lives operate more like contrived mazes than a land of exploration and opportunity.

There’s a lack of trust in children to do pretty much anything on their own. A toxic pessimism that bleeds into moral judgement. The mainstream believes that children will only be good if they’re trained to be good. And ironically, that “training” requires doing to them things we consider to be “bad” in any other context.

The story goes that the current ills of society are due to a majority of parents not training their kids well enough. “Parents are too lenient,” they say. “Kids are allowed to do whatever they want,” they say.

It’s this mentality that drives the social sharing of “this-is-my-parenting-isn’t-it-awesome” videos. Parents are thirsty for approval from their peers and nothing is hotter right now than showing Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest how much you’re dedicated to Team Adult by all the creative ways you make Team Child suffer.

“Everyone look! My kids were arguing so I forcibly isolated them together in a tee shirt with condescending phrases written on it.”

“Fuck yeah! You go girl! That’ll teach those brats. Can you make this public so I can share your parenting badassery? Maybe if we share this enough more parents will teach their kids some manners.”

Nothing like trading your child’s trust and self-esteem for likes on Facebook from people you haven’t even met, right? #ParentingToday

Of course, the “kids-these-days” and “leniency” stories couldn’t be any further from the truth. The vast majority of parents admit to hitting their children on a fairly consistent basis. Homes and schools, the two places kids spend the vast majority of their time, have never had more rules and regulations at any point in history than they do now. The implementation of authoritarianism is at an all time high.

Maybe this idea that “kids are out of control” is simply not true. And maybe in the few cases where it is true, it’s driven by the fact that they’re locked inside of the psychological prison of authoritarianism. Or the fact that they’re locked in the actual prisons of public and private school systems.

We hit them (to teach them not to hit), we rage at them (to teach them to communicate in a nicer way), we coerce them with punishments and rewards (can you teach authenticity through inauthenticity?), we discard their intrinsic desires while force-feeding them our brand of “education” and “life experience,” we teach them that their emotions are undesirable (while we rage and shame and play the victim card and bitch about everything under the sun), we love them conditionally (while claiming it’s for their own good)…

…And most of all, we see nothing wrong with *us.* It’s always the child that’s broken and needs fixing. No matter how obviously hypocritical we are as parents, the child deserved it.

But children aren’t broken. We are. Because we weren’t broken when we were kids and most of us got “fixed” by our parents. But the “fixing” we’ve come to know and use ourselves is actually the act of breaking. Literally. Breaking the body. Breaking the mind. Breaking the spirit. Breaking-in. Taming. Domesticating. Training. These terms make up the undeniable foundation of mainstream parenting.

If all of these things happened to you…you are not fine. The very fact that you advocate for these things happening to young, defenseless children is evidence that you are not fine. This idea that, “I was spanked and turned out fine” is a rationalized fairy tale told by people who are too afraid to say, “I deserved better. A lot better.”

These tactics must stop. The social shaming must stop. The psychological abuse must stop. The physical abuse must stop. It’s not authentic. It’s all a thoughtless result of exposure to CULTure. When you behave in this way you are not the solution, you are the problem.

The world will continue to be a broken place if we continue to break our kids. And it’s not unconditional love that’s breaking them. It’s not negotiation that’s breaking them. It’s not non-violence that’s breaking them. It’s not cooperation, or patience, or being a calm, assertive leader that’s breaking them.

These things don’t break, they build.

Don’t be afraid to say you deserved better. And don’t be afraid to extend that recognition to your own children.

Ditch the Team Adult jersey. Come join Team Humanity and follow your own advice for once: Treat people—including your children—the way you want to be treated as a human being. Not the way your bullshit rationalization of your childhood tells you you should have been treated, but the way you want to be treated right this minute as a living, breathing, compassion-deserving individual. Make the shift. Acquire better tools. You’ve got this.

Epic Rant: Does Authentic Parenting Leave Kids Ill-Prepared for the Real World?

Warning: Explicit. I’m not pulling any punches. This is one of the most important episodes I’ve recorded thus far. Not only does it address the fear and arguments often levied against this parenting and alternative education paradigm, but it makes a strong case for why reasonable people would never want to subject their children to “the system” — the school system, the government, the religion, and so on.

It’s based on the following two paraphrased questions:

  • What do you say to people who worry about leaving kids ill-prepared to deal with authoritarian world?
  • Won’t unschoolers (alternatively educated / autodidacts) be at a disadvantage to succeed in a world that’s based on the current system?

Thanks to Victoria for calling in with the question. Comments are open below!

Why Parenting May Not Matter (A Casual Rebuttal)

An article published on the 1st of December titled, Why Parenting May Not Matter and Why Most Social Science Research is Probably Wrong, is making it’s way across the interwebs in viral fashion. I saw the article the day after it was published and had a lot of issues with it. But when it showed up in our Revolutionary Parenting Facebook group only 2 days later, it motivated me to respond.

I know you’re busy, as am I, so I going to make this casual. If you like minimal fluff, you’ll enjoy this format…

I want you to consider the possibility that your parents did not shape you as a person. Despite how it feels, your mother and father (or whoever raised you) likely imprinted almost nothing on your personality that has persisted into adulthood.

Right off the bat the author struggles with their use of grammar and rhetoric. The act of “shaping someone as a person” is never defined. What does that mean? The same mistake is made with the word “personality.” What’s a personality, to this author?

It’s tough to come to conclusions when foundational terms aren’t defined. But he does end up alluding to what he considers parts of a personality…

The knowledge that some people are more trustworthy, honest, violent, impulsive, and aggressive than others is essential to navigating life. It’s simply not a good personal policy to assume that everyone you stumble upon in life has your best interest at heart.

So from this allusion, I’m expecting the article to make the case that parenting does *not* have a meaningful impact on these things. Keep that in mind as we proceed.

In terms of compelling evidence, let’s start with a study published recently in the prestigious journal Nature Genetics.1 Tinca Polderman and colleagues just completed the Herculean task of reviewing nearly all twin studies published by behavior geneticists over the past 50 years.

It’s interesting that the setup for the opening argument is a meta-analysis (basically an analysis of a collection of studies in order to create more statistical relevance). For the sake of time, I’ll direct you to an external explanation of the problems with meta-analysis so I don’t have to list them all here.

Before progressing, I should note that behavioral geneticists make a finer grain distinction than most about the environment, subdividing it into shared and non-shared components.1,2,3,4 Not much is really complicated about this. The shared environment makes children raised together similar to each other.3 The term encompasses the typical parenting effects that we normally envision when we think about environmental variables. Non-shared influences capture the unique experiences of siblings raised in the same home; they make siblings different from one another. Another way of thinking about non-shared environments is that they represent the parts of your life story that are unique from the rest of your family. Importantly, this also includes all of the randomness and pure happenstance that life tends to hurl in our direction from time to time. Returning to the review of twin research, the shared environment just didn’t matter all that much (that’s on average, of course, for some traits it mattered more than others). The non-shared environment mattered consistently.

While this paragraph contains a lot of words, it only ends up making one argument: [Shared environments don’t do much while non-shared environments influence children most].

And don’t forget, that argument is made based on a meta-analysis, of twin studies no less which are problematic in and of themselves. Hang on to that argument…it’s going to matter shortly.

You’ve read that twin studies contain an insidious flaw that causes them to underestimate shared environmental effects (making it seem like parents matter less than they do). The assumptions of twin research, however, have been meticulously studied. The methods of twin researchers have been around for decades and have been challenged, critiqued, refined, adjusted, and (perhaps most importantly) cross validated with other techniques that rely on different assumptions entirely.3,4 They work, and they work with impressive precision.

Man, nothing like dismissing opposing views with nothing more than an appeal to antiquity (“the methods…have been around for decades”) and a pseudo-argument (“they work” is not an argument supported by, “they have been challenged, critiqued, refined, adjusted, and cross-validated”).

In other words, you can’t reasonably say that the research methods are valid because “they’ve been around for a while” and “have been scrutinized” (especially when you don’t list the arguments against the methods). If that’s not problematic enough, suggesting the methods “work with impressive precision” is exponentially problematic.

Based on the results of classical twin studies, it just doesn’t appear that parenting—whether mom and dad are permissive or not, read to their kid or not, or whatever else—impacts development as much as we might like to think.

The author apparently wants us to dive into the studies to look at the data ourselves rather than using the data to make specific arguments. In other words, the approach here amounts to nothing more than, “take my word for it.”

What’s very problematic here is that the important terms still haven’t been defined. We still don’t know what “personality” or “shaping” or “development” mean in specific terms, nor do we have detailed examples.

And now we’re throwing a very convoluted term, “parenting,” into the mix. Were different types of parenting analyzed, or just parenting in general? It seems the detail has been limited to “permissiveness” (and by whose analysis were these parents permissive?), reading to children, and “whatever else.”

One logical explanation for this is a lack of parenting influence for psychological development. Judith Rich Harris made this point forcefully in her book The Nurture Assumption (an absolute must read). 6 As Harris notes, parents are not to blame for their children’s neuroses (beyond the genes they contribute to the manufacturing of that child), nor can they take much credit for their successful psychological adjustment. To put a finer point on what Harris argued, children do not transport the effects of parenting (whatever they might be) outside the home. The socialization of children certainly matters (remember, neither personality nor temperament is 100 percent heritable), but it is not the parents who are the primary “socializers”, that honor goes to the child’s peer group (a fascinating topic, but one that merits its own separate discussion).

Again, the author is sharing conclusions without sharing data, details, or examples. Your choices are: take the authors word for it or go read The Nurture Assumption yourself and analyze the data yourself.

What’s the point of writing an article that makes the argument, “parenting doesn’t matter,” if you’re only going to provide conclusions without arguments or examples while simply referencing where the data can be found?

This is fundamentally important. We don’t even know if the author is talking about children raised full time by their parents (perhaps, home educated) or if we’re talking about children who are sent to school for 8 hours a day and who do 2 hours of after school activities.

Obviously, if you don’t play much of a role in your child’s life, it’s going to appear that you don’t play much of a role, isn’t it? Where are those key details?

Now, the astute critic will respond with their own research in hand, papers centering on the deleterious impact of child abuse and severe neglect. There is a wealth of evidence linking child abuse with all sorts of developmental delays, and Harris fully acknowledges this. Mercifully, child abuse is not pervasive in the population, meaning that most kids don’t experience it and it is unlikely that it explains large swaths of why some kids are more extroverted or intelligent than others.

The failure to define terms is an epidemic. The author now introduces the convoluted term, child abuse, without defining it.

You can’t say, “child abuse is not pervasive in the population” when you haven’t defined the term. What is child abuse? Is that hitting kids with belts? Starving them?

What about spanking? I consider spanking to be child abuse (and the research on brain development would tend to agree). Since spanking is approved in America by a 2-1 margin, can we really say that “child abuse” is not pervasive?

What about chopping off a boy’s foreskin? I’d consider that child abuse as well. And since 81% of American boys are circumcised, it seems we have pervasive child abuse occurring inside our borders.

Was the trauma from spanking or circumcision included in this analysis? And let’s keep in mind that those are only two examples of dozens.

That said, consider an analogy shared with me by the psychologist Steven Pinker: dropping your iPhone from six floors up is guaranteed to ruin it—iPhones don’t bounce. The impending destruction awaiting your phone as it plummets toward the Earth is assured, and the fact that you played no part in designing or building your phone will not atone for your slippery fingers. The same analogy applies to parenting, in some respects. It is possible for parents to wreck something that they did not construct (i.e., their child’s healthy development, language growth, cognitive ability, etc.) if their parenting style is harsh enough. Hopefully it is evident that this type of “parenting” is not the topic at hand.

In other words, “we’re ignoring, for the sake of our argument, that destructive parenting practices can have major negative consequences on children due to the false premise that destructive parenting practices aren’t a widespread problem.”

False premise, meet false conclusion.

Children who are spanked (not abused, but spanked) often experience a host of other problems in life, including psychological maladjustment and behavioral problems.8 In a study led by my colleague J.C. Barnes, we probed this issue in more detail and found some evidence suggesting that spanking increased the occurrence of overt bad behavior in children.8 We could have stopped there. Yet, we went one step further and attempted to inspect the genetic influences that were rampant across the measures included in our study. What we found was that much of the association between the two variables (spanking and behavior) was attributable to genetic effects that they had in common. The correlation between spanking and behavior appeared to reflect the presence of shared genetic influences cutting across both traits.

And there we have it. Spanking, to this author, is not abuse. And again, he’s going to make an argument without citing specific evidence, details, or examples, leading you to yet another study that you have to read and interpret yourself.

This matters because most of the social science research that rockets into the headlines, grabbing your attention when you fire up the web, is likely wrong.

Whether it’s a study purporting to link some aspect of parenting to child development, or a study intended to link some new diet fad to weight loss, the results are unclear if they did not control for genetics.

One glaring issue with not providing specific examples to back up arguments is that it makes your “case” hard to argue against. 

“This matters because most of the social science research that rockets into the headlines, grabbing your attention when you fire up the web, is likely wrong.” — How do I argue against this without an example?

“Whether it’s a study purporting to link some aspect of parenting to child development, or a study intended to link some new diet fad to weight loss, the results are unclear if they did not control for genetics.” — Can we have an example to work with?

CAN WE HAVE AN EXAMPLE PLEASE? OF ANYTHING? <tap tap tap…is this thing on?>

All fluff and claims. Little evidence. Little substance.

Is it possible that parents really do shape children in deep and meaningful ways? Sure it is. In line with the phrase often trotted out by my ilk: “it’s an empirical question.” The trouble is that most research on parenting will not help you in the slightest because it doesn’t control for genetic factors. What we do know (largely from twin studies) is that beyond the genes they contribute, parents are not responsible for autism (or schizophrenia, or ADHD, etc.), and they likely bear zero responsibility for injecting general intelligence or a personality into the heads of their children. So, why the dogmatic adherence to the idea that parents are the “puppet masters” in our lives? The are many reasons, some of which are explicitly religious (the whole “spare the rod spoil the child” bit) and some are more secular, rooted in dubious research, but we should nevertheless let them all go.

Oh boy. “What we do know (largely from twin studies) is that beyond the genes they contribute, parents are not responsible for autism (or schizophrenia, or ADHD, etc.), and they likely bear zero responsibility for injecting general intelligence or a personality into the heads of their children” is a blend of straw men and red herrings.

Who is arguing that parents are responsible (in some direct fashion, I assume) for their kids having autism? It’s certainly not the majority making that argument. So this is a rebuttal to an argument that was never presented.

But wait…he threw in ADHD there. That complicates things. Are we sure that parents have no hand in their child developing ADD/ADHD? Gabor Mate, MD seems to think they do.

Any time someone starts a sentence with “What we do know…” it’s time to get skeptical. Do we really? Who is “we?”

“…and they likely bear zero responsibility for injecting general intelligence or a personality into the heads of their children.”

Since we still haven’t defined “personality,” it’s hard to come to this conclusion isn’t? This conclusion is especially problematic when we include the early allusion to how personality is defined: “trustworthy, honest, violent, impulsive, and aggressive.”

The ACE study has shown quite clearly a distinction between adverse childhood experiences and negative physical and psychological outcomes in life, including the use of coping mechanisms in addictive ways (of which Gabor Mate concludes that ADD is a coping mechanism).

If we’re going to be assessing the outcomes of honesty and trustworthiness, for example, we would need to first assess the honesty and trustworthiness of parents. This is highly complex. Every parent who tricks their child into believing in Santa Clause is presenting one blow to honesty and trustworthiness. That’s just one example of thousands. Was any of this analyzed? We don’t know, because the author provides no details.

He also mentions intelligence. And again, he doesn’t really define the term. Intelligence by what measure? IQ? What about emotional intelligence? What about the capacity to love and have deep, lasting relationships? What about social intelligence?

And again, this talk about parents as “puppet masters” in our lives is difficult to assess because we still haven’t been told how much time the kids in the studies were spending with their parents verses with other people and in other institutions.

It’s also problematic that the focus on genetics in this article did not mention the study of epigenetics and the ability for genes to be turned on and off by…tada…the environment in which children are raised in.

Going back to Gabor Mate on this:

It’s a common mistake to think that everything that’s biological is genetically caused. Biology is greatly affected by what happens in a person’s life, in her family, in the society around her, and so on. For the most part genes don’t predetermine or “cause” anything that happens – they just lay out a set of potentials that might happen, given the right (or wrong) environmental inputs. Especially in early childhood, our brains are very much affected by social and psychological relationships. And, in fact, for its lifetime the brain is in constant interaction with the environment. So something can absolutely be biological without therefore being written in genetic stone.

Why was the capability of genes to lead to different “expressions” (outcomes) not highlighted in this article? The entire argument seems to be founded on the premise that genes are just genes and they create outcomes regardless of environment factors. At least, that’s the feeling I got from it.

Natural selection has wired into us a sense of attachment for our offspring. There is no need to graft on beliefs about “the power of parenting” in order to justify our instinct that being a good parent is important. Consider this: what if parenting really doesn’t matter? Then what? The evidence for pervasive parenting effects, after all, looks like a foundation of sand likely to slide out from under us at any second. If your moral constitution requires that you exert god-like control over your kid’s psychological development in order to treat them with the dignity afforded any other human being, then perhaps it is time to recalibrate your moral compass; does it actually point north or just spin like a washing machine (see Pinker’s work for this same point made more elquently10)?

So, we’re getting down to the “lesson” this article offers. But again, it leaves us only with disappointment in the form of yet another straw man argument.

“Why parenting may not matter and why most social science research is probably wrong” has nothing to do with “If your moral constitution requires that you exert god-like control over your kid’s psychological development…”

That seems like it came out of left field. So all people who pay attention to social science research and parenting advice are being defined as people who want god-like control over their kids?

What an absurd notion.

If you want happy children, and you desire a relationship with them that lasts beyond when they’re old enough to fly the nest, then be good to your kids.10 Just know that it probably will have little effect on the person they will grow into.

So here we have a prescription with, again, no details. What does “be good to them” mean? What are people supposed to glean from this article and this advice? What action can they take or stop taking to better the lives of their children?

None. Nothing. Nada. And the same conclusion, which no real evidence has been provided for, is reiterated at closing: “Just know that it probably will have little effect on the person they will grow into.”

No, we don’t know that. In fact, all of the actual evidence points to the opposite conclusion.

How sharper than a serpent’s tooth

To hear your child make such a fuss.

It isn’t fair—it’s not the truth—

He’s fucked up, yes, but not by us.

The real conclusion here: Parents will do and say anything to not have to take responsibility for the negative outcomes of their children.

Secondary conclusion: I’m very sad now.

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