Wednesday, August 15, 2012

They've Got It Backwards

Yeah, yeah, the New York Times wrote a story about authoritative parenting, sometimes called "Just Right" parenting -- as in not Too Hard, not Too Soft, but Just Right.

It's the kind of thinking that makes so much common sense you can't help but agree with it. Heck, I linked to it myself from my Facebook account.

But when I noticed that Jason Kottke had mentioned it, and used a quote from the story about child development researcher Diana Baumrind, I thought... wait a minute, I know that name. Judith Rich Harris must have had something to say about her and her research.

And sure enough, Harris nails Baumrind for drawing conclusions from correlations, when the causality could just as easily run in the opposite direction. Harris wrote:

Here's what I think: Middle-class Americans of European descent try to use the Just Right parenting style, because that is the style approved by their culture. If they don't use it, it's because they have problems or their kid does. If they have problems, it could be because they have disadvantageous personality characteristics that they can pass on to their kid genetically. If the kid has problems--a difficult temperament, for instance--then the Just Right parenting style might not work and the parents might end up switching to the Too Hard method. So among Americans of European descent, parents who use a Too Hard child-rearing style are more likely to be the ones with problem kids....

In other ethnic groups -- notably Americans of Asian or African descent -- cultural norms differ. Chinese Americans, for example, tend to use the Too Hard parenting style... not because their kids are difficult, but because that's the style favored by their culture. Among Asian and African-Americans, therefore, parents who use a Too Hard child-rearing style should not be more likely to have problem kids. Again, this is exactly what the researchers find (page 46, The Nurture Assumption).
Ah, Judith Rich Harris... I really must return to her books in a future post. There's so much that should be more widely known.

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