there was an article included in fairfax papers over the weekend called "why parents should just learn to relax". unfortunately i can't find an online version, though did find this similar piece at the guardian (via here).
basically, it's an alternate view to the tiger mother, all very scientific and based on research done on twins separated at birth and children who have been adopted. and of course bryan caplan has a book he's wanting to promote - which doesn't negate what he's trying to say. in fact, if what he says is true, i find it very comforting to know that there's very little that i do as a parent that will have an impact on my child's future.
here's a quote:
This new branch of science is called behavioural genetics, which uses mathematical models to compare the similarity of identical and non-identical twins, and the fate of adopted children. Behavioural geneticists don't just believe that your hair colour or your susceptibillity to breast cancer come trhough bloodlines. They test for a wide range of other things, such as happiness and income, that no-one had thought were genetic. Some of these are indirect effects - so, for example, when they say that genes matter for income, there doesn't have to be an "income gene", it's simply that other inherited traits (such as intelligence, or work ethic) matter for income. The age at which you start drinking or having sex relies somewhat on whether you are by nature a shy and cautious person.
[...] It could be good genes that produce good citizens.
Caplan is the first to admit that this can seem "too counterintuitive to believe... as the father of identical twins I readily accept the power of nurture but still struggle to deny the power of nurture." The answer is that parents can make a big impact, but this is mostly restricted to the early years. You can give a child a boost at nursery age, but by the time he or she has left school it has gone. As one twin study concluded: "Adopted children resemble their adoptive parents slightly in early childhood but not at all in the middle childhood or adolescence."
"If you think you're giving your kid a headstart, you're probably correct," says Caplan. Your mistake is to assume that the head start lasts a lifetime. By the time your child grows up, the impact of your encouragement and nagging will largely have faded away."
there's heaps more of this, quoting from studies and so on but i don't have the energy to type it out. i did like this bit though:
"By the time you're an adult, your parents' past mistakes are not the reason for your present unhappiness" says Caplan.
of course he clarifies earlier in the piece that the studies he's using don't "address neglect or abuse, which of course can damage a child". so, the good news is that i don't have to feel any guilt that my parenting style will cause any lasting impact on my kids. the bad news is that i can't blame my parents for my own misery. hmmm. the good news is that it doesn't matter whether you're a working parent or a stay-at-home parent (although i notice that the article stays well clear of that question, but surely one can extrapolate?). the bad news is that all the hard work we put into our children and the money we spend on them will have little impact on their future success.
mr caplan does spend a bit of time baggin amy chua and her parenting style, saying that the success of her children is more due to genetics ("Her girls are the daughters of two Yale Law School professors, and people are amazed that they succeed at the things they try at?") than parenting. he does fail to mention that ms chua's book was a family history rather than a parenting guide but there is no doubt that his message is the more comforting one, one that makes (some of) us feel less inadequate, less able to measure up to the very high standards of parenting that society seems to increasingly expect.
i'll finish off where the article finishes off:
Isn't all this a bit depressing? At least Chua offered us a parental work ethic as a way onward and upward. Genetic determinism smacks of eugenics.
Caplan counters that it is a happy message. He quotes from Mary Poppins. Stop thinking that children, as Mr Banks does, "must be moulded, shaped and taught, that life's a looming battle to be faced and fought!" And, well, just enjoy.