Saturday, March 15, 2014

Book on Parentology

The NY Times reviews:
His name is Dalton Conley, and he’s a sociologist at New York University who’s taken his own fatherhood, put it in the blender with his professional interest in scientific inquiry, and produced “Parentology.” He characterizes his technique as the opposite of everything uptight, including “old-world parenting; traditional parenting; textbook parenting; tiger mothering; bringing up bébé.” He’s not into that ponderous, prescriptive stuff. His brand, he says, is more like “jazz parenting,” an “improvisational approach.”

Conley describes himself as a “freak” whose parenting decisions are based on “flexibility and fluidity, attention to (often counterintuitive, myth-busting) research. . . . Trial and error. Hypothesis revision and more experimentation about what works. In other words, the scientific method.” He lets his children curse at him; he tells them they’re in special education classes because of the better student-­teacher ratio; they camp out around a hot plate while their apartment is renovated. He is a wild and crazy guy.
There is also a podcast (mp3). The full title is Parentology: Everything You Wanted to Know about the Science of Raising Children but Were Too Exhausted to Ask.

There is a desperate need for books that objectively give evidence and advice about child-rearing. However this book is mainly a personal memoir along with unorthodox interpretations of research. For example, he reads a study saying that kids with unusual names do better, so he gives one kid a 1-letter name, and the other kid a 47-letter name. Somehow I think that he is reading too much into some dubious research. My hunch is that unusual names do not help a kid at all, but that the sort of parents who choose unusual names are also the sort to think for themselves, and perhaps the kids get some benefit from that.

My position has always been that parents should have the discretion to use their best judgment. So I think that it is great that a sociology professor writes a book that open disagrees with the parenting philosophers of other popular books. He also gives the argument that his advice is useless:
“If my kids’ chances in life are largely determined by the DNA that their mother and I have passed on, all my math drilling and insistence on reading may have been of little added value,” he writes, comforting himself by noting, “On the other hand, all the things I did to mess them up probably won’t actually matter all that much in the end either.”
There is a lot of research that parenting is irrelevant. See The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, by Judith Rich Harris.

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