Stories tagged parenting

It's Friday, so it's time for another Science Friday video. Science Friday
Science Friday
Courtesy Science Friday
"Australian brush turkeys (Alectura lathami) are what biologists call "super precocial," says Ken Dial of the University of Montana Flight Lab. The birds fly the day they hatch, and hatchlings can climb vertical ledges better than adults, according to Dial's latest research."

Why does this baby appear so well-adjusted?: Difficult to say.
Why does this baby appear so well-adjusted?: Difficult to say.Courtesy Manda
A recently published, 25-year study suggests that children raised by two lesbian parents may actually be behaviorally and psychologically better adjusted than their peers.

The study tracked mothers from pregnancy or insemination, interviewing them and their children multiple times over their development, until the kids were 17 years old. The kids were asked questions focusing on their psychological adjustment, peer and family relationships, and academic progress. The research found that despite occasionally being stigmatized for their parents’ sexuality, the kids tended to rate higher than the average in “social, academic, and totally competence,” and displayed less problem behavior (rule-breaking, aggression, etc.).

The researchers behind the study propose that the difference may have to do with the fact that lesbian couples often choose to become pregnant later than most people, and, being older, are more mature and better prepared for parenting. Growing up in households with “less power assertion, and more parental involvement” is tied to healthier development, and more mature parents may fit this model better.

The research was funded by a variety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy groups, which some people consider to be evidence against its validity. Wendy Wright, the president of Concerned Women for America, “a group that supports biblical values,” says that the source of the funding “proves the prejudice and the bias of the study.”

Wendy Wright is, of course, wrong. There may or may not be aspects of the study that are biased or invalid, but the source of the funding doesn’t prove that at all. She’s seeing a causal relationship where there is none. Consider the following: JGordon buys a plum. Does this prove that JGordon will be eating a plum? Nope. Plums are frequently acquired for the purpose of being eaten, but there’s nothing about my getting a plum that necessarily means I’m going to eat it. Perhaps I will give it away. Or I might just be adding it to my plum collection.

The mystery of what JGordon does with all his plums, however, has far fewer social implications than a study on what makes for good parenting. So it’s important that we consider what actually “proves” what here.

Mrs. Wright also claims that the outcomes of the study “defy common sense and reality.” Common sense, though, may not be the best standard for judging scientific results. And, as for “reality,” how exactly do we figure that out? Careful observation, I suppose.

The study may still need more scrutiny, but it’s an interesting piece of potential evidence in the discussion of what constitutes a good environment for raising kids.

What do y’all think?


This man is a professional: And his yelling can make anybody learn.
This man is a professional: And his yelling can make anybody learn.Courtesy xiangdian
So, it turns out that kids aren’t able to learn from their mistakes, at least not until they’re about 12 years old.

That is to say, negative feedback don’t mean a thing to an 8-year-old, as far as learning goes.

Now, don’t start worrying yet. All that time you’ve spent hollering at little children hasn’t been a total waste of time, it’s just been a waste of their time. And kids have time to waste—they’ll be alive for decades, while you could go any day now. With your days as numbered as they are, it’s important that you spend your remaining time living life to the fullest, and part of that involves yelling at young children, doesn’t it? Everybody needs a good yell now and again, and if you were to go around yelling at grown-ups all the time, you’d probably get punched in the mouth all the time. Because yelling at people is disrespectful.

And I don’t want you to walk away from this thinking that you should only yell at young kids. In fact, yelling at kids after they’re about 12, but before they’re old enough to crash your car on purpose, is particularly effective, because those kids can actually learn from negative feedback. This means that they’ll probably learn to provide you with fewer excuses to yell at them—and that makes each rarified yell that much sweeter.

See, it just so happens that kids develop a dramatically different learning style between the ages of 8 and 12. An 8-year-old (and younger kids) will only learn from positive reinforcement—so saying to them “Hey, JGordon Jr, good job bringing me my cigarettes!” is a good strategy, but yelling, “These aren’t my cigarettes, you accident, these are Darla’s!” at them is just going to go over their heads. You may have enjoyed yelling, but that’s not necessarily going to help you get the right cigarettes in the future.

Once they reach the age of twelve, your productive yelling options really open up. So, if you really wanted to, you could probably praise your 12-year-old for the stuff they do right, and they’ll learn. But you could also yell at them, with just as effective results. “Two and a Half Men season 3? What am I supposed to do with this? I wanted Three Men and a Baby! Three Men and a Baby! Charlie Sheen is a kitten killer!” is going to make sure you get what you want next Christmas.

Researchers are still unsure as to whether this change in learning styles is a result of the brain maturing, or if it simply comes from experience. But, as I see it, there’s only one good way to find out.


Does the wrong kind of praise discourage schoolchildren?: Photo courtesy of Community Consolidated School District 15, Chicago, and NIST

All parents face the challenge of motivating their children to do well at school. Many tell their kids how smart they are to encourage them. But now comes a study showing that too much praise can be a bad thing:

The researchers would take a single child out of the classroom for a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles—puzzles easy enough that all the children would do fairly well. Once the child finished the test, the researchers told each student his score, then gave him a single line of praise. Randomly divided into groups, some were praised for their intelligence. They were told, “You must be smart at this.” Other students were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.”


Then the students were given a choice of test for the second round. One choice was a test that would be more difficult than the first, but the researchers told the kids that they’d learn a lot from attempting the puzzles. The other choice... was an easy test, just like the first. Of those praised for their effort, 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test. The “smart” kids took the cop-out.

A second round of tests actually showed that students praised for their intelligence did worse on later tests than students praised for their efforts.

The lead researcher explains the phenomenon:

“Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control. ... They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”

Of course, a lot of this was explained by John Holt in his 1964 classic How Children Fail. But it's always good to get a reminder.