Does parenting really matter?


by varjavand

Does Parenting Matter? I have been able to do almost anything in this country given that I put my mind into it except three things: Making home-style bread, preventing my socks from disappearing in washer or dryer, and perfecting the art of my parenting. That does not, of course, imply that I am a mediocre or an ineffective parent. No, perhaps reasonably successful, but definitely obsessive. Undoubtedly, no job in the world is tougher and more imperative than parenting especially for us who have no choice but to constantly deal with what I have called Americanized kids with you-can’t-make-me mentality. We are often accused by our kids of being too strict or overly concerned about their safety, education, health etc., or are told often that I am old enough; don’t tell me what to do?

Good parenting is an art not a science; there is no predetermined formula that guarantees success. Wealth, position, surveillance, scrutiny, spanking, and even college education do not make you a good parent per se. My parents were both poor and illiterate; however, they raised six, out of seven!, good children. To sharpen your parenting skills, you take parenting lessons, you try to find strategies you think are effective and leave no room for loopholes or misuse by your kids, you try to discourage obnoxious behaviors and reward the good manners, you try to guess what your kids are up to, or attend professional seminars by the so called experts who try to teach us how to become effective parents. Unwind; you are not going to make much difference when it comes to your children’s personality traits or their future success according to some researches. This may come as a surprise to most of us because we believe parenting really matters.

Consider the following questions. Are we, as parents, being manipulated by profit seeking entrepreneurs who try to create fear hence a market for their products and services? How much we can influence our children? How effective is good parenting on the success of our kids? Are all the conflicting views by the so called experts confusing to parents? Even, if parenting matters, what works and what doesn’t and what aspects of our children’s personality we can influence? By conducting extensive studies, the behavioral researchers have been able to provide answers to these and similar questions and more importantly to determine how much of your child personality is due to genetic make-up and how much is acquired from environment in which they live. The results of most studies consistently reveal that the genetic factors are responsible for 50% of personality traits. Stated otherwise, Kids exhibit certain behavior depending mostly on what kind of chemical is released by their brain. The other 50% can be influenced by a host of external factors including parenting. If that is true then, there is no significant correlation between how our child may behave in response to certain situations and how much we teach them. No matter how hard you try to affect them, our influence will be obviously be overshadowed by the powerful effect of peers, friends, and what they are exposed to at school, etc.  Even if we are able to influence them, which element(s) of their personality is/are most influenced by us?   

Based on my own observations, albeit limited, the Iranian parents have been generally successful in influencing their children’s education but moderately their behaviors. And, because good education is the key factor is shaping the kids life, we have done a good job of raising our kids. Because we believe education is the most promising road to our success, we focus earnestly on our kids’ education and rightfully so. While the link between parenting and personality traits cannot be precisely tested because they cannot be quantified objectively, the correlation between our kids’ success at school and our parenting efforts can be verified by utilizing concrete statistics. 

Dr. Steven Levitt, the lead author of the best selling book “Freakonomics” has used the comprehensive data provided by US Department of Education, Early Childhood Longitudinal Study program, ECLS, to examine the correlation between parenting and the academic success of school children. The ECLS program collects extensive data on a wide range of variables such as: family, school, community, individual, the children's intellectual development, early learning, and the kids’ performance in school. Dr. Levitt has fed the data provided by ECLS to economists’ most favorite statistical technique, regression analysis, to test the correlation between a host of factors representing parenting and academic success of young kids. His findings are startling.

The academic success of the children is evidently related to wide variety of factors including parenting. Only a trained analyst can measure the effect of a single factor such as through controlled experiment. Fortunately, ECLS provides comprehensive information on many factors as the proxies for parenting, sixteen of them to be exact. After extensive examination of these factors by Dr. Levitt, only half of them happened to play a significant role in students’ success.  The factors with significant positive influence on the children’s success are: 

Parents level of education, The socioeconomic status of parents, If parents speak English at home, Parents involvement in Parent-Teacher Association, PTA, How many books parents keep at home, And, the age of mother, thirty and older, when the first child was born. 

The two factors with negative effects on success at school are:  Child’s low birth weight,Whether the child lives with biological parents or is adopted.

The eight factors with no significant impact on children’s success are:  Moving to a better neighborhood, The child’s family is intact, Mother work or notAttending , Head Start program, Parents taking the child to museums, The child watches TV often, Parents read to child on a regular basis,  The child is spanked.

While the justifications for some of these findings are straightforward strange as they may sound, they are really complicated for most of them and certainly out of the scope of this article. I leave the debate open and encourage your inputs.

 If you consider yourself an over-concerned parent you may find some of these results disappointing, counterintuitive, and unacceptable. I totally agree with you. But, remember, scientific researches are like milling machine. The type of flour you get out of it depends on the type of grains you put into it.  These results prove my own theory build upon my own experience raising three delightful children who are all grown up and very productive member of the society: Do all the parenting you want, but you can have only a limited success when it comes to changing of influencing your kids. 


The ECLS data shows that what you do will not drastically affect your children’s success, however, who you are will. 

Nonetheless, don’t give up; your kids’ test scores may not be the only determinant of who they become when they grow up. There are many smart crooks and many no-so-clever but decent people out there. Your kids’ happiness and their life style may not totally be dependent on how intellectual they are.

And, remember no spanking, it is totally ineffective.


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