Successful parents are lazy, says new book

'Grooming children for success is pointless', says economist Bryan Caplan. 'It's all in the genes.' So is good parenting just letting the children do what they want?

It's only a few months since Amy Chua shocked the world with her Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

In this book, she described the extreme discipline she imposed on her children to ensure they were successful. When one daughter only came second in maths, she had to do 2000 sums before going to bed to ensure it never happened again.

And now comes the backlash, as Bryan Caplan's book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Children, argues that parents make no difference to how their children turn out as adults.

Children, says Caplan, are not clay to be shaped, but more like flexible plastic that bends under pressure and then pops right back as soon as the pressure goes away.

Using the results of studies of twins separated at birth, he claims the future of a child is determined exclusively by their genes. These are hereditary and can't be changed by any amount of pushy parenting.

He also argues that parents should have more children. They limit themselves at the moment, he says, so they can invest more in the children they have.

But this investment serves no purpose, while there are social benefits to a higher population. More people means more ideas, which are the foundation of modern economic growth.

At the heart of this discussion is the relationship between nature and nurture in the formation of humans. What makes us who we are? Is it the genes we are born with or our experiences as we grow?

Caplan is at one end of the debate, believing that everything is down to nature – even our teeth. But as the journalist Cassandra Jardine points out, a child she knows has terrible teeth not because of her genes – but because she's always drinking fizzy drinks.

Psychologists also question his conclusions. 'This goes against commonsense,' says child psychologist Richard Woolfson. 'If a parent comes to me with a child who won't eat or who bites, I can change that behaviour by altering the way the parents behave.'

But after this, as Caplan says, parents who try too hard to mould their children may simply be passing on stress. Is it better to relax and pass on happiness instead?

Be happy

Neuroscience, the study of the brain, has made tremendous advances in the last decade, with big implications for the nature/nurture debate.

The human is the only mammal whose brain continues to form after birth. The hard wiring of this remarkable organ takes place between the ages of 0 – 4 and is hugely dependent on parental nurture at this stage.

You Decide

  1. 'I always knew it – parents should leave children alone.' Do you agree?
  2. 'If everything is determined by our genes – how can anyone have free will?'

Activities

  1. One-minute soap box! Everyone has sixty seconds to speak on 'Who's better – the lazy parent or the pushy parent?'
  2. After research, discuss the implications of the nature/nurture debate in a piece called 'Nature or nurture – and should we be interested?'

Some People Say...

“I wish my parents made me do more.”

What do you think?

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