Rational Parenting?

post by jdinkum · 2011-06-08T03:43:58.791Z · score: 20 (20 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 40 comments

I'm looking for insight into "rational parenting".

 

By that term, I mean two things. One is parenting in a rational way. The other is raising a child who shares rationalist thought.

40 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by knb · 2011-06-08T03:52:04.739Z · score: 16 (22 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Bryan Caplan has a newish book called Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids. The core argument is that people overestimate what they can do as parents, and so they enjoy parenting much less (and their children enjoy childhood much less) than they otherwise would.

The evidence for this is that twin studies reveal very small or nonexistent parenting effects for important life outcomes. People have a hard time accepting this. A lot of the activities parents force on their kids are actually about status maneuvering within the parents' peer group.

comment by jsalvatier · 2011-06-08T04:41:52.383Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Very much this. In fact, I intend to sponsor a review of this book for LW.

comment by JenniferRM · 2011-06-09T15:30:59.749Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

On amazon the book has an interesting one star rating that asserts the bulk of the evidence marshaled in support of the core argument are twin studies.

My distant impression is that many twin studies are methodologically questionable (being suspect to begin with because of congruence with the fundamental attribution error and in being problematic because they rarely look for good confounds) and so this review reduced my trust in summaries of the book and my interest in reading it for details.

As someone who has read the book, could you comment on the review?

comment by knb · 2011-06-09T20:37:43.752Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Actually, I think that review is pretty awful. For one thing she seems to confuse Caplan's actual claim, that parenting choices tend to have small to nonexistent effects on life outcomes, with a much stronger claim that environmental effects are tiny. From the review:

Yet even the studies he quotes acknowledge that Nurture has quite an effect. For instance, the MN twin study, quoted often, assigns heredity a 64-74% accountability for IQ differences among twins. That leaves as much as 36% of it changeable due to parental choices and upbringing.

This implies that all non-heritable variance could be due to parenting effects, when in fact unshared environment is known be accountable for most of the remaining variance. That eliminates the review's main argument against the book.

I feel that this book was simply produced to make money. After the huge success the "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother", it makes sense to write a book, basically opposed to the points in the best seller. It's a "jump on the band wagon" move.

This is an obvious failure, since Caplan has been planning/researching/writing this book for years, long before Chua's book came out.

So moms like me, who were worried that all your efforts are a waste, fear not, we have a good 50% control or more to mold our children into happy, healthy, successful people. Keep up the hard work!

And here we see the reason for possible motivated cognition by shopper8424. She doesn't want to believe that her efforts have been in vain.

Twin studies are considered sound by psychometricians, and most of the criticism I've seen has been from ideologically opposed people who are not psychometricians.

comment by JenniferRM · 2011-06-11T21:28:38.480Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hmm... I guess I sort of asked for that, so maybe I shouldn't complain... :-P

However, to be more precise, my question was not whether the reviewer was perfectly correct in all respects (where I can see for myself that she's not), but whether the substance of her criticisms was sound based on having read Caplan (which I can't do unless I read Caplan, as you have).

For example, another reviewer over on Amazon also explained that her attribution of "band wagon jumping" was wrong, but neither their correction or yours helps me judge Caplan at a distance. And you dismiss her due to motivated cognition but it sounds like Caplan is also a parent and so he could be engaged in motivated cognition to defend his laziness. So rather than assume either side is being dumb because someone can invent a just-so story to predict that they would say what they said if they were engaging in motivated cognition, I'd rather just let people talk and then filter the content for evidence and reasoning that's worth retaining within a personal stock of models and lemmas. I've read shpper8424 but I haven't read Caplan's book, and so I was hoping that you could do this cognitive work for me :-)

However, it appears to me that you and I have different contextual understandings of shopper8424' point, so maybe I can spell out the substantive point in her text that I was interested in hearing about. I understood her to simply be pointing out a broad flaw within Caplan's book: that his advice was massively more specific than was warranted by the evidence he marshaled to support the advice.

For example, she spells out some of Caplan's particular claims:

He specifically says to use TV and video games as a babysitter (pg. 25) and to stop "policing" (as he labels it) the kids' shows, movies, games, etc... (pg.29) and to get fast-food for dinner.

She also spells out the justification he uses to support this evidence:

He says that this is all OK since "research provides strong evidence that parents barely affect their children's prospects" (pg 4)... The studies that he quotes state that somewhere between 46-70% of how your child turns out is based on heredity.

Then she points out that this isn't very strong evidence, with low sample sizes and no actual power to dismiss any particular set of practices that could account for some of the outcome.

That still leaves room for a parent to give their child a better life. Most nature vs. nurture studies settle that around 47-58% is due to heredity. He found some studies that actually set that variance to 70% for some variables, very high compared to most studies, and based on not much more that 100 sets of twins! How valid can that be? Remember, the Nurses' Health Study is based on 238,000 people, now that is a good pool of people to base studies on.

She also offers (admittedly without citation and mixed with stuff that appears suspicious to me) alternative studies that could fill in some of the causal gap between human genetic variations and "everything we observe about human outcomes":

For instance, less TV often leads to better grades in school, studies have shown, yet the book promotes using the TV as a babysitter and not even "policing" what your toddler is watching....another example? The book promotes relaxing by just getting fast food...and tons of studies are done on how foods like that create numerous health problems and healthy, organic if possible, homemade meals will increase your chances of having a healthier child and adult.

An argument against shopper8424 that doesn't help me at all would be that "She doesn't want to believe that her efforts have been in vain" and "most of the criticism I've seen has been from ideologically opposed people".

A good argument against her, that would be quite helpful would be that Caplan's book only mentions the twin studies as being consistent with his general advice, and also provides specific studies that how neither diet nor media habits substantively affecting human efficacy outcomes. Maybe he could also report that it doesn't help to teach your children to meditate or program computers or read books for pleasure. Maybe he could claim that it doesn't matter if they have violin lessons versus sitting in their bedroom listening to popular music that glorifies violence and the degradation of women. Maybe they shouldn't be encouraged to play sports and you shouldn't waste time ferrying them to soccer games when they're 11. Maybe it doesn't matter if you homeschool, versus sending kids to a school with metal detectors and class sizes of 70, versus sending them to a private Montessori school where they'll start being able to start building a social network that enables them to navigate the subcultures of the rich and powerful when they are in their 40's.

To restate my question: Does Caplan talk about details, or just twin studies? Does he give specific advice about "safe ways to slack" and show that this advice doesn't harm long term outcomes? Does he cherry pick studies to find those that report the most extreme and shocking results (using a study that found heritability of 0.7 instead of 0.35 and not explaining that there was a range of values)?

To restate my question: What content in Caplan's book can be mustered in response to a counter argument claiming that that heritability studies are weak for giving precise behavioral advice when clear thinking (and maybe even other studies) about the specific details of the advice show that some details matter?

comment by knb · 2011-06-11T23:35:52.597Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

However, to be more precise, my question was not whether the reviewer was perfectly correct in all respects (where I can see for myself that she's not), but whether the substance of her criticisms was sound based on having read Caplan (which I can't do unless I read Caplan, as you have).

You seem to have wilfully ignored the main point I made, which is this:

This implies that all non-heritable variance could be due to parenting effects, when in fact unshared environment is known be accountable for most of the remaining variance. That eliminates the review's main argument against the book.

See, she is arguing against the twin/adoption studies based on the idea that the remaining environmental influence could be parenting, when Caplan explicitly points out that this isn't the case. Unshared environment explains remaining variance. That was her sole substantive point (the rest being obviously false ad-homs and claims about some unspecified "other studies").

To restate my question: What content in Caplan's book can be mustered in response to a counter argument claiming that that heritability studies are weak for giving precise behavioral advice when clear thinking (and maybe even other studies) about the specific details of the advice show that some details matter?

Other studies cannot show that a parenting style detail matters without controlling for heritability. People frequently see studies that say (for example) kids who eat junk food are fat as adults, and assume this is due to childhood environment (controlled by parents). In fact, twin studies have shown that heritability for bmi is ~.80, with the remaining variance due mostly to unshared environment.

Now, if you want to dismiss the vast literature twin/adoption studies out of hand due to "confounds" (you haven't specified), then, go ahead I guess. But you should have very strong reasons, since twin and adoption studies are considered the gold standard by the relevant social scientists.

Does Caplan talk about details, or just twin studies?

Yes. It's a fairly long books, so he discusses may specific examples.

I should also address this, I guess:

Maybe he could also report that it doesn't help to teach your children to meditate or program computers or read books for pleasure. Maybe he could claim that it doesn't matter if they have violin lessons versus sitting in their bedroom listening to popular music that glorifies violence and the degradation of women. Maybe they shouldn't be encouraged to play sports and you shouldn't waste time ferrying them to soccer games when they're 11. Maybe it doesn't matter if you homeschool, versus sending kids to a school with metal detectors and class sizes of 70, versus sending them to a private Montessori school where they'll start being able to start building a social network that enables them to navigate the subcultures of the rich and powerful when they are in their 40's.

I think Caplan would say, you should do those things if you would consider it worth your time even if it doesn't contribute to adult success for your kids (it probably won't). If you enjoy classical music, there is a good chance you kid will as well. He's mostly against dragging your kid to "enriching" things or stressing out because your kid likes rap.

comment by JenniferRM · 2011-06-12T02:38:49.016Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

He's mostly against dragging your kid to "enriching" things or stressing out because your kid likes rap.

I appreciated this line. It communicated something substantive about Caplan's opinions and the amount of evidence for them that I can expect to find in his book. Thank you.

In the meantime, I don't think twin studies should be entirely dismissed, I just don't think they explain as much, or can be safely used in the ways they are typically deployed in second order analysis. If you are interested in understanding my concerns here, the Shalizi link from my first attempt to communicate with you (the one that's been voted down to -1 for reasons I don't understand) is a good source. I didn't repeat the points because I thought you (and anyone else who was interested) would be able to follow that link and understand the relevance without clogging up the thread with extraneous details.

comment by BenLowell · 2011-06-08T06:42:37.587Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Nurture Assumption is another well done book on this subject.

comment by James_Miller · 2011-06-08T05:34:53.755Z · score: 14 (18 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Something I've had to do is tell my son that lots of other people don't care about being rational and so he shouldn't always expect to be able to convince his classmates that he's right because he's provided a good argument. I did this after hearing my son getting in an argument with another child over the value of a pawn, with the other kid insisting that the pawn had zero value. My son was upset that the other kid wasn't responding to his arguments.

You don't want to teach your kids rationality skills, have them apply these skills when interacting with classmates and then realize that their classmates don't respond well to them. It's best, I think, to let your kids know that they should always be rational with you, that they are more likely to convince you to do something if they make rational arguments, that being rational gives them special powers in understanding the world, and that later in life there will be huge payoffs from them being rational.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-06-08T06:38:20.945Z · score: 14 (16 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I did this after hearing my son getting in an argument with another child over the value of a pawn, with the other kid insisting that the pawn had zero value.

Here's a rationality lesson: settle it experimentally. Have one side play without pawns, and the other side play without a single knight.

Strive to be like Richard Feynman, who demonstrated one of the causes of the Challenger disaster on TV with a glass of ice water.

comment by juliawise · 2012-02-07T17:55:05.023Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

It depends on what your goal is. If your goal is to make people understand that you're right, "settling it experimentally" may work. If your goal is to get along with your classmates, shrugging it off may be the more useful reaction. If rationality makes the boy lose friends, it may not actually be rationality.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-06-08T06:39:20.340Z · score: 10 (14 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Being rational doesn't mean acting as if others were.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2011-06-08T09:06:43.837Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Previously on this topic: On the Care and Feeding of Young Rationalists, On Juvenile Fiction, Study: Encouraging Obedience Considered Harmful.

From what I've read, it seems like the most important thing is making rationalist thought something the child genuinely enjoys. Giving them various rationalist exercises to do, for instance, is not very useful if they're not sufficiently motivated to continue with them by the time they're no longer living with you.

You could also try to instill a habit. The following is an anecdote from a self-help book so the source isn't the most reliable in the world, but it sounds plausible:

One of the things that is great about Leo is his continued persistence in asking himself a question that his father instilled in him when from the time he was a little boy. Each day at the dinner table, his father would ask, "Leo, what have you learned today?" Leo had to have an answer, and a quality one. If he hadn't learned something really interesting in school that day, he would run and get the encyclopedia to study something that he could share. He says that to this day he won't go to bed until he's learned something new that's of value. As a result he's constantly stimulating his mind, and a great deal of his passion and love for learning has come from this question, asked repeatedly, begun decades ago.

comment by RichardKennaway · 2011-06-08T09:35:35.324Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's a fictional story on the same lines here. I wonder if anyone has tried it out?

comment by Emile · 2011-06-08T09:51:22.349Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have a mostly-inactive blog called "The Rational Parent" where I occasionally take notes when I'm researching parenting.

comment by JenniferRM · 2011-06-09T15:14:21.142Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Looking through that blog was awesome. It was like a one person version of what I'd imagine a parenting sub-reddit of LW would trend towards.

comment by Emile · 2011-06-09T20:30:01.339Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you, thank you. I occasionally check out the Parenting subreddit but I don't find ''that'' much of value there.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-06-08T17:12:16.700Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Raising them to share "rationalist thought" seems hard. Nearly everything I can think of seems to have a real risk of ending up being either password guessing or raising an overly enthusiastic contrarian.

The single most important lesson of rationality that I think a child can grasp intuitively through experience seems to be "beliefs should pay rent". But constructing lessons, engineering situations, setting an appropriate example and most importantly finding a peer network to reinforce this, appears to be... a difficult undertaking.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-06-08T06:47:01.064Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Troll answer: http://www.takingchildrenseriously.com/

Serious answer: I would suggest taking a leaf from the HP:MoR fanfiction and exposing children to Feynman, hard sci-fi, Flatland, The Phantom Tollbooth, Godel, Escher, Bach, and some of the better popular science books. Of course, instilling a love of reading is a good way to get children to want to read those in the first place, so you may want to broaden the reading selection with some other (not directly related to rationality) books.

To the first part of your question, I feel as though trying to derive from first principles a correct response would be beyond my abilities. Perhaps simply taking care to not patronize children would be a good start, as well as making sure to send a consistent message vis-a-vis punishments and objectives?

Anyone else have ideas? I feel as though anything else I say would just be regurgitating cached deep wisdom.

(Edited for stupidity/typos).

comment by jfm · 2011-06-21T01:29:03.636Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can you briefly explain to me why taking children seriously is a troll answer?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-06-22T13:22:31.563Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Taking children seriously is based on the teachings of Karl Popper, whose style of rationality is not the "LessWrong-Preferred" (tm) flavor, having been supplanted by Jaynes-style Bayesianism.

(There have been arguments back and forth on LessWrong about Popper preferring falsification above attempting to show something can meaningfully be considered to be true, with some stating that this is not true Popperism, with others claiming that this is a No-True-Scotsman argument.) Because of the controversy, mentioning Karl Popper on LessWrong is a way to generate lots of sound and fury without much meaningful discussion.

comment by jfm · 2011-06-22T17:47:49.442Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, this is precisely the sort of answer that is useful to me. Thank you.

comment by Peterdjones · 2011-06-22T15:47:13.519Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Taking Children Seriously doesn't have a lot to do with scientific epistemology,so the falsificationism vs Bayes thing isn't hugely relevant. It is more to do with political libertarianism.

comment by MixedNuts · 2011-06-22T15:55:23.946Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

AFAICT, taking children seriously is a good idea. The group that calls itself "Taking Children Seriously", not so much. I see a lot of talk about how important it is to take children seriously, but no actual instructions on how to do so ("reach a solution that gives everyone what they need", well, duh - how do I do that?), or general consequences thereof that should apply to most families where children are taken seriously.

comment by juliawise · 2013-01-23T03:07:58.495Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

From a post on a child philosophy forum: "When she decides to leave her homework or other task for tomorrow, sometimes I tell her that "today Sophie" is not being nice for "tomorrow Sophie", leaving all that work for her."

comment by [deleted] · 2015-10-19T06:39:00.520Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Embarrassingly, and simulatenously proudly, seeing this I reckon I can use this to motivate me to do more work haha.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-06-08T17:08:17.682Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My estimation is that if you are concerned enough, about how to parent in a rational way, to seek out advice, you are more likley than not already hitting diminishing returns on more intensive investments & involvement.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-06-08T07:03:11.903Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have found Strategy of Conflict remarkably applicable to dealing with a toddler. And humans in general.

Also, small children are ruthless manipulators, for fairly obvious evolutionary reasons. You'll have plenty of material to sharpen your own rationality.

I'm currently trying to interest my daughter (just turned four) in reading. "You'll get all the stories!" It's easier and provides better entertainment value to get me or Mum to do the reading, though. But the Peter and Jane books are proving useful in getting her to read. Alphablocks and Sesame Street also actually work to teach kids the letters of the alphabet.

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-06-09T00:14:39.345Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't remember how or why I learned to read (I sort of remember being able to read at least a little at the age of two, and my mom says I learned how by watching the TV show "The Electric Company") but I have more information about my younger brother, who was determined to learn to read because he wanted to play the same video games I did.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-06-09T08:57:42.487Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, incentive! She's taken to dolly dress-up Flash games of late. She can reliably identify the words "Play", "Start" and "Click here" because she has strong personal incentive to :-D So if I can give her a good personal incentive, she'll do the work and do it well. (Evidently, "all the stories!" isn't enough ;-)

comment by CronoDAS · 2011-06-13T00:31:15.185Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

See if you can get her interested in Pokemon. :)

I'm not entirely joking here: James Paul Gee once called it "perhaps the best literacy curriculum ever conceived", although I'm not really sure how serious he was being.

comment by Unnamed · 2011-06-08T04:31:12.733Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You could try Dale McGowan's blog, or his books Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers.

comment by D_Alex · 2011-06-09T09:19:24.826Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

raising a child who shares rationalist thought

Children tend to take on the values of their parents... Just living the "rationalist thought" value around your children will go most of the way to your goal.

What is really hard, IMHO, is raising children with values far different from the values their parents demonstrate. You may like tidiness, but not like cleaning up. Your kids will be probably messy too, no matter how much you want them to be tidy. They may also develop hypocritical tendencies...

comment by sixes_and_sevens · 2011-06-08T08:28:22.282Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I haven't read it, and suspect it might be of limited practical value, but it's on topic and probably of interest to the LW crowd: Parentonomics. It's an economist's account of raising his first child.

comment by juliawise · 2013-01-19T05:23:02.548Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I liked this on letting kids develop self-sufficiency.

comment by mutterc · 2011-06-08T18:28:35.970Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd think if you value / reward honesty and being reality-based, everything else should fall out of that. But mine are still too young to tell.

comment by David_Gerard · 2011-06-11T20:54:07.834Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

See that list of cognitive biases? Small children are all of those, all of the time. And ruthless manipulators. You're gonna have fun!

comment by juliawise · 2012-09-20T20:21:12.027Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Science@home has some nice resources for science with very young kids.

comment by jdinkum · 2011-06-10T21:28:43.540Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks all for the comments. I didn't actually mean to post this yet (my first original post). I thought I had saved it as a draft and was coming back to flesh it out...and there it was with comments and all.

Despite (or because of??) the terseness of my original post, I received many excellent upvotable replies.

I was going to expound a little more on the two points.

How do I go about defining and achieving realistic goals of parenting? This is the bigger question of the two since I feel more at sea with my 5 year old (also have a 2 year old, who's much "easier"). Some of the resources listed look like good places to start.

How do I encourage my children have a rationalistic worldview? That's something I'm more comfortable with but not really sure if I'm doing a great job.

Anyway, thanks again.

comment by KPier · 2011-06-10T22:39:53.615Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Can't speak as a parent, but speaking as a child:

Read to them. Lots, about everything. Confident readers will find school easier, enjoy learning outside of school, and stop them from associating reading with school and work. Get a set of children's encyclopedias, if you can find good ones.

Do science with them. If they ask you how something works, ask them how they could figure it out. My little brother thought heavier things would fall faster: we went outside and tried it. Then we watched the YouTube video of the feather-hammer experiment on the moon.

Answer their questions, even when they have a million of them. Better yet, get them to figure out the answers to their own questions.

Watch commercials with them, once they're old enough to watch tv. Explain how the commercials try to trick people (this is the easiest way to introduce biases, but don't call them that.)

If they've won an argument, tell them so, and tell them why. If you win an argument, tell them why. "Go to bed because I said so" is unhelpful. "Go to bed because when you don't, you're tired the next day and won't have any fun." is helpful. You can (and should) make them go to bed.

Don't tell them to "be rational". Show them what it actually looks like. When you make decisions, explain your thought process to them, even if you have to oversimplify. When they make decisions, ask them about theirs.

Remember, if you're even thinking about this, you're ahead of 99% of the planet. Kids usually manage to turn out okay.