In trying to think of a clever title to match a topic gaining media attention, it hit me: Hey, it’s NCAA tournament time, why not Parentology! After all, people all over are predicting and filling out their brackets (bracketology). They are studying match-ups and quickly making decisions of who will beat who. So, with a great pop cultural tie-in that seemed clever enough, I knew a Google search was necessary. I have moments of creativity, but certainly I’m not the first person to use that term. Turns out, Dalton Conley, a sociologist from New York University, wrote a book called Parentology: Everything You Wanted to Know About the Science of Raising Children but Were Too Exhausted to Ask.
That’s quite a title. Everything you wanted to know? There is a lot I want to know and a lot I don’t do right. Through countless studies, research has seemed to point out numerous tactics for raising healthy adjusted children. But what are these tactics or this advice really pointing us towards? Good grades, athletic performance, success amongst peers, and financial success? Are our tactics really helping our children answer the fundamental question, “Who am I?
Is what we do more important than how we feel about ourselves? Do our achievements give us a sense of security and self-worth? And if we are trying these various tactics to achieve these goals, how do we know which one is going to work in the long run?
So in honor of the Sweet Sixteen, here are 16 areas (among many others) that parents are concerned about regarding child-rearing and development. Fair warning: This may feel a bit overwhelming as they range from babies to teenagers, feeding schedules to naming, and most of all, self-control. (The following are not an endorsement but intended to make a point.)
- Secure Attachment
- On-demand vs. scheduled nursing
- How babies should sleep
- Timing of potty training
- Using board games to teach math
- Using playtime to improve memory and stimulate growth of the cerebral cortex
- The anthropology of sleep
- How family life affects peer relationships
- When to begin formal schooling
- Reward systems for self-control
- Praising children in the right way
- Authoritative parenting vs. permissive parenting
- Cause and effect parenting
- The Mozart Effect – increasing intelligence by listening to Mozart
- The effects of video games on school achievement
- The mental benefits of exercise
I understand why Dalton Conley used the phrase “were too exhausted to ask in the by-line of his title; parenting is overwhelming. After all, how am I to know if I should helicopter, free range, nurse (I can’t), or if I even gave them the right name to ensure they have impulse control? If I let my children sleep in the bed with us, will they learn how to quiet themselves down and have control later in life? How much impact will their birth order play on their psychological development (this seems a bit ex post facto, doesn’t it)?
I could have gone on with that list and easily filled out an entire bracket of 64+ tactics and perspectives. It’s not that there are not valid and meaningful perspectives in all those noted above. Tactics are tactics for a reason; they give us a basis to approach something. But all of this can seem overwhelming, and it is. Sometimes, too much information is simply that…too much. And with all the background noise and various opinions, we miss the real goal which is to give our children a sense of their own uniqueness and self-worth. That is a process of discovery for the child and the parent that is made up of many decisions along the way.
We make countless decisions every day, largely out of habit/routine, from what we are going to wear to which hand we write with (right for 90% of us). However, there are times, instances, and circumstances when we simply don’t choose anything. It can be due to stress, the value we placed on a decision, knowing where to start, or simply because we have too many options. There is actually a term for this called “Analysis Paralysis. That means that we have over-thought a situation so much that a decision never takes place. We are frozen. And that is the worst decision when it comes to parenting.
There is no one parenting tactic you are going to do perfectly that will ensure the output of a “straight A–student who is popular and athletic. No matter the amount of research you pursue to achieve your parenting definition of success, one thing has to be clear: You have to be honest enough to admit that these are our societal metrics of success and our parenting merit badges. But badges are all they are. Sure, we want our children to be socially adjusted and experience success. But most of all, we should strive to give them a sense of security which comes from their identity.
That is the solution—to recognize the most important thing you can do is to help your children feel confident in their identity and not place too much emphasis on external and artificial, or at the least exaggerated, societal badges.
Identity is a question of security. We love our children because they are a gift to us and because they are a part of us, but also because we are a part of them. We were made to be in relationship with each other. They are our family, and family is a picture of heavenly community. We need to understand that our identity is found in God the Father. We are His beloved children, and He has called us to steward well the gifts of our children, which He has given us.
That’s the ultimate goal and victory found within parentology. Good luck! Choose well!
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