Helicopter parents — constantly hovering over their children — have their heart in the right place. But that style of parenting has always struck me as… unnecessary.
My former professor Bryan Caplan agrees. He has a new book out that’s based on his research on identical twins. As it turns out, a lot of how kids will turn out as adults is based on nature, not nurture. The implication: parents can ease up on the high-maintenance parenting style that is so fashionable today.
In The Wall Street Journal, Caplan writes, “With a few exceptions, the effect of parenting on adult outcomes ranges from small to zero.”
Once I became a dad, I noticed that parents around me had a different take on the power of nurture. I saw them turning parenthood into a chore—shuttling their kids to activities even the kids didn’t enjoy, forbidding television, desperately trying to make their babies eat another spoonful of vegetables. Parents’ main rationale is that their effort is an investment in their children’s future; they’re sacrificing now to turn their kids into healthy, smart, successful, well-adjusted adults. But according to decades of twin research, their rationale is just, well, wrong.
Caplan also uses the law of demand to encourage people to have more kids. One reason people have fewer kids than they used to is because they make parenting very costly for themselves than previous generations did.
By easing up a bit, parenting becomes much cheaper in terms of time, effort, and stress. And when something becomes cheaper, people tend to buy more of it. Or, in this case, Caplan says they should at least give it serious thought.
I’ll have to read the book before I can call myself convinced or not. But Caplan’s thesis that parenting doesn’t have to be a chore makes some intuitive sense. And while fatherhood is probably a few years away for this writer, It does make it seem less daunting.