Is it bad to pressure kids to get good grades? Will playing too many videogames rot my kid's brain? How can I raise my children to be anti-racist? There's an (over)abundance of answers to those questions—and everyone is more than happy to tell you why their answers are right—but most of what parents hear isn't based on any real science. In Melinda Wenner Moyer's new book, perfectly titled How to Raise Kids Who Aren't Assholes, the science writer surveys the latest studies to inform "science-based strategies for better parenting." From Clara Moskowitz's interview with Moyer in Scientific American:
Were there any cases where you found the science went against what you previously thought and surprised you?
One of the core questions I had was, "How do I raise my kids to be generous and kind?" A lot of what we hear is about the importance of teaching giving and generosity. But the research I kept coming across stemmed from how we talk about feelings. That's surprising—why would that have anything to do with how generous children would become? It became clear that helping our kids understand their feelings gives them the capacity to understand others' feelings and helps them make decisions to help their friends and be more generous toward them. This is part of something called theory of mind—how to understand others' feelings. Research suggests that the more parents talk about their feelings and other peoples', the more kids are likely to be generous and helpful.
What does science tell us about raising kids to be antiracist?
Parents often think if we don't talk about race, our children won't see it, won't develop racism. That is, in fact, the opposite of what happens. Kids see race from a very early age and are very tuned in to social hierarchies. They are like little detectives trying to figure out how social categories work in the world and why. They see that most American presidents have been white and that a lot of the kids at school who have the biggest houses, their parents are white. They think the simplest explanation is that white people are just better or smarter. The research shows we need to correct these misconceptions as children are developing them. We need to talk about it quite a lot, which is really hard for white parents; it's hard for me. Some of these approaches I learned for the book are hard. They take practice and are not instinctual, but the research shows those difficult conversations help even if they're not perfect.