Sunday, January 30, 2011

Freakonomics to Parenting

The day I completed Chetan Bhagat’s “2 States”, a decade long ice had been broken.  Hubby dear was so pleased. I saw this twinkle in his eyes. He is a voracious reader.  He is not the type who likes to put his hands in many jars like me..but, he sure likes to spend all the time, he can spare, reading.  So, that weekend when, I had finished the book,  he and the kids had taken this big duffle bag to the library. They returned after 2 hours. He had not bought books for himself, they were all for ME!!!

“I gave you this much hope!!” I exclaimed.

He had thought that at last..I will be able to share his passion with him in spite of the handicap we both know, I have..

“no time!”

He had gotten this huge stack of uninteresting books..on the art of writing, and many other topics he thought I would be interested in. I had immediately put those books for recycling. Nevertheless, I had felt like I needed another book to start reading.  So, of all the books from his library, I picked this one..the one, I had already heard lots about from Hubby dear and the world..”Freakonomics”. He had assured me that I would find it very interesting. 

“There is a lot of analysis in that book that you would find interesting..and you wouldn’t need to have an analytical mind too! “, he mocked.

Analysis of how people react to incentives.  How the 3 flavors of incentives, economic, social and moral, as a whole, drive people towards different goals, and, lot more conclusions on human behavior collected from numbers lying all around us. He explained how it all boils down to knowing what to measure and how to make a complicated world, not so complicated.

For example, How can one decide the price on a pint of blood?! If it were set to $5000 a pint, we could have ended up with blood being stolen at knife point and at the same time, if instead of praise,  the donors, were given a small incentive like  $50/ we would have a steep decline in blood donors. 

I was at this book for more than a month now, trying to get through as many pages I could everyday. It served as my read, during the nights, when I returned from my workout at 10pm..smelling all fresh, with an alert mind, in need of some food for thought, or, any material that could put me to sleep. The whatever worked mantra! Ready to take on the heaviest or dullest subject on earth to mind was up for this challenge, to see, who would triumph..The sleep fairy or my not so thinking mind!!

You see, I don’t have the luxury to claim…

”I think. Therefore, I am!!” 

like that famous 17th century thinker (Rene Descartes) had put it..Unfailingly, night after night, the sleep fairy would win.

Now that I completed it..should I feel a little wiser? Maybe, maybe not, I’m not sure!  I know now, I can ask any silly question and that’ll be considered good. Good for the new field called “Freakonomics”. There’ll be data in the world to support an answer for any weird question.

Well, this rogue economist, Steve Levitt,  had founded a new subject called “Freakonomics” based on his silly

“What’s the relationship between sumo wrestlers and school teacher"?”.

He had even answered it by saying, “Both of them cheat!”.  And there is a pattern to this cheating.  Even when the whole Chicago school system was tested, they could pin point those particular class teachers who had manipulated the test scores of her/his class, who had cheated. They had also found the best teachers. The reason for cheating was because of the incentives the teachers had..for good results of their students just like the sumo wrestlers.

He lets us into the realtors mind, who wouldn’t put that extra effort on the clients home that would fetch maybe another $150 (in net) extra into her pockets vs, the same extra effort that would have gotten her $10000 for her own home.  It was shocking to know that we find more c-sections in areas with lesser child births. Showing that everybody is no less a rogue than a criminal.

One of the most astounding analysis was the reason of the drop in crime rate in the 1990’s being related to the historic Roe Vs Wade case that legalized abortion in the 1970s.  None of the officials in the government (federal or state) could effectively pin point the reason for this to happen, and were busy trying to point it to increased and long sentencing of criminals or increased patrol etc..none of which had any changes to be effective reason. 

These unborn children who were aborted by moms mostly would have belonged to unstable families..without any support from the dad..and most of these babies if born, would have grown up to join the criminals. This case almost wiped out a whole generation of would be criminals…the author says!!

But, the conclusion that surprised me the most was this analysis that…it doesn’t matter how much one reads to their child everyday..or if, the child’s mother didn’t work between birth and kindergarten or that  the child attended head start or that the child watches more TV. All these doesn’t affect the child’s scores.

With TV’s and other media brain storming parents and guardians to read more to the child to have a better tomorrow, to inspire in the child, a life time of learning.  How can this make sense?!

Parents who are well educated, successful, and healthy tend to have children who test well in school. But, it doesn’t seem to much matter whether a child is trotted off to museums or spanked or sent to head start or frequently read to, or plopped in front of the TV. the author says. 

According to him, all these child rearing techniques don’t matter, its what the parents are that matters. So, it doesn’t matter what we do as a parent, but who we are that has a bearing on the success of a child.   Exactly in the authors words

“An overbearing parent is a lot like a political candidate who believes that money wins the elections – whereas in truth all the money in the world can’t get a candidate elected if the voters don’t like him to start with”

So, even before we pick up the parenting book..most of the things that would matter for the child’s success is already decided. Genetics plays a huge role, he says.

Isn’t this totally against the buzz that is going on in the street today after the “Why Chinese Moms are superior” article published in the Wall Street Journal by Amy Chau?  The Chinese and many Asian parents have been known to produce children with top math scores and music prodigies, with their tough parenting styles. The reason, this Tiger mom says, that her kids were able to excel in math, spelling, music, is because of the tenacious  practice they are made to do, seven days a week, vacations included and they had no choice but, to follow this demand of their parents which includes, no play dates, no sleepovers, not being allowed to take part in school plays and any extracurricular activities, if allowed, would be chosen by the parents.

To her, this harsh parenting style, hard work, persistence, and no patience for excuses is the prescription of success of her children, the best way to equip her children for their future!!

If you all remember, this article, an excerpt from her book, “The Battle Hymns of a Tiger Mom”, is supposed to have generated more than 100000 comments on Facebook, the day it was published.  Amy Chau had sent the whole nation of parents wondering, outraged and defensive, with her ruthless parenting strategy.  Wondering, if they are adequately preparing their children for a global economy, or, they should be outraged at her ruthlessness as a parent. 

It has sent the whole nation of journalists trying to size up US and China, be it their economies or the national scores in math and reading. TIME magazine showed statistical data that China has gotten way ahead of where US stands in term of its patents, science and engineering publications, even the scores relating to Math and reading.

Child Psychologists say that ..

  • children who are protected from difficult tasks, grow into emotionally brittle young adults, more vulnerable to anxiety and depression while kids who have earned such mastery..are very optimistic and decisive.
  • Children who are shielded from pain and praised for little or no accomplishments will more likely turn down a challenging task, whereas, kids who are lauded for their hard work, were more eager to take on demanding new exercises.

And neurosciences says..that, “Repetition is how the brain remembers”. This is the key to mastery. Sure the Tiger mom was out to achieve this mastery in her kids..but, at what cost. Should it weigh more than treating your kid like a human first? Isn’t that over parenting, she is doing? Isn’t it also true that

“Smart and happy are inseparable. Pursuing your child’s intellectual success at the expense of his happiness achieves neither”

Shouldn’t this be the goal of parenting? To raise smart kids by fostering them to explore and make them understand the importance of success rather than treating your kids like your performance review or your merit card, as a reflection of your own status. This should not be the goal of parenting!!

If you consider the Finnish Education system…the Finland's school’s scores rank the top most in the world with respect to Reading and Math, yet the kids have the fewest number of class hours compared to the other developed world. Also, their kids are almost 7 years old by the time they start main school. So, should it matter that the harsh parenting styles are necessary to equip our kids for the global economy?!

After reading all these things..and getting myself confused in different ways..I’ve arrived at my conclusion that moderation in parenting is a must too. Over parenting is as bad as under parenting. Even though..I do push my kids to things that I didn’t get access to as a music, dance and is important for me that I don’t tax them such that the beauty of this exercise is lost to them. 

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