Several millennia of trying to raise children not to be monsters has made us think that we're getting pretty good at the whole parenting game. As such, there are plenty of parenting techniques that seem like common sense. That is, until science comes in and points out how your well-meaning habits are in fact making things worse. We're talking about things like ...
6Avoiding Arguing In Front Of Them
Please note before we go any further that "arguing" is not the same as "fighting."
Good parents never want to have arguments in front of their children. ("Go to your room! Your father and I need to have a talk.") For one thing, you need to present a united front. Otherwise, those damn kids are going to walk all over you. But also, nobody wants to traumatize their children by giving the impression that their marriage isn't always bliss.
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No one wants to be the parent whose child drops an F-bomb over whose turn it is to pretend to cook.
In reality, it's much better to expose your kids to marital conflict, as long as you do it right. The world is full of conflict, as it turns out, and it's better to acclimatize them to it early than to throw them out into society with the skewed perception that people never disagree. You'll wind up with a kid who assumes that any argument with their buddy means the friendship is over. "Are you calling me a liar? Well guess what? Kevin is my best friend now! You're dead to me, Trevor!"
The key, of course, is that it has to be healthy conflict. Which unfortunately means that you have to get your own shit together first. Smashing plates against the wall and then downing a whole bottle of wine while your partner storms out to the nearest bar is not the kind of fight that's going to teach your kid how to be a functional adult.
"All the booze is killing our family, and all the replacement plates are killing our credit."
According to studies, the best effects on children are achieved by arguments that are mild to moderate, and resolved in front of them. That last part is important -- parents who cut off an argument only to "resolve" it behind closed doors with some good old-fashioned makeup sex also aren't helping. We're sure that works out fine for you, but your kids probably don't know what's happening. All they know is that their parents went to bed angry, there were some weird breathy bumping noises, and then everything was magically okay again. "All right, Trevor. I think resolving this means we have to take off our clothes and wrestle."
On the other hand, kids who see the whole drama -- especially if it is done with love, support, and compromise -- get a whole bunch of positive effects, including "better social skills and self-esteem ... increased emotional security ... better relationships with parents, [doing] better in school and [having] fewer psychological problems."
Your family drama. Don't plop your kid in front of a Brady Bunch marathon and call it day.
And the benefits continue into adulthood. Adults who reported seeing arguments at home had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol when dealing with their own conflicts at home than those whose parents apparently never fought, or fought behind closed doors.
It all sounds obvious when you spell it out, but right at this moment, there's still some annoyed mother/father in the kitchen muttering, "Enough. Not in front of the kids."
5Helping Them With Their Homework
Ask any teacher: If there are two kids of similar intelligence levels in the same classroom, but one is struggling and one is not, there's a good bet it relates to what's going on at home. Right? The successful kid has a mom and dad helpfully walking them through their homework every night, while the struggling kid's parents are screaming "Do your homework quieter, you little shit! I can barely hear myself smoking meth."
But this may be one of those rare cases in which the meth addict has it right. Research done in 2014 showed that helping kids with their homework doesn't have any positive impact on their ability to pass standardized tests, and the effect gets worse as they get older -- to the point where helping teenagers with their homework can bring their grades down.
"So if you have four hours of homework, and I do two, how many more hours until you decide this is all fucking pointless?"
Sure, it's great to have parents who make the kids do the homework, and who provide a safe, stable environment to do it in. But after that, it's better to be hands-off. And no, they're not just warning parents away from doing the homework for the kids; they're saying that it's bad news even to simply talk them through the work and help them do it themselves.
How is that possible, considering that's exactly what their teacher does? Well, in short, parents aren't teachers. Unless, you know, they literally are. The authors of the study believe that a significant factor is the fact that a lot of parents don't know what the fuck they're talking about and wind up guiding their kids to a bunch of wrong answers. As the kids get older and their homework gets harder, dad's answers get wronger.
You sucked ass at algebra when you were 15. Being 25 years removed from it isn't going to make you better.
Of course, we're not saying that the average parent is dumber than middle school students. It's the science saying it. At least one study has shown that up to 30 percent of parents lack confidence that they can help their kids with their math homework. And if they're anxious about their math ability, they can pass this anxiety on to their child. Oh, and believe it or not, this also applies to sports. Kids perform worse when a parent is in the stands screaming encouragement. Because, you know, they sort of have a coach already.
In short, it's better to let the pros do the teaching, and for mom and dad to stick to the parent stuff, like keeping the kids fed. Although, on that topic ...