One of the signs of these confused and confusing times we live in is that facts don’t matter. What matters are feelings and opinions, which are often confused and confusing. According to another author friend, this is the primary feature of post-post-modernity.
It’s a fact, for instance, that several reputable studies (some of which are cited by psychologist David Elkind in his classic “The Hurried Child”) have found that teaching academics to preschool children fails to produce long-term benefit. By the third grade, it is impossible to tell the child who came to kindergarten already reading from the child of equal ability and similar background who came to kindergarten not yet knowing his ABCs. With excellent intent, the former child’s parents wasted their, and his, time. And precious time it was, given that we’re talking about the formative years. There is also evidence that premature academic instruction increases the likelihood of learning disability and leads to decreased performance in high school.
But this being post-post-modernity, one can cite chapter and verse on these studies to parents of preschoolers and the number who will take a load off and cease all attempts to “jump-start” their kids’ achievement levels will be insignificant. Fear trumps facts.
Similarly, the largest study of its kind ever done recently confirmed the truth of what I’ve been saying in these columns for thirty years: parent involvement in homework is counterproductive. Irrespective of demographics, socioeconomics or ability, children who are expected to be independently responsible for their school performance achieve at higher levels than children whose parents help with homework, all else being equal. The occasional assist is certainly appropriate, but letting children struggle and even occasionally fail produces lots of long-term benefit.
No one can dispute the findings, but will the findings deter parents from helping with homework? Some, perhaps, but I seriously doubt that the number would be significant. Again, fear trumps facts.
“I’ll decide what’s good for my kids,” a parent recently told me in no-uncertain terms when I told him that studies had shown that the tablet devices he and his wife have provided their preschool children could have adverse effects on brain development as well as language and social skills. (For more on this, see pediatrician Paul Smolen’s excellent new book “Can Doesn’t Mean Should: Essential Knowledge for 21st Century Parents”—five stars on Amazon.) But to him, facts don’t matter. Said parent believes that providing his kids with the latest technologies gives them an advantage; therefore, his kids will have the latest technologies. His feelings rule.
I don’t agree with those who believe one should not be allowed to raise children without a government-issued parenting license, but if someone ever invents a technology that would cause parents to think more and feel a bit less, I’d be all for it.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents' questions on his websites, johnrosemond.com and parentguru.com.