Parenting studies are useless
Yet another study surfaced this week, reminding parents that even the most minuscule decisions they make can have a devastating effect on our children. This time, a new study by psychologists at Indiana University seems to have proven that parents whose eyes wander during playtime raise children with smaller attention spans.
“Caregivers whose eyes wander during playtime — due to distractions such as smartphones or other technology, for example — may raise children with shorter attention spans, according to a new study by psychologists at Indiana University,” EurekAlert reports.
Caregivers whose EYES WANDER DURING PLAYTIME? Did I really just read that? Someone please tell me I’m not conscious. Parenting studies make me feel things, and not the urge to become a better parent.
I was a child of the seventies. My mom used to toss me into the backseat of her Camaro Beretta, where I sat straddling the hump on the floor with my face on the middle front seat console. We melted plastic Shrinky Dinks in the oven gleefully breathing in the toxic fumes. We “baked” in our EZ-bake ovens under small lights so hot they routinely singed my skin. My dad used to chain smoke Parliaments while I sat in the backseat of his baby-blue Cadillac, windows rolled up. I have no recollection of my parents sitting on the floor playing with my toys with me, ever.
Our parents didn’t think twice about any of this. And a lot of it was really bad. But parents of the seventies lived with a blissful ignorance — they didn’t have the internet to remind them what a shit job they were doing. They didn’t have recall notices popping up on a Facebook newsfeed to cripple them with paranoia. And if researchers were performing parenting studies, parents sure as hell weren’t reading them. There just wasn’t the same access to that kind of knowledge back then.
On the one hand, yes we are raising safer children. The car and the smoking are good examples about how information has made things much, much better and safer for our kids. Of course it’s good that we now know those are terrible decisions that we should not make as parents — heck, the former is illegal now. But the pendulum has swung far in the other direction. It’s not just safely we’re worried about — it’s much more than that now.
We’ve gotten to the point where studies seem to literally analyze every parenting move we make. What, exactly is the purpose of this? Do we think we’re going to now be able to craft super humans or something?
“The ability of children to sustain attention is known as a strong indicator for later success in areas such as language acquisition, problem-solving and other key cognitive development milestones,” said Chen Yu, who led the study. “Caregivers who appear distracted or whose eyes wander a lot while their children play appear to negatively impact infants’ burgeoning attention spans during a key stage of development.”
There are people who will argue that we really must know this stuff. And in my own very beginning stages of parenting, I actually paid attention to it, too. I remember reading a study about not calling children “smart” and quickly correcting my interactions with my then tween stepdaughter. “That’s great,” I would say. “You are doing a good job because you are trying so hard!” Not because you’re smart! Can’t say that! The idea behind the reasoning is that if you tell a kid they’re smart, if they mess up they’ll immediately think they’re not smart anymore, and they become averse to making mistakes “which are critical to learning and succeeding.”
Yes, your child will become risk-averse and less successful because you dared call them “smart.” Oh, STFU world. Just stop.
Remember the study that aimed to prove sticker charts were the worse thing we could ever do? Did you know sticker charts are “powerful psychological tools” that will ultimately destroy your child’s relationship with you and anyone they ever meet in the future? Because when you reward a child, they will just start to expect rewards for everything. Or something.
Again, STFU, world.
All of this information about all this shit we’re doing “wrong” isn’t helpful. It just makes us question even the most instinctive parenting moves we make, giving our power over to researchers instead of our own common sense.
Maybe it’s bad for us to take our eyes off our infants, or call our kids “smart,” or use a damn sticker chart. Who cares? We’re not child-perfecting robots. Our entire purpose after we become parents isn’t to make sure we over analyze the shit out of every decision we make, constantly berate and guilt ourselves for not doing things “right,” and attempt to rear the perfect child.
Our purpose is to love our children, guide them, and not quash the perfect spirit they arrived on this planet with. All we can do is fuck them up. They are already wonderful, beautiful, perfect beings. It’s time that we stop thinking parenting is all about the decisions we make and not about just keeping our kids healthy, loved, and alive to navigate the world the way they need to. Yes that involves discipline and other parenting tactics — but there’s no team of researchers in our living rooms, and we’re doing okay.
Basically, if it is your goal to craft the perfect human — go ahead and read and follow the studies. Maybe you’ll get your little super human after all. But for the rest of us, meh. No thanks.
You can keep your advice, we’re good.