Over the course of the last 4 years, I think I’ve done a pretty good job of making it clear that my role as a parent is one of the most significant and all-encompassing roles and relationships in my life. I suspect this is particularly true because the amount of time, emotional energy, mental concentration, and physical exertion dedicated to children when they are young is enormous.
Despite all this energy that goes into not completely screwing up your kids, like most people I basically have no idea what I’m doing. So when I came across the TED Talk “Lessons from the longest study on human development” I knew I was going to have to listen to and write about it for this month. Listening to this talk was 12 ½ minutes well spent! Before I dive into my thoughts on the talk itself, I do want to note that Helen Pearson doesn’t have any visual aids with her talk so it’s a good one to listen to if you’re in a situation where you can’t be looking at a screen.
For the last 70 years, scientists in Britain have been following children from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds (Pearson didn’t note anything about race) from the time of their birth. The study has, so far, collected data on children born in 1948, 1958, 1970, 1990, and 2000. Yes, you’re looking at that right, basically at the start of a new generation. There is a massive amount of data on these people, as well as their parents. Pearson focused on a small subset of that data, the effect of childhood poverty on long-term success and what can be done to counteract the devastating effects of childhood poverty.
The conclusion, basically stated, is that the best way to counteract the effects of childhood poverty is to do your best to be interested in your children, read to them, and stick to a regular bedtime.
Here’s my sticking point, and I suspect this is true regardless of nationality. This advice is seriously class-driven. As a middle-class person, my spouse and I do all those things. We read to our girls regularly, are interested in what they have to say, and have a pretty regular bedtime routine (that last one is more for our own sanity though). What about parents who are working more than one job to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table? The spoons are not going to be there for an in-depth conversation about the flavor of the book cake your child just made. Heck, there might not even be money for books. The employment situation might not even allow time to go to the library. Do you have to decide between a regular bedtime or seeing your children?
I think as we move forward, there are things we can do to improve our relationships with our children that will help them be successful adults. But I also think we absolutely must do more to get our lawmakers to make change so that every parent has the opportunity to be there for their child (or children) in all the ways they need.
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