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Monday, March 17, 2014

Parentology: Everything You Wanted to Know About the Science of Raising Children But Were Too Exhausted to Ask

Being that I do what I do for a living, I was drawn to Dalton Conley's Parentology: Everything You Wanted to Know About the Science of Raising Children But Were Too Exhausted to Ask.

When Dalton Conley's first child is brought into this world, he knows that he must raise her well in order for her to be successful. But what does "well" mean? Conley turns to the social science research behind child development to come up with the most well-laid plan of parenting he can find. He bribes his kids to do math homework, but soon discovers what rewards (or punishments) work for each of his children. Instead of ADD medication for his son he uses a placebo, and gives both of his children weird names in order to teach them self-control. It's parenting of a different order for sure--and Conley shares his lessons learned along the way.

I was initially interested in this book because I am always interested in anything having to do with pop psychology, particularly child development. After all, it's a large part of what I do. To be honest, I typically go into these kinds of books assuming the worst, so I was pleasantly surprised to find out that for the most part, the author used and properly represented research as he really did have a background in academic research. I was perturbed by some omissions regarding a couple of major theorists, but overall I could look past it to examine the book as a whole. While I was satisfied with the research, there were times where I felt like he went to the extremes in using research to justify his parenting. However, I am in no place to judge other parents and read this book with much more curiosity than judgment.

I tended to focus on the feeling that Conley was using research to justify parenting choices rather than making parenting choices based on research. The thing about what we do in empirical research is that we understand and accept things can be seen from either side. For every body of literature that supports a parenting choice, there's an additional body of literature that argues another side. I wish that more counterarguments had been presented in this book, but alas, this is one man's story and it can only be told from his perspective.

That being said, I can tell you that I did enjoy reading this book. I appreciated that Conley came from the perspective of an academic purposely seeking out research to make informed choices. I enjoyed the stories he told about his children, and while I think that his children's names are a bit funny (his daughter is E, which I originally thought was a pseudonym, and his son is Yo), I can say that I respect his decision to not just name them what he and his wife chose, but to raise them in the way and manner he and their mother see fit regardless of popularity. While I can't say I agree with some choices, such as the willingness to call his children names such as "retarded," I think that if he believes this is his way if bonding and it's not adversely affecting his children's self-concepts, rock on, dude.

I encourage readers across the board to form your own opinions and to do your own research when it comes to things about which you have questions. There is an abundance of research as to how to make the best choices for your children, and while a lot of it is not accessible (that is: readable and understandable to the general public), there are plenty people out there that will help you interpret this information. Go forth, and build humans.

 Kindle version on left, hard copy on right.

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