To the debate over nature vs. nurture (or, as it has shaken out recently, Amy Chua vs. Bryan Caplan), my colleague Motoko Rich reminds us of a most important factor — money. In the Week in Review yesterday, she wrote, “paradoxically, the kind of parents who follow debates about parenting — typically more affluent and educated — are those who may have the least to worry about.”

However, she continued:

there is a group for whom the debate is really important: low-income parents. Differences in parenting can matter a lot to poor, underprivileged children, and research shows that better parenting could help improve their opportunities in many ways.

‘In one sense you can say parenting doesn’t matter very much if you’re looking at a bunch of upper-middle-class parents who are all basically good parents,’ said Janet Currie, an economist at Columbia University. ‘Then variations don’t matter. But if you’re looking at people who are in difficult situations and aren’t able to be good parents, then improvements in parenting would make a huge difference. That’s part of the problem with the discussion.’

Research has found that lifestyle differences — discipline, consistent mealtimes, reading and television watching — account for some differences between lower- and middle-income children in their readiness for school. But does a wealthier parent who forces a child to practice piano 20 hours a week make a huge difference to her overall well-being? ‘We don’t really know,’ said Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, a professor of child development at Columbia.

Some scholars worry that those who dismiss the role of nurture could jeopardize social programs. ‘We have a very solid scientific core that says that early years matter, and it’s not just genetics,’ said James Heckman, an economist at the University of Chicago.

Professor Heckman pointed to research showing that moving children from bad home environments to more loving and stable ones improves their cognitive performance and emotional health. Studies of children adopted from Romanian orphanages, for example, show that the earlier they were adopted, the more likely they were to have normal adulthoods.

In an interview, Professor Caplan said he did not dispute that better parenting could change the lives of children living in abject conditions. But ‘from the point of view of parents who are interested in a parenting book,’ he said, ‘knowing that you should not send your kid to a horrible orphanage is not very interesting, because you weren’t thinking of doing that.’

In other words, if you are here, reading theories of parenting, you can probably stand to lighten up. And perhaps make a donation of your time, money or political energy to an organization that helps less fortunate parents catch up.

BE YOUR CHILD’S FIRST MATH TEACHER! – Teach Your Child to Count to 10 – Early Learning Method

IS YOUR CHILD KINDERGARTEN READY? – iCount-to-10 – iPhone/iPad Application

Source: New York Times –