The Dim-Post

November 17, 2011

Parenting and empiricism

Filed under: general idiocy — danylmc @ 10:27 am

Stuff has a story currently leading their site about ‘social commentator’ Celia Lashlie, who:

has lashed out at mothers who mollycoddle their sons, saying many teenage boys are killed on the roads because their mums smother them and refuse to let them discover the consequences of their own actions.

Speaking to a Traffic Institute conference in Hamilton yesterday, the former prison officer turned author admonished wealthy, so-called “helicopter mums”, who “hover” over their sons, refusing to accept they can be blamed for anything.

“I am saddened by how many boys we lose,” she said.

“Part of the reason, I think, why we have the carnage we have on our roads is because the first time he gets freedom from his mother is when he buys a car.

Mrs Lashlie believes the problem is worst in the middle and upper classes, where wealthy women who often do not need to work, are too heavily involved in their sons’ life.

So that’s what’s known as a ‘hypothesis’. And what serious commentators and researchers do when they have a hypothesis is go and look at the evidence to figure out if it’s true or not. I mean, any idiot can come up with a controversial theory, the hard part is figuring out if your theory is right or wrong.

So Lashlie might go and look at the demographics of teenage car crash victims and see if there’s a significant bias towards middle and upper-class fatalities. It takes about ten seconds to google the statistics at NZ Transport and see that Maori are seriously over-represented in car crash deaths, which kind of suggests that Lashlie’s theory is just wrong.

And is ‘helicopter parenting’ a new phenomenon? Or just a new buzzword? Are mothers more protective today? I suspect that with more middle and upper-class mothers working while their children are in childcare, they’re less protective because they just aren’t around as much. Could this contribute to risk-taking behaviour? Who knows: it’d be kind of interesting to have someone look at, say, longitudinal studies, or twin studies, or adoption studies, and see if there’s any correlation in the data, instead of just having people pull theories out of their asses and having the media regurgitate it.

Now that I’m a parent I’ve been reading a lot of essays and articles about parenting, and you see this a lot. Someone makes a bold statement about parenting styles, ie ‘babies should (or should never) be left to cry.’ And as a scientist I’d expect to see a statement like that backed up by a reference to a study, or a body of data. ‘20,000 Texas newborns, studied over three years . . .’ Instead the subject area is just polluted with self-appointed experts vomiting forth opinions based on their own anecdotal data. ‘As a Mother/social worker/paediatrician . . .’

It’s very frustrating. Media outlets shouldn’t encourage it.

46 Comments »

  1. Ultimately, you have to just decide for yourself how to raise your child and ignore all the experts.

    Comment by Lucia Maria — November 17, 2011 @ 10:33 am

  2. Danyl, It’s worth pointing out that while the story is currently front page centre, it’s published in the Lifestyle section of Stuff. It’s appropriately categorised.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style – Brilliant hearty stories in there.

    Comment by Bed Rater — November 17, 2011 @ 10:40 am

  3. It was the front page of the Waikato Times this morning.

    Comment by mjl — November 17, 2011 @ 10:49 am

  4. First month or so – attend to every whimper, then you learn which types of cry need instant attention and which ones are best left, for a while at least. In time you will find some cries have to be left, so you need to have some practice at that.

    Comment by Pete George — November 17, 2011 @ 11:08 am

  5. But if media outlets exist to make a profit, and if people read this stuff, surely they have a duty to their shareholders to publish it?

    After all, aren’t media shareholders the most important members of society…

    Comment by deserthead — November 17, 2011 @ 11:29 am

  6. Sensible advice from comments 1 and 4 (first and last time I’ll agree with either of them)

    Comment by Leopold — November 17, 2011 @ 11:43 am

  7. It’s the perfect media situation. High anxiety about your ability to be a good parent and an apparent lack of certainty about just how to achieve that goal feed a ravenous appetite for information and advice. From my observation and continuing experience there appear to be multiple effective ways of going about most child rearing tasks. Whatever choices you might make a sense of optimism and enjoyment help with the fatigue and uncertainty. All media and most non-medical academic work are starting points for discussion rather than hard and fast rules for action. Besides, time fucking flies. Unless you are planning on practising till you get it right 10 or 12 kids down the road go with the usual combination of information and instinct. Enjoy the little buggers however imperfect they (and you) may be.

    Comment by Tinakori — November 17, 2011 @ 11:47 am

  8. Ultimately, you have to just decide for yourself how to raise your child and ignore all the experts.

    Figuring out the role of ‘experts’ in one’s life is bloody hard and frustrating. But assuming that some do very good, evidence-based and thorough work, wouldn’t it be your obligation as a parent to listen to them – if you have the energy to figure out who to listen to, that is..? No I don’t have kids but just wondering.

    Comment by StephenR — November 17, 2011 @ 11:49 am

  9. “And is ‘helicopter parenting’ a new phenomenon?”

    Baby bore isn’t.

    Comment by OECD rank 22 kiwi — November 17, 2011 @ 11:51 am

  10. “Now that I’m a parent I’ve been reading a lot of essays and articles about parenting …”

    All due respect, danyl, but that way madness lies. Assuming you’re a reasonably well-socialised individual who has a healthy relationship with your partner, the two of you just need to do whatever works and everything will work out OK. And if it doesn’t … there’s probably nothing you could have done about it anyway.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — November 17, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

  11. True dat, OECD.

    With 7 billion people in the world you would think that new parents would realise that it is not that unique.

    I It is an excellent personal experience though.

    Comment by King Kong — November 17, 2011 @ 12:13 pm

  12. > I’d expect to see a statement like that backed up by a reference to a study, or a body of data

    Have a read of the book “Nurtureshock” then (from memory by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman) – it does just that.

    Also, I don’t know what the status of your grandparenting situation is, but in my (and others’) experience many new grandparents don’t realise how much they’ve forgotten in the intervening 2-3 decades since they were doing the job themselves. So don’t necessarily take their advice without reflection either.🙂

    Comment by David — November 17, 2011 @ 12:39 pm

  13. Robyn Hitchcock, Uncorrected Personality Traits

    Comment by Joe W — November 17, 2011 @ 12:48 pm

  14. “It takes about ten seconds to google the statistics at NZ Transport and see that Maori are seriously over-represented in car crash deaths,”

    Good Lord.. nek minnit the survivors will be coming in through our windows at night.

    JC

    Comment by JC — November 17, 2011 @ 12:49 pm

  15. Danyl,

    You could just crowd-source your aprenting problems?
    Post them here, then let your faithful ‘blog readers brainstorm and vote on proposed solutions.

    I can’t see any downside.

    (Disclosure: I have no children of my own. If I did, I’d want twins… so I could run small-scale psychological experiments on one and have the other as a control).

    Comment by Phil — November 17, 2011 @ 1:10 pm

  16. “Baby bore isn’t.”

    you’re not a prisoner here, dude. If you’re bored, try doing something else instead of telling us all about your emotional state. Most of what I read from you bores me pretty intensely but up til now I’ve just ignored you like I do with most boring things.

    Comment by nommopilot — November 17, 2011 @ 1:11 pm

  17. “Maori are seriously over-represented in car crash deaths, which kind of suggests that Lashlie’s theory is just wrong.”

    Why does it suggest her theory is wrong? My understanding is that Lashlie was basing her comments on her experience. Is her experience invalid?

    Comment by Ross — November 17, 2011 @ 1:22 pm

  18. Funny, I thought “baby bore” was aimed at new parents generally, not at dm. I found myself nodding, “yes, I was one of those”. Or should one stop having the occasional laugh at oneself?

    David @ 12: “Also, I don’t know what the status of your grandparenting situation is, but in my (and others’) experience many new grandparents don’t realise how much they’ve forgotten in the intervening 2-3 decades since they were doing the job themselves. So don’t necessarily take their advice without reflection either.”
    Amen: with 2 now at primary school, I struggle to remember what is was like looking after babies.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — November 17, 2011 @ 1:26 pm

  19. “And is ‘helicopter parenting’ a new phenomenon? Or just a new buzzword? Are mothers more protective today? I suspect that with more middle and upper-class mothers working while their children are in childcare, they’re less protective because they just aren’t around as much. Could this contribute to risk-taking behaviour?”

    Completely unscientific, but I have a friend who works at a poshish Catholic primary school. Some parents actually come in during classes to ask for their children, or excuse their child from school because another child called them ‘silly’. I’m not kidding. That is helicopter parenting. I dont think it increases young people taking risks, actually I would think the opposite would be the case.

    Comment by max — November 17, 2011 @ 1:29 pm

  20. Most kids just need a good smack every now and then, surely?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — November 17, 2011 @ 1:34 pm

  21. I believe the problem is worst at the low end of the socio-economic scale. The sons of poor families and families involved in drugs and other criminal activities have a tendency to speed, not care about other road users, drive under the influence of alcohol and drugs, race their cars, have unsafe vehicles, cut corners, etc.

    Comment by Betty — November 17, 2011 @ 1:46 pm

  22. “My understanding is that Lashlie was basing her comments on her experience. Is her experience invalid?”

    When it is extrapolated into general advice on how every parent should treat her or his child, yes.

    “Most kids just need a good smack every now and then, surely?”

    Only yours, I believe, CF.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — November 17, 2011 @ 2:09 pm

  23. Not sure about this Danyl. Are you saying that she needs to publish in an academic journal before you can take her seriously? She has in fact published a number of books, spoken to thousands of kids on schools and their parents as well. Plus her theories evolved from her own experience as a single mum of two boys and don’t forget she was also the manager of Chch Women’s Prison. The only other academic I know of with direct prison experience is Greg Newbold and he was on the other side of the bars.
    As a teacher (30 years) and a parent (21 years) her basic premise makes a lot of sense to me – good judgement comes from bad experiences. If overprotective parents shield kids from the consequences of their actions, particularly when those kids are powered by testosterone, bad things can happen. That might be a car crash but it could just as easily be jumping off a bridge, smacking someone in the face, stealing something or getting stuck into dope. Believe me, none of those actions are confined to young Maori.
    Anecdotally: the worst culprits are mum and dad both being lawyers!

    Comment by Neil — November 17, 2011 @ 2:14 pm

  24. “Anecdotally: the worst culprits are mum and dad both being lawyers!”

    As a lawyer Dad who is married to a lawyer, either of my kids pull that shit and I’m handing them straight over to Clunkin’ Fist.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — November 17, 2011 @ 2:17 pm

  25. “My understanding is that Lashlie was basing her comments on her experience. Is her experience invalid?”

    Experience is how you form interesting hypothesis. Chemists don’t get to say, ‘I’ve been around for a while. I’m just going to assume compound X exists!’

    Comment by danylmc — November 17, 2011 @ 2:19 pm

  26. “I’m handing them straight over to Clunkin’ Fist.”

    haven’t they made that illegal?

    Comment by nommopilot — November 17, 2011 @ 2:23 pm

  27. In Celia’s defence she undertook a big research project before publishing “He’ll be okay” (though it was social science research so I guess if she didn’t get the findings she wanted she could just keep testing till she did). But aren’t her views broadly similar to those in the CSA’s “Reducing Social and Psychological Morbidity during Adolescence” report, which *was* produced by a collective noun of scientists?

    And what Andrew said. About doing what y’all think is best.

    Comment by sally — November 17, 2011 @ 2:26 pm

  28. My understanding is that Lashlie was basing her comments on her experience.

    Lashlie has a record of making up her experiences to fit her opinions.

    Comment by Smut Clyde — November 17, 2011 @ 3:05 pm

  29. What is the collective noun for scientists? Wikipedia lists three each for salmon and seals (and no less than 10 for sheep), but none for scientists.

    Comment by Conrad — November 17, 2011 @ 3:18 pm

  30. as a mother – what really peeves me is people who write “asses” when they mean “arses”. We aren’t the 51st state (yet).

    Comment by deemac — November 17, 2011 @ 3:39 pm

  31. > “Is her experience invalid?” When it is extrapolated into general advice on how every parent should treat her or his child, yes.

    Lashlie was speaking at a Traffic Institute conference, so her comments were targeted at a specific audience, not the general population. She was making an observation, based on the fact that young men figure disproportionately among road deaths statistics.

    Comment by Ross — November 17, 2011 @ 3:47 pm

  32. When someone decides to send out a summary of her comments as a press release, those remarks are targeted at the general population.

    Comment by Smut Clyde — November 17, 2011 @ 3:56 pm

  33. “Experience is how you form interesting hypothesis. Chemists don’t get to say, ‘I’ve been around for a while. I’m just going to assume compound X exists!’”

    Experience is also how you understand how travelling at 100kmh in driving rain with poor visiblity is not as safe as travelling at 100kmh in fine clear conditions.

    Comment by Ross — November 17, 2011 @ 3:57 pm

  34. Experience is also how you understand how travelling at 100kmh in driving rain with poor visiblity is not as safe as travelling at 100kmh in fine clear conditions.

    Something a disturbingly large proportion of drivers don’t seem to have.

    Comment by TerryB — November 17, 2011 @ 5:27 pm

  35. When I fist saw that “Helicopter mum” phrase I thought “Seriously? When did they go from Volvo driving soccer mums to helicopter flying soccer mums? How wealthy are these people? Man, this trickle down economics stuff is BULLSHIT!”

    Thankfully I misread it and she’s actually talking about women who have developed the ability to levitate. I’m still pretty jealous.

    Comment by Exclamation MArk — November 17, 2011 @ 5:39 pm

  36. I can never understand Celia “Young men just get caught up in the moment and accidentally end up stomping on their pregnant girlfriends’ bellies” Lashlie’s fucking idolisation of boys and how the poor wee babies just need to be protected from the evil women surrounding them.

    Gods know patriarchy hurts men too by forcing them into rigid gender roles, but when your explanation for that is “women are needy bitches who ruin men’s lives” you’re probably part of the problem.

    Comment by QoT — November 17, 2011 @ 8:36 pm

  37. There is a lot of evidence that kids who are closely monitored by parents, find it hard to learn commonsense out in the street. Dropped off at school and picked up again and taken to numerous sport and cultural events means that they don’t get to learn how to react to adverse situations. Maybe with the best of intentions parents hope that by avoiding unpleasant situations and the wrong sort of people, kids will be advantaged, but it does deny the kids the opportunity to learn from mistakes.
    And in my experience it is usually wealthy families who are most likely to stop their kids from learning how to cope. Celia is right.

    Comment by xianmac — November 17, 2011 @ 8:48 pm

  38. Once one realises that the purpose of pundits is to sell books and secure viewers for advertisers, all the pieces fall into place.

    And yeah, as a parent myself, it is freaking confusing. Even ordinary people will all have widely diverging opinions; my neighbour, for example, reckons that giving my daughter cartoon alien print bedspreads is wrong, ‘cos that’s a boy’s duvet, not a girl’s.

    Comment by C. Arthur Monteath-Carr — November 18, 2011 @ 7:41 am

  39. @ #29: I think it’s a “Think Tank” of scientists, or, a Tank.

    Comment by C. Arthur Monteath-Carr — November 18, 2011 @ 8:08 am

  40. @ #29

    A “funding application” of scientists

    Comment by Neil — November 18, 2011 @ 8:24 am

  41. Good suggestions both, I’m leaning towards ‘a tank of scientists’.

    #36, wow that is just horrifying. I suppose running a women’s prison would tend to make one a bit cynical about young women but still.

    Comment by Conrad — November 18, 2011 @ 8:51 am

  42. @xianmac #37

    But is there really “a lot of evidence” for what you say? Your post reads as if it’s saying exactly what Danyl identified as the problem: you’ve come up with a hypothesis (“kids who are closely monitored by parents, find it hard to learn commonsense out in the street”) and instead of testing that hypothesis, you’ve just set out reasons why you reckon that sounds about right.

    Comment by Jordan — November 18, 2011 @ 8:53 am

  43. “And in my experience it is usually wealthy families who are most likely to stop their kids from learning how to cope. Celia is right.”
    In my hypothesis, it’s the middle class who do this: the poor send their kids to school at 7am in the driving rain with no coat, no lunch & and the rich send their kids to boarding school to sink, swim or have something inserted in their anus by their peers.

    “26.“I’m handing them straight over to Clunkin’ Fist.” – haven’t they made that illegal? – Comment by nommopilot”
    I think so: wouldn’t I have to undergo a police check or something? I’d certainly have to register for GST.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — November 18, 2011 @ 1:57 pm

  44. Celia Lashlie apparently did the “Good Man Project”. But where is it? Has the research ever been published? I know she’s published books based on her interpretation of the research but I’ve never been able to find the research itself.

    Comment by Bea — November 19, 2011 @ 2:24 pm

  45. What, Clunking Fist, you’d charge for this service? Where’s your sense of public spirit?

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — November 19, 2011 @ 2:56 pm

  46. You sayin’ a barter? I do the, err, administration side and you take care of the legal issues?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — November 21, 2011 @ 12:43 pm


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