As a parent, you can never get too smug. I thought I was doing my son a great service by regularly reading to him, encouraging learning through games, having family dinners as much as possible, and with lots of chatty conversation.
I was taken aback, however, when I read new scientific research indicating that none of these actions have any detectable influence on a child’s intelligence later in life.
According to a study conducted by researchers at Florida State University and published in the scientific journal Intelligence, parents cannot make their kids smarter!
A criminal professor, Kevin Beaver, examined a U.S.-representative sample of youth alongside a sample of adopted children from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and found evidence to support the argument that IQ is not the result of parental socialization.
The study analyzed parenting behaviors and their effect on verbal intelligence. IQ tests were administered to middle and high school students, and then again when these same students were between the ages of 18 and 26.
“We thought this was a very interesting setup and when we tested these two competing hypotheses in this adoptive-based research design, we found there was no association between parenting and the child’s intelligence later in life once we accounted for genetic influence.
“In previous research, it looks as though parenting is having an effect on child intelligence, but in reality the parents who are more intelligent are doing these things and it is masking the genetic transformation of intelligence to their children,” Beaver said.
In other words, your parenting style will not have an effect on your child’s IQ as long as your parenting is “within normal bounds,” he explained. This study brings up the age-old nature versus nurture controversy and challenges previous research indicating that parental behaviors and actions do influence a child’s intelligence.
This debate could go on and on, and I suspect that researchers will battle it out with each other on this particular subject for many more decades.
I found the new study disheartening, considering I’ve dedicated many hours to reading to my son in the hopes of making him “smarter,” among other things, like inspiring his imagination. It got me thinking about his future education. Will I or his father not be able to influence how well he does in school?
If he has poor grades in a subject, like math or English, of course we are going to put in the extra time to help him with his homework, use flash cards or hire a tutor (math was neither of our strong suits, so it’s a big possibility we may go down this route someday). Wouldn’t my child improve, even just a little, in these subjects? I’m going to go out on a limb and state that most parents would take these extra steps.
That being said, the other day when we were at Books & Books for its Saturday Story Time, my son was more interested in the giant Elmo in the corner than listening to the animated reader, and despite my best efforts reading to him and regularly pointing things out to him wherever we go, I wouldn’t say he is developmentally ahead or even “on target” in the talking department (this does concern me a little as a parent, I must admit, although I’m seeing marked improvements in the last month).
Even though my efforts may be in vain, I do find comfort that genetics may still “save the day” as my son has two fairly bright, educated parents. But regardless of how smart he is, I encourage all parents to read to their kids as it’s a dying art in the age of computers and tablets and can do no harm.
Plus, it’s so cute when little ones point to the illustrations as you turn the pages, preempting the next line, as my son does. Often, he’ll snatch the book right out of my hands and read the story back to me (by that I mean he babbles away in his toddler language).
I will continue bonding with him, reading him his favorite stories, and new ones too. Time will tell if any difference is to be made, but one thing is for sure – if and when he does go to Harvard or Oxford, or perhaps become a world-famous artiste, I will surely take all the credit. “It’s in the genes,” I’ll say, when people ask how he got so smart.
“From my side of the family, of course.”