Science Cafe Concord Tuesday: The science of parenting

Monitor staff
Monday, January 15, 2018

In these days of citizen science projects, we often forget that many adults already participate in an ongoing and enormously complex science project.

I refer, of course, to raising children.

It’s biology (changing diapers) and chemistry (determining which food combinations the little so-and-sos will eat) and physics (teaching them to drive) and geology (dumping stuff out of pockets before doing the wash) and statistics and engineering and psychology and every other scientific -ology you can think of, all mashed together in two decades of balancing variables and calculating outcomes.

Compared with that, building particle colliders or understanding global weather patterns is a snap. No wonder everybody has advice about how to do it better.

The question is: What, if anything, is behind the advice? Is it just guesswork and intuition and habit, or is there actual science to back up any suggestions?

This is the question we will discuss at Science Cafe NH in Concord tonight. Quantification-demanding geeks prone to scoff at parenting advice (Who, me?) are encouraged to attend.

“With a lot of parenting research, you’re dealing with sociology, not hard science,” said Jessica Lahey, a resident of Lee whose book The Gift of Failure, which discusses benefits of not keeping your kids from making mistakes, was a New York Times bestseller.

She will be one of the panelists answering your questions about the science of parenting. I will moderate as usual, and the idea is not to answer questions like “my kid does X, how should I respond?” but more along the lines of “my kid does X, what backs up recommendations about how I should respond?”

The problem, of course, is that you can’t do long-term, double-blind studies on different parenting styles – “Group A gets spanked daily and Group B never gets spanked; report back in a decade” – so getting hard data isn’t easy.

“Usually you’re extrapolating from other fields: education, business, whatever,” Lahey said.

MRI studies on how brains react during various activities also contribute data – although they only reflect changes in blood flow, so there is some debate about their value. But that’s okay: scientific debate is catnip to Science Cafe!

Other panelists are Brenda Quinn, who has worked more than 20 years as a independent clinical social worker and KJ Dell’Antonia, editor of the New York Times’s Motherlode blog and author of the forthcoming book How to Be a Happier Parent.

Whether you plan to have kids, already have kids at home, have kids who are grown and gone, or even if you wouldn’t have kids if they paid you, this will be an interesting discussion. Even if you don’t buy any beer.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)


What: Science Cafe Concord – “The Science of Parenting.” Free discussion.

When: 6 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 16.

Where: The Draft Sports Bar, 67 S. Main St., Concord

More details: Sciencecafenh.org