Codify Infotech

Please select at least 2 products

Select the next item
from product list above

The One Big Thing You Can Do for Your Kids By Arthur Brooks


This article was originally written by Arthur Brooks for The Atlantic. Arthur Brooks is an American author, public speaker, and a Harvard Professor.

When one of my now-adult kids was in middle school, I had a small epiphany about parenting. I had been haranguing him constantly about his homework and grades, which were indeed a problem. One night, after an especially bad day, I was taking stock of the situation, and came to a realization: I didn’t actually care very much about his grades. What I wanted was for him to grow up to become a responsible, ethical, faithful, well-adjusted man. From that day forward, I stopped talking about his grades and started talking about values. It was a relief for both of us.

But then I got to wondering: If bugging him about grades didn’t change anything, why would talking about values make a difference? Did it really matter what I said about anything?

If you have children—or plan to have them—you probably share my concerns. According to a survey last year by the Pew Research Center, the No. 1 desire of parents for their children (which 94 percent of those surveyed say is extremely or very important) is that their kids turn out to be honest and ethical. Meanwhile, the No. 1 worry (which 76 percent of parents said was extremely-to-somewhat worrisome) is that their kids might struggle with depression or anxiety. In short, we want them above all to be good and happy people.

But just wanting these things isn’t enough. How do we achieve these goals? This question is at least as ancient as human civilization. Should we talk about these things with our children a lot, or not? Be strict with them, or lax? Or perhaps everything is genetics anyway, so maybe we should just hope and pray for the best. Fortunately, recent research has offered ways to help answer some of these difficult questions—and make us better parents.

A foundational question about raising children revolves around nature versus nurture: how much of a child’s development is due to their genes rather than their upbringing. When I was a child, nurture theories had the upper hand. The common belief was that kids are a blank slate, or are nearly so, and that parenting is what really matters to mold who they will become as adults. Latterly, however, this view has been turned upside down, after study upon study has shown that a huge amount of personality is biological and inherited. For example, one 1996 study involving 123 pairs of identical twins (who share 100 percent of their genes) and 127 pairs of fraternal twins (who, like any other pair of siblings, share about 50 percent) estimated that 41 percent of neuroticism may be inherited, as well as 53 percent of extroversion, 61 percent of openness to experience, 41 percent of agreeableness, and 44 percent of conscientiousness.

You might be thinking that parenting may make up the other half or so, but that’s not seemingly the case. Researchers in 2021 examined over time the correlation between the personality traits of progeny and parenting measures, and found that, in most aspects, parenting mattered about as much as birth order—which is to say, its effect was little to none.

The exceptions were in two dimensions of personality: conscientiousness and agreeableness. Children were more conscientious when parents were more involved in their lives and worked to provide cultural stimulation (such as taking them to museums); and children were more agreeable when their parents raised them with more structure and goals.

Genetics also matter a great deal for children’s happiness. One study of fraternal and identical twins found that the genetic component discernible from analyzing the subjects’ various self-reported ratings of personality traits and life satisfaction was about 31 percent. In contrast with the possibly limited influence of parenting style on most personality traits, however, parental behavior does appear to significantly affect the roughly half of children’s happiness that may not be genetically determined. Specifically, one factor—parental warmth and affection, with slightly more weight to that of fathers—has been shownto make up about a third of “psychological adjustment” differences in their children, a holistic measure that includes markers of happiness.

Parenting involves both words and actions. Even if parents like to say to their children, usually with little effect, “Do what I say,” most parents come to notice that kids pay attention to everything their parents do, rather than what they say. And research backs up the idea that actions speak louder than words. For example, a 2001 study of parental religiosity among Catholics found that the behavior of a father (even more than the mother) who acts upon faith and is practicing will most affect the likelihood of his children growing up to be religious as well. Similarly, an investigation of substance use among adolescents discovered that among those who had tried alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs, 80 percent said their parents would say they disapproved of their teenager’s behavior, but 100 percent did not say explicitly that their parents abstained from substances—suggesting that these children likely had at least one parent who used them to a lesser or greater extent.

This tour through 

the research provides a set of parenting rules to act upon—one that I could very much have used when my kids were little. Better late than never, and I can still try to follow these rules now that I am a grandfather. Try them out and see if they make parenting easier and better for you. If your goal is virtue and happiness for your kids, keep these three things in mind.

1. Even a hot mess can be a good parent.
It is easy to despair at being a parent—or to give yourself a pass—if you struggle with your own happiness or with a troublesome personality. I have heard many young adults say they’re afraid to have kids because they don’t want to pass on their own problems. True, much of your personality is transmitted to your offspring without your volition. As noted above, you may not be able to do much about their degree of extroversion, which seems largely a genetic given. But when it comes to conscientiousness and agreeableness (which, again, are what we really want for our children), parenting choices to be involved in their lives, and provide structure and goals, make a significant difference. And parenting does have a huge impact on their happiness.

2. When you don’t know what to do, be warm and loving.
For happiness, the parenting technique that truly matters is warmth and affection. As my wife used to say when we were at wit’s end with our son, “I guess we should just love him.” This might sound like a hippie recipe for disaster, but it isn’t. Your kids don’t need a drill sergeant, Santa Claus, or a helicopter mom; they need someone who loves them unconditionally, and shows it even when the brats deserve it the least. Especially when they’re at their most brattish. Remember: That is what they will remember and give to your grandchildren (who will never be brats) when they themselves become parents.

3. Be the person you want your kids to become.
The data don’t lie, but as parents we do. Kids—who are walking BS-detectors—always notice when we say one thing and do another. Of course, deciding how to act to create the right example for them to follow isn’t always easy. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself how you’d like your son or daughter to behave as an adult in a given situation—and then do that yourself. When you’re driving and get cut off in traffic, you would like it not to bother them—so don’t let them see it bothering you. You would prefer they don’t get drunk, so don’t drink too much yourself. You’d like them to be generous to others, so be generous too.

For young and future parents reading this, one last note: You will make a lot of mistakes, but mostly they won’t matter. I can think of my selfishness and blunders as a father, and on some sleepless nights the instances roll around in my head and fill me with regret. But then I look at my son. So how did all my hectoring about grades and values work out?

He skipped college and joined the U.S. Marine Corps, in which he spent four years as a mortarman and sniper. Now 23, he is happily married and works in a job he loves as a manager at a construction company. He won’t see this column because, well, he doesn’t have time to read my stuff. But he loves me and I love him; we talk every single day; and despite all of my missteps, he turned out just fine. And most likely, so will your child.



Related Stories

What I read this Week that resonated
What I read this Week that resonated
 “On Earth, just a teaspoon of neutron star would weigh six billion tons. Six billion tons equals the collective wei...
Read More
Happiness is a Choice by Brianna Wiest
Happiness is a Choice by Brianna Wiest
Originally posted here:  Is happiness a choice? Indeed, often times happiness is a choice you make. It’s the end-goa...
Read More
A 2-minute Homemade Bread Recipe That Changed My Life
A 2-minute Homemade Bread Recipe That Changed My Life
Anything that saves me time (and calories) is a win-win in my opinion, and this recipe sounded far too good to be tru...
Read More


Sold Out