The Myth of the Educated Parent

Remarkably enough, the most obvious influence over children's language development turned out to be the mere amount of parents' talking; children whose parents addressed or responded to them more in early life had larger, faster-growing vocabularies and scored higher on IQ tests than children whose parents spoke fewer words to them overall. Parents who talk more inevitably expose their children to a greater variety of words and sentences, so a correlation also turned up between the diversity of parents' language—the number of different nouns and adjectives they used, and the length of their phrases and sentences—and their children's linguistic progress.

In addition to these quantitative features, Hart and Risley discovered a particular qualitative aspect of parental language that seems to especially influence children's language: the amount of positive versus negative feedback children hear. Youngsters who heard a larger proportion of no, don't, stop it, and similar prohibitions had poorer language skills than three-yearolds who had received less negative feedback. Of course, no parent of toddler-aged children can avoid all prohibitions, but those who kept their negative responses to a minimum, emphasizing instead positive responses, such as repeating their children's vocalizations or following them with ques¬ tions or affirmations, fostered better language development.

A follow-up study on the same group of children reveals that these differences in verbal skills persisted well into the grade-school years; by third grade, children whose parents spoke more to them during the first three years continued to excel at various language skills, including reading, spelling, speaking, and listening abilities. So even after children enter school, when their parents cease to be the sole influence over their cognitive development. their early language exposure has created a lasting legacy in their language achievement.

There is another, very disturbing side to Hart and Risley's report. In selecting the forty families tor their study, they deliberately chose a crosssection of American socioeconomic classes. When the researchers factored in these differences, it became blatantly clear that virtually every feature of parenting style improved substantially as families ascended the ladder of educational and financial advantage. Even something as simple as the number of words addressed to young children tended to increase dramatically, with chi dren on welfare hearing an average of 600 words per hour addressed to them, as compared with 1,200 for children of working-class families and 2,100 for children with professional parents. Socioeconomic level also correlated strongly with the type of feedback parents tended to give their children. On average, professional parents were heard to praise or otherwise respond positively to their children seven times more often than welfare parents, and they doled out negative feedback—those particularly toxic prohibitions and imperatives—only half as frequently. With such enormous differences in both the quantity and quality of interaction with their parents, it's not hard to see how children from different socioeconomic groups are propelled onto wildly different trajectories of language-learning.

The social and political implications of these findings are staggering. Obviously, it would take a massive effort to overcome these extreme differ¬ ences in children's early language experience. But it's important to realize that socioeconomic class per se is not the primary factor determining chil¬ dren's language achievement. For while children's fate may seem to be sealed by their level of economic advantage, what really matters is their parents' style of interacting with them. In other words, if we look just within a single socioeconomic group, like the twenty-three families that made up the "working-class" rank in Hart and Risley's study, parenting style turns out to be a much better predictor of each child's language skills than the parents' precise financial and educational attainment. Within this group, parents who talked more to their children, who used a greater variety of words and sentences, who asked rather than told their children what to do, and who consistently responded in positive rather than negative ways to their chil¬ dren's speech and behavior, tended to raise more verbally gifted children than those who were poorer at these parenting skills. Similar findings have been reported in a study of professional-class children in Chicago: those whose mothers addressed more words to them in the second year of life had the fastest-growing vocabularies, ou even m higher socioeconomic ranks, there is enough variety in parenting styles to significantly affect the quality of children's language development, exploding, as some call it, "the myth of the educated parent."


Controlling for socioeconomic status does show that children whose parents are higher on the education ladder will have better grammar; however, parenting style is a much better predictor of a child's improvement than income.

Folksonomies: grammar education parenting socioeconomics child development social class

/family and parenting/children (0.674570)
/family and parenting (0.274455)
/business and industrial/company/annual report (0.230114)

children (0.916870 (positive:0.056707)), parents (0.738871 (positive:0.149115)), language development (0.644368 (positive:0.383154)), language skills (0.615719 (positive:0.112420)), negative feedback children (0.561422 (neutral:0.000000)), American socioeconomic classes (0.560234 (neutral:0.000000)), single socioeconomic group (0.545428 (neutral:0.000000)), different socioeconomic groups (0.541189 (negative:-0.337506)), higher socioeconomic ranks (0.529837 (neutral:0.000000)), poorer language skills (0.528170 (negative:-0.366793)), verbally gifted children (0.523925 (negative:-0.477777)), better predictor (0.515906 (positive:0.620479)), Educated Parent Controlling (0.509999 (positive:0.537068)), various language skills (0.508660 (neutral:0.000000)), better language development (0.506180 (positive:0.383154)), greater variety (0.503124 (negative:-0.232237)), early language exposure (0.496247 (positive:0.236346)), professional parents (0.491805 (negative:-0.222639)), language achievement (0.484807 (positive:0.247524)), particular qualitative aspect (0.484522 (negative:-0.201169)), early language experience (0.478815 (negative:-0.696208)), chil¬ dren (0.474248 (positive:0.258703)), socioeconomic status (0.471675 (positive:0.537068)), wildly different trajectories (0.467145 (negative:-0.337506)), extreme differ¬ ences (0.453254 (negative:-0.696208)), Socioeconomic level (0.426200 (positive:0.352305)), toddler-aged children (0.420420 (negative:-0.534621)), young children (0.408468 (negative:-0.345945)), words (0.403482 (negative:-0.281427)), professional-class children (0.399178 (neutral:0.000000))

Risley:Person (0.867549 (positive:0.014749)), Hart:Person (0.828109 (positive:0.014749)), Chicago:City (0.459999 (neutral:0.000000)), three years:Quantity (0.459999 (neutral:0.000000))

Parenting (0.951798): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Parenting styles (0.759681): dbpedia | freebase
Concerted cultivation (0.705534): dbpedia | freebase
Childhood (0.694656): dbpedia | freebase
Parent (0.691460): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc

 What's Going on in There? : How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life
Books, Brochures, and Chapters>Book:  Eliot , Lise (2000-10-03), What's Going on in There? : How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life, Bantam, Retrieved on 2011-07-18
Folksonomies: parenting babies development infants physiology


14 JUN 2011

 Raising Well-Adjusted Children

Memes on parenting and activities to encourage intelligence and good behavior in children.
Folksonomies: parenting child rearing
Folksonomies: parenting child rearing