There are a lot of alarming news stories that power parental fears. You know, the kind of stories that trumpet:
Kids Who Eat Cupcakes More Likely to Fail Math
Not Having a Pet Makes Children Selfish
(Note: These are both fake headlines, of course but about eighteen years ago I read a ludicrous study that said that children who listen to musical theater are more likely to have premarital sex. This was before Hamilton became the number one soundtrack for teenagers so who’s to say how that skewed the numbers!)
Studies are tricky things. Take, for example, the infamous example that tied ice cream consumption to murder rates. Of course ice cream sales have absolutely nothing to do with violent crime but both things happen to increase during the summer for a host of reasons and efforts to tie the two together is a great reminder that correlation does not equal causation. So who’s to say, really, that your decision to let your preschooler eat a cupcake is actually going to have any impact on his 5th grade math scores?
Real life news stories like the silly examples above make us think that we have more control over the future than we really do. In reality kids are way too complicated and life is way too variable to make those kinds of direct ties. So when you read research about kids who “fail” and kids who “succeed” or any other mess of things, remember that they are not talking about your kid. Your child is not a statistic or a study; your child is a unique human being whose life isn’t so easily predicted.
I know that it’s hard to accept that we cannot dictate our children’s futures via the choices we make today. I would love to tell you that there is one great way to raise a great kid and that if we all follow it that we will have children who will grow into fine adults with no bad habits and a clear road to success. But there isn’t and there never will be. Our children are varied, our lives are varied, our options are varied and we all have to live with certain limits and realities.
On the other hand, if we can focus on the here and now of our parenting lives we can save ourselves a lot of guilt and worry. Right now you will make the best decisions you can with the information you have, in the context in which you and your child are living, and given the resources that are available to you. That’s all you can do. That’s all any of us can do. And frankly, that’s good enough.