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'Selfish Reasons' For Parents To Enjoy Having Kids

The long-term effects of parenting aren't proven, says author Bryan Caplan, seen here with his family.
Emily Korff
Veralana Photography
The long-term effects of parenting aren't proven, says author Bryan Caplan, seen here with his family.

An economics professor has a plan for raising children: have lots of them, and don't stress about nurturing their potential. Bryan Caplan, author of the book Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, says that a child is helped the most if they are in a positive atmosphere.

And if they follow that step, Caplan says, parents can relax — and focus on having even more children. Caplan, who teaches at George Mason University, has three children himself — twin 8-year-olds and an infant.

With his stories of children who watch lots of TV and play video games — and parents who let them off the hook instead of forcing them to pursue hobbies they hate — Caplan has been labeled the "anti-Tiger Mom" — a reference to author Amy Chua, the Yale professor who famously banned her daughters from sleepovers, play-dates or TV.

As Caplan tells Morning Edition co-host Mary Louise Kelly, he feels that in some cases, being an attentive parent can make a child happy in the short-term — but that the long-term benefit of taking a more forceful approach is far from proven.

"Go and talk to a 7-year-old boy," he says. "To them, kissing is the most disgusting thing on earth. And if it were normal to spend the next 10 years telling your kids, 'No, no, no, kissing is great, it's beautiful, it's wonderful' — and then, when they're 17, suddenly they change their minds.

"We might think, 'Ah-ha! Finally got through to them,'" he says. "That's one story," Caplan says. "But a more reasonable story is, when you grow up you change — and parents wind up claiming credit for it."

There is a cheekily subversive tone in Caplan's book, but he makes a serious argument about nature versus nurture. He cites studies of identical twins who were adopted by different families — but then went on to live very similar lives — as proof that the influence a parent can have on their child is overstated.

And that goes for Chua, as well, Caplan says. Her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, horrified some parents with its strict approach to demanding perfection from her children.

"I don't think she is hurting them in the long-run," Caplan says. "But what I would say is that her parenting is not the reason for their success."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR Staff