Parenting for Dummies; A Child-Development Expert Distills Decades of Research into a Simple Guide for Moms and Dads in the Trenches

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Byline: Barbara Kantrowitz

Researchers have been studying parenting for decades, and they know a lot about what it takes to raise a happy, independent child. Unfortunately, few of those findings reach the people who need help most: the mother of a toddler throwing a tantrum on the supermarket checkout line or the father of a teenager repeatedly breaking curfew. That gap between academia and the real world inspired Temple University psychology professor Laurence Steinberg to write "The 10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting." Those principles, he says, apply to all children--no matter what their age, sex or family makeup--although the way parents use them varies (No. 4: adapt your parenting to fit your child). Although Steinberg says parents should explain rules and decisions (No. 9), the conversation with a 5-year-old would clearly be much simpler than with a 16-year-old.

The most important principle may be the finding--consistent in the research for at least 60 years--that parents have a profound effect on their children's emotional, social and intellectual development (No. 1: what you do matters). This is still true today, Steinberg says, despite an avalanche of new cultural influences. In fact, says Steinberg, who has also written books on teenagers and school reform, "all these other influences make parents even more important" as guides through conflicting messages that kids get from the media and friends. "We have very good research showing that there is a connection between what parents do and how their kids turn out," Steinberg says. …