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How to raise successful children (washingtonpost.com)
78 points by ilamont on Jan 12, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 76 comments

I have three kids. They are all still in the house, but my wife and I have put a lot of effort into understanding how we make "successful" children. After a lot of reading, reminiscing and thinking about it I have come to three conclusions about how to have successful kids.

1. Don't be poor. Statistically, those who are under or near the poverty line have exponentially worse outcomes than those who are even slightly above it. This will get them at least 50% of the way there.

2. Don't be abusive. Either physical, emotional or sexual abuse will destroy and poison a child. While it may seem obvious, some people don't realize that they are doing it because that is what they were brought up with. This gets them another 20% of the way.

3. Be part of the right social groups. Social mobility is huge for being in "the right place at the right time" or in other words "being lucky." This will get the kid into 80% territory.

The last 20% is a crap shoot that is largely dependent on a mix of external factors and individual actions past peak parenting age.

edit: By the way, notice how the families in the article hit all my points. No poor, abused or outcast people in that group.

I'm not a fan of negativity in hn comments, but some things just have to be said: You and your wife put in "a lot of effort" into understanding how to raise successful children and all you came up with was these three platitudes? "Be rich, well connected and don't beat them". What would you have come up with if you had put in only a little effort? "Don't kill them"?

You have to have learned more from your analysis. Everything you said was clearly correct, and the obvious does need to be stated from time to time. But is there anything else you've learned in your years of experience, something that wasn't evident in the article? How involved should you be in their lives, how do you make the tough calls between extracurriculars, what is the right amount of "balance"? Of all the books and blogs you read, what ideas seemed on target and which were dangerously misleading? Is there a well known parenting role model you've tried to be like? Not expecting answers to these questions, but maybe something closer to this level of specificity.

Wealthy, well connected parents aren't the ones who need help. It's the rest of us with modest incomes and friends in low places who need the tricks and tips. "Don't be poor and be in the right social groups" is the best advice you could give to a startup founder or an aspiring actress or to anyone trying to do anything, and I understand that having the right resources before you begin an endeavor is at least 80% of success. But at least 80% of people don't have access to the right resources and have to make do with what they have, and I was hoping for advice that could be more helpful to them.

I'm with AndrewKemendo honestly. Making sure your kids are set financially and make connections will set them up for success. I find that I'm almost never enforcing behavior with my kids. They already act like me and wife because that's genetics. Which brings up one more thing which is to marry well. 90% of child rearing is preparation.

"They already act like me and wife because that's genetics."

Don't underestimate B.F Skinner and Behaviorism?

As to "marry well"--let's see how that one pans out. I know what you mean, but true love is blind. Growing up in Marin County; I found it hard to love the rich ones. I tried many a times, but they were different, and I could never just overlook my lack of love for money. I actually was always drawn to the middle and poor class? I used to think it was envy, or I assumed rich kids were shallow? I don't know why I couldn't marry for money, but their was something they(wealthy kids) all lacked, and to this day I'm not sure exactly what it is?

I don't just mean to marry someone rich. I mean, marry someone who you trust to provide 50% of your child's DNA. If you marry someone attractive and dumb, you're going to get dumb kids. If you marry someone with a history of mental illness, expect your kids to be at risk for the same. If you marry a jerk because they're rich, your kids will be rich jerks too.

Posted today on reddit: https://np.reddit.com/r/Parenting/comments/2saxn1/my_wife_is...

This is what happens when you look past your partner's foibles because you love them.

I wouldn't so readily dismiss attractiveness and outcomes:

In support of implicit personality theory, attractive individuals were found to fare better than unattractive individuals in terms of a number of such outcomes


The good thing about a lot of study and thinking is that if you do it correctly, sometimes the results are strikingly simple when explained. There is also quite a bit of simplification there, if only just to make the point easier.

The reason I came away with those three things is that for the most part when you dissect a lot of case studies what you find is that parental involvement isn't actually that impactful so long as those three guidelines hold.

Yes more involvement with your children is better, as we see with studies about language acquisition. In those cases however what was found was that the reason that parents were talking to their infants and toddlers more was because they had the time to and were not working or putting them in front of a television (in some cases bordering on neglect). The same held true for physical ailments like later in life issues with hypertension and diabetes from low nutritional diets. All of their root causes were poverty and almost always related was poor maternal education.

The simple answer to your question though is, the rest of those things don't make nearly as much impact, by magnitudes as the big three. So focusing on getting those things right is really crucial. The rest are just kind of window dressing and honestly, largely just make parents feel like they are having a big impact.

But at least 80% of people don't have access to the right resources and have to make do with what they have, and I was hoping for advice that could be more helpful to them.

I think the right advice is do whatever it takes to get out of poverty and into a more traditionally successful "class" without beating your kids along the way. If you had a modest income then start networking with chamber of commerce members and other community leaders. Attend hackathons to expose your kids to people who are going to be successful etc... It's not that obtuse of a thing to figure out how to apply I don't think.

[1]http://www.zerotothree.org/ [2]http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=2072926... [2]http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3052975/ [3]http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/2781682?sid=2110561584... [4]http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/10/the-power-of...


I have to comment. I came from a family that qualified for foodstamps, in a small midwest town (not well connected). My mother divorced my dad when I was 9 because he was abusive, largely towards to me. The tipping point (I later found out) was when she had to sneak the car keys to get me the doctor, as he had broken my hand during a beating with a log.

So pretty much a complete contradiction to "No poor, abused or outcast people in that group."

I'm the not most successful person I know, but I've done okay. I'm middle-aged, happily married with a good family. I earn high six-figures to low seven (depends on variance in our stock price).

I would hear a lot of stats growing up. When I had subpar results, there were people ready to defend me, given various odds where stacked against me.

I would periodically try these on my mom. Nothing would drive her in a greater rage. I was expected to do two thing: work hard & take school seriously. I could get away with a lot of things (stupid pranks, sometimes ditching), but if my grades fell, I know their would hell to pay.

At the end of the day, I chalk up any success I've had to that. Deliberate or not, she made sure I had a good education & knew the importance of working hard.

In some ways, maybe it was too extreme. I didn't travel outside the country or take what would be consider a "real" vacation (i.e., more than a trip home, or a 3-4 day get away) until I was 29. I didn't date seriously until well in my 20s. At the same time, she broke the cycle of poverty.

(She'll never read this, but I love you mom.)

I empathize my wife and I are great examples of outliers also. There were periods growing up that we were homeless and both parents were totally bankrupt. My wife has similar stories to yours about a broken leg from a drunken anger fueled argument.

Kind of proves my point though, your mom (like mine) busted her ass to push you out of the things that define poverty - namely bad education and surroundings.

Outliers exist, but this is not a reliable and dependable method for success - which is exactly what we are talking about. HN is not a representative sample of the population, generally if you post here there is a higher likelihood than not that you are or will be successful.

Throwaway time:

I grew up upper-middle class and didn't realize it. Looking back, I wanted for nothing. Now, in my late 20s, I don't have much of a passion for anything. No passion, no real drive. I think if I wanted for more when I was younger (like my father and my uncle, both of whom turned out successful) I would have a lot more fire in my belly. I feel apathetic and listless with no real motivation.

Can you elaborate on wanting for nothing? As in were you spoiled and got everything you want? Or you didn't want to do anything?

I grew up poor. I learned to hear "no." The concept of an allowance was completely foreign. I am a better person for it. I learned to appreciate what I have and I learned creative thinking to invent things to do when I didn't have toys to play with.

I see a lot of people I know now who grew up with everything they wanted- they can seem very empty inside...

Not OP but my best friend in High School was basically OP. My family was "house broke" and I never had allowance, everything was "no" (literally everything) and I learned early that I had to make for myself. Worked through High School, saved up for the gadgets I wanted, etc.

Best Friend came from a wealthy doctor's family. Large house. Every game console, new computers/cameras/etc basically every 10mo. He isn't passionate. He never had to work to put two and two together. It was a credit card away. He got whatever he wanted whenever he wanted (I wouldn't call it spoiled, just more so "available"). He just doesn't have drive because he never _had_ to. It's like the quote "If you can, give your kids enough to do something, but don't give them enough to do nothing."

"Wanting for nothing" is an idiom that means "got everything I wanted, do nothing is left to want"

Thanks! Never heard of that one before.

That's a pretty "successful" position to be in honestly. Maybe I am reading into this too much but to have the time to be self aware enough to know you aren't driven is a luxury that a poor person doesn't have.

Where's the kid - or the parent - in all your conclusions?

(On a side note, not all the families in the article hit all the points. The first family was a Peruvian immigrant couple, cleaning office buildings and carrying mail. The third's dropped out of Cornell to become a professional cook. The second-to-last left Vietnam during the fall of Saigon with nothing and worked a series of low-wage jobs.)

> 3. Be part of the right social groups. Social mobility is huge ...

What does that mean? What are some example of "right social groups" and better "social mobility".

Are they euphemisms for something else?

Not euphemisms. If your friends own businesses, are military or political leaders or are VPs/Presidents/CEOs that makes it easier for your kids to have the contacts needed to get into the "right" schools and get internships and jobs.

Call it nepotism if you like but historically it has been a requirement for success.

Got it, thanks for explaining!

Essentially I think this is "high society", people with respectable jobs, working for respectable companies. Not your mechanics, cleaners or factory workers who hang out at the pub every Friday, but your doctors, lawyers, programmers and suit-types that goto events, and the pub on a Friday night.

I've always heard and would agree with the phrase, "success breeds success". Surround yourself with people you consider to be successful. Same thing applies here, except your setting up play dates.

If you can stomach it? As you get older, you just might reevaluate your definitions of success? Personally, at my age; you couldn't pay me to spend a night at the Pub surrounded by Doctors, and Lawyers? Suit-types? I won't even comment on that one, but you must be young? I can guarantee you will look back on your post and go "Wow--I was young?" Or, maybe you won't?

mechanic = not respectable job, programmer = high society. Interesting classifications. Very different from the way I think about these jobs.

For example, if the child gets to know Mark Andresson socially, he'll have an easier time scoring warm intros and getting funding in the future.

Gavin Newsom is a poster child for what you are talking about.

I think he's talking about networking? When I was younger people referred to it as, "That person would make a great contact!" I have a very financially successful sister running a shoe company. Yes, she is financially successful, but she can't keep a guy around, and she definetly wants a relationship. And no I don't think guys are intimidated by her financial sucess, nor is she homely(voted best looking in high school). Not sure if she has a true friend? I get the feeling her kids just use her for money, and her mother and siblings never talk to her. (No--I don't stay in touch with her either.) When my father passed away she manipulated him into giving her all the estate money. Yea--she is quite the achiever though, and masterful at Networking!" Sometimes--a person's success doesn't involve money, or a high paying job?

Yes, being around successful adults, people that have things show kids that things are attainable, and attainable by legal means. This can have an incredible effect on forming life expectations and goals.

Both 1 and 3 can be summed up as "be successful", which has traditionally been a great way to raise successful kids.

Really it's scale at that point and a matter of ease. So the better you do at 1 or 3 the easier success is, but coming from success does not seem to be required for success on average.

So for example, really super rich kids can often fall into jobs at their parent's company, and many times high ranking ones. On the other end of the spectrum above poverty or lower middle class, those kids are able to start working on things they like (programming, music, sports etc...) while in high school without having to worry about helping to pay the rent. Which can lead to domain expertise. etc...

Also, rich kids tend to go to better schools, where they are less likely to be bullied or surrounded by by kids that are disruptive and dont want to learn.

good points, but "don't be abusive" doesn't quite cover it for me. while that for sure should be there, maybe there is a 2 subsection a), which is be your childs mentor. in that you need to give them the push sometimes or be a motivator to hit those stretch goals (heck, to teach them what a stretch goal is). Not doing these things is borderline abuse (the word doesnt sound right, but hopefully you get my meaning), and might lead a kid to mediocracy -- not success.

I think that comes from the right place, and I tended to agree even a few years ago, but the data doesn't bear that out.

Such pressurizing interactions end up being neutral to destructive depending on how it is implemented. Sports is a good place to look for data on this. Higher parental pressure is related to negative outcomes in sports[1]. Aside from extreme outliers like Woods et. al. at least in sports, being a motivator or putting pressure on the kid generally makes it worse.

Almost across the board with cases of where children show extreme competence, they should be supported and given room to thrive, but not pressured.


excellent, will definitely read this. However, I will caution that sports/coaching is different, and I would not jump to generalization on this. I am not a sports guy, so I can't quite relate personally, but there is a certain level of emotional investment in sports from parents that seems to get.. out of hand? All it takes is a couple hours at a little league game to notice. It would be very interesting to see if similar data would come from something less competitive.

sports isn't much different than any extracurricular activity that parents get too involved in. Whether it's a musical instrument/talent, drama, artistic, debate; anything that a parent sees as a harbinger of their child's success can induce too much stress of the child, it's a lot to live up to.

You see similar approaches with "Tiger" parents and things like music or academic "sports" like spelling bees.

Funny this topic came up.

A few months back, it suddenly dawn to me that throughout my childhood, my parents NEVER ever praised me directly. As in, when I got straight As they never called me smart. Or when I won a sports competition, they never said I'm good. It was frustrating as a child at times (they reward me in other ways) but now in my adulthood, I realised they did praise me albeit it in a different way.

They praised my effort, and not the results.

So, when I got straight As, instead of saying I am smart, they said I got it because I studied hard and they praise me for spending my nights studying. Or when I won that competition, instead of saying good job on being first, they praise me for the extra effort i put in to train on the weekends.

I never thought much about it but after going through life, I noticed now that a lot of people mostly tend to just focus on the rewards but never consider the hard work that needs to be put in. Due to my parents quirkiness in my upbringing, I value the work I put in more than the reward itself when achieving for something which makes it so fulfilling.

Just my anecdotal 2 cents.

Yep, a lot of data coming out about this approach in recent years. The thinking is that effort can be adjusted with real impact on outcome, while being smart can't in the same way - thus telling someone they are "smart" places being "smart" as the thing that makes you successful instead of effort and therefore you don't need to try.


Eh, everyone praised me for being smart. I never studied much in school. When I got to college that didn't work anymore and I couldn't just get As without trying much. But I did work hard and did well, despite the lack of praise for effort.

So I'm skeptical that it really matters that much what people do. I do think that too much praise isn't useful, because kids aren't stupid and understand what's going on.

The flip side of this is my nephew. His mom always praises him for being smart and being a special kid. She even says things like "now I know how Einstein's mother felt".

The kid is turning out pretty average and a bit lazy.

This has actually been backed by research: http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/

Studying something like this is a great example of the "halo effect".

If you raise a child who turns out to be successful, you'll attribute all sorts of things to that success. Doesn't mean they actually had an impact.

I think one thing most people can agree on is that a stable up-bringing can certainly make things easier on a kid.

Most just seem to treat their kids like they're human beings, which essentially is the "Don't live vicariously through your children" and "don't be abusive" that are sure fire ways to destroy your children's lives, or at least emotional well being.

I mentioned in my post about JK Rowling's commencement speech to Harvard. Most people would consider her a success, but I don't think most people would take being a divorced single mother living on welfare as a great way to become successful.

Good point. Like reviewing the strategies of successful entrepreneurs. :)

There is a book by the name of "The Halo Effect" about the same thing in business. It's a great read. It really tears apart all of the business books people rave about.


I was raised in an unconventional way.

One piece of advice I would give is to be open with your kids. Don't be afraid to talk about certain things, including your own insecurities and dogmas. Speaking from my own experience, a restricted dialogue can lead to frustration, conflict, and anxiety. If a kid isn't comfortable asking questions, he'll guess at the answer and worry about being wrong. What happens when he's wrong? All I'll say is that it's pretty difficult to have a calm resolution when the subject matter cannot be discussed.

I'm making no guarantees about success... but at least you'll have a "healthy" relationship (healthier than mine).

The article contains the best parenting advice ever: "Your job is to see who your kid is. And help your kid be whoever that is." Lest any of the childless here become too smug, this is much, much harder than it sounds -- especially because kids are often different from their parents in ways that may seem genetically impossible. My advice to parents is: as an adult, you are inherently more flexible than your child, and it is easier for you to change yourself to help them become who they are than it is for them to change themselves to become someone that they aren't. Again, if this sounds easy, it isn't...

It's a little more complex than that I think. The truth is that the young are more flexible than the old. The nature/nurture debate actually works the other way around than what people think. When young it's nearly all nurture, and as we age our lives much more reflect our nature. This simply reflects the difference in the power we have over our lives at these different ages.

The reason for taking to heart "help your kid be whoever that is" is because you don't want them wasting their best years trying to be something that they're not. If you try to push them into what you want you'll win to start with, but eventually you will lose. It's far better for them to get the nature part earlier and get to be who they are rather than spend years trying to be somebody else with all the pain, frustration and ennui that will foster.

So, do you not have kids or has it just been a really long time since you've had young kids? My kids are ten, seven and two-and-a-half; when you have one kid, you can fool yourself into thinking that nurture is playing a large role -- but when you have two (and certainly when you have three) you begin to realize how much of our nature is, um, nature. I think nurture is important (obviously), but much more for emotional well-being (that whole unconditional love thing), for character (that whole right-from-wrong thing) and for values than for the essence of their person. I also don't think that "you'll win to start with" -- in most cases when I've seen kids pushed into things that are fundamentally not in their disposition, the effort doesn't clear the end of the runway. If you had better luck, that's awesome for you and for your kids -- but my experience has been that it's easier to change me to match my kids dispositions than vice versa.

> in most cases when I've seen kids pushed into things that are fundamentally not in their disposition, the effort doesn't clear the end of the runway. If you had better luck, that's awesome for you and for your kids

This is kind of missing the point. I agree with you that we oughtn't be forcing our kids to do things that are not in their disposition, but in practice we do this all of the time. My four year old doesn't get to choose the clothes she wears, the food she eats, when to go to bed, when to get up, whether she goes to school or not -- for most of her time she isn't in control of her life in any meaningful way. I on the other hand get to choose these things not only for myself but for her.

Given that it would be easy for me to put my foot down (as I sometimes have to), but in general I try to make sure that she is empowered as much as she can be so we can both try to learn what her real preferences are -- but in practice I'd be fooling myself if I believed that she was living the life she would build for herself at this age.

Hopefully what I'm doing now with her will help her to build that life quicker and with less dead ends when she does come of age -- but only time will tell.

> especially because kids are often different from their parents in ways that may seem genetically impossible

The alternantive is just as scary -- you realize how much they are like you. My kid will talk and and act and I can almost hear myself or see myself or my wife saying or doing those things.

Sure -- that too, of course. But would you agree that both the similarities and the differences are surprising -- and that the degree that those things (or some of those things, anyway) seem to be uncorrelated to nurture is also surprising?

I listened to a Freakanomics Episode on parenting a few years ago. Worth a listen (transcript available too)[0]. From what I remember, activities aren't much of a determinate of a child success so much as appropriate parental attention/affection. (This corresponds to what I've heard from exes who were in graduate lvl psych programs).

[0] http://freakonomics.com/2011/08/17/new-freakonomics-radio-po...

Another top-level comment asks,

Is anyone willing to contribute insight or actionable information in the interest of a better discussion? The article is steadily climbing the front page, so this is clearly a popular topic.

I'll put in an edit to my first comment here to answer that question. This is advice based on the research I did as I brought up four children, beginning in 1992:

1) The book The First Three Years of Life[A] by the late Burton White is a good book about child development. His perspective on how (to use the title of another of his books[B]) to raise a happy, unspoiled child is helpful for parents.

2) Be open to shopping for educational choices. Don't assume the school down the street will do a good job, no matter where you live. We have mostly been homeschoolers as our children have grown up, and our firstborn sent me a very kind email on Father's Day two years ago telling me he is glad I did that. He still thinks so two years later.

3) The book The Optimistic Child[C] by Martin E. P. Seligman is good for teaching children how to deal with inevitable problems and setbacks of human life.

4) The book Mindset[D] by Carol Dweck is a very good book on helping young people and people of all ages to maximize their abilities. We have seen wonderful results from "growth mindset" with our two younger children, who are young enough not to have known any other mindset in our household.

5) Develop a network of parents who are your close friends--close enough friends to be real with and to vent with when parenting becomes challenging. It's too easy for parents to isolate themselves by wanting to keep up a show of not having challenges in their parenting.

[A] http://www.amazon.com/New-First-Three-Years-Life/dp/06848041...

[B] http://www.amazon.com/Raising-Unspoiled-Parents-Develop-Secu...

[C] http://www.amazon.com/Optimistic-Child-Safeguard-Depression-...

[D] http://www.amazon.com/Mindset-Psychology-Success-Carol-Dweck...

Having written that, I'm open for more discussion. What's below is my original comment on the submitted article.

Here is the gist of the article, in the author's own words: "I think a lot about parenting. Last year, I moved to the D.C. area after 16 years in Oregon. Although I grew up on the East Coast, I hadn’t been immersed in the competitive parenting scene since I left home for college. But since my husband and I returned, I’ve caught myself fretting over whether enrolling my daughter in the “right” activities — sports or academic enrichment? Karate or Odyssey of the Mind? Or both? — will guarantee her entrance into a good college and success in life.

"I don’t have time to talk about parenting with the moms of my daughter’s friends, and, besides, they’re all going through the same thing I am. I started thinking about the people who have raised successful children, and I wanted to explore how they did it."

She then relates anecdotes about various families she has encountered, who have had children who appear to be successful by differing definitions of success. Good for them. As a parent myself (four children, one grown up and launched into adult life, and three still in my care in my household), I thought I might see some actionable information here, but I really didn't. The experiences of the families described in the article differ enough from mine that even after reading the whole article, I will seek other sources of advice on how to continually refine my parenting.

Collections of anecdotes like this suffer from problems that everyone who reads Hacker News knows about, and anecdotes about effective parenting suffer from one more problem that a lot of people miss. Any collection of anecdotes suffers from sample bias: how do we know that these families are representative of the many millions of other families who have either unsuccessful or successful children? A collection of anecdotes about people who reach some defined endpoint suffers from "survivorship bias,"[1] the tendency to look only at what the people who reach the endpoint have in common, without looking at how they differ from people who drop out of the competition to reach that endpoint. Maybe we have no idea, after looking at the successful, if any of their characteristics really make them different from the unsuccessful.

A powerful mistake in many studies of parenting is not setting up a genetically sensitive design for the study. All human beings everywhere have systematic similarities with all other human beings everywhere. But in the aspects of human life that show individual variation, usually people resemble close relatives more than they resemble random members of all humanity. If some individual differences contribute to success, and some do not, we may have observations of children who become successful not because their parents parented well, but because their parents passed on genes for success to the children. Any correlation between parent behaviors and child outcomes has to be tested for whether or not it arises from genetic similarity. (The study designs that help tease out these issues, but do NOT fully resolve them, involve including observations of identical twins and adopted children--and at best identical twins adopted into different adoptive households, who are rare--to separate upbringing influences from biological inheritance influences.) Children resemble their parents sometimes more than parents wish.

[1] http://youarenotsosmart.com/2013/05/23/survivorship-bias/



I found the article to be of low value as well, partly because of anecdata and partly because it wasn't clear to me how any of the profiled were really 'successful'.

Really what would be more useful is in finding the turnaround stories - examples where parents have been on a wrong path, and where their kids have started to fail, and where they changed their approach and succeeded with helping the children to succeed.

And with this I don't mean where a parent escaped an abusive household or where someone kicked drugs and alcohol, but where a normal parent with relatively normal children managed to turn a child with little spark for life and zero achievements into one who was motivated and excited by possibility.

In my extended family there are children I have watched grow up - some of these have been spectacularly successful, while others haven't managed to get traction on life. As both can be self-reinforcing negative or positive feedback loops, the interesting thing is finding out those small inputs that steer a growing child one way or another. I think these are often how we respond to external events (such as coping with criticism or failure) but also if we have developed self belief. For parents, knowing how best to help a child navigate these tricky waters is crucial. And the article doesn't help with any of that.

I liked "mindset" but I don't remember getting any actionable parenting advice from it. Can you tell us how it affected your parenting?

Huge thanks, specially since we'll be parents in june


So far (4 hours in) it seems the vocal portion of the HN brain trust would vote for removing the link and changing the title to a question...

Is anyone willing to contribute insight or actionable information in the interest of a better discussion? The article is steadily climbing the front page, so this is clearly a popular topic.

Parenting is a tough subject to discuss without resorting to anecdotes; I would be interested to hear what HN-ers have to add even if it wasn't particularly insightful or actionable!

Trending has little or no correlation with content quality (See: Linkbait) and as far as I can tell after reading about half the article and all of the comments, they seem spot on, it's a bad article. I think that is pretty valuable feedback...

Thanks for your input.

I didn't intend to minimize the value of the feedback received so far; I look forward to seeing how HN can do better!

Who actually reads the article? ;-)

Eh, screw all that. Wolf dad, AKA "how to beat your kids into the top university":


I'll see you Wolf Dad and raise you Eagle Dad:


What it appears to boil down to in the article is: do what's best for your kids by taking your ego out of the picture.

JK Rowling did the Harvard Commencement Speech in (IIRC) 2008 in which she speaks of failure, where she basically tells the audience of students (along the lines of) "For you, just being ordinary is a failure."

It was the Michele Zavos one that reminded me of this, where she's talking about her daughter basically following in her footsteps to become a lawyer, and was on the path to go to Harvard.

> So she’s now 19, and she’s the youngest assistant cook they’ve ever had. And then I guess after about a year and a half, she says, “I’m going back to school.” And she does not do well at all, and she says, “I don’t want to be here.” She gets a job in Boston as the kitchen manager of the Beacon Hill Friends house. We go out to dinner, and she says to me, “Mom, I think I want to go to culinary school. Are you disappointed?” And, sort of your whole being a parent flashes by. And I thought, I better get this right. I said to her, “You know what, Add? Even if I am disappointed, here’s what you say to me: ‘F--- you, Mom, it’s my life.’ She sort of flinched and said, “My therapist said that, too, but not like that.” It was really funny.

It kind of eloquently paints the angst of a teenager against her mom just wanting to do what's best for her. However, that situation plays out very differently when you've got a parent who wants to live vicariously through their own child's successes as determined by the parent.

From the objective view, I totally screwed up. My dad had his own rags to upper-middle class story, and my parents only wanted what's best for me and wanted me to succeed. I wanted to be--I feel there should be a drum roll here--a novelist. I've lived my life predicated on the belief that "well if it all fucks up, at least I got a story out of it." So far it's served me well. I'm married, own a house, have a kid and one on the way, two dogs, and I did it all early. I sleep pretty good at night, because I get to walk into my kids room, stroke his hair and I go to bed with a smile on my face.

My brother is the success. He did well, better than my father. Except, I don't know if he's happy and he basically broke of most communication. All I know is he keeps himself very busy, and seems to drink a lot.

I think I've got a bottle of Scotch stored somewhere for a special occasion, but I'd be hard pressed to actually rustle something up to get drunk off of. I haven't drank at home in almost three years, me and my wife used to do Fuzzy Navel Wednesday before my kid was born, but that was about our extent after we bought our house, which is about where I hit my own metric of success and where I actually became happy, or at least satiated.

So I think the trick to raising successful children is teaching your kids to set their own criteria for success.

So, you earned enough to make a living by writing novels?

Oh hell no, but real life isn't like a book. The twist doesn't just happen at the end.

This is fluff. Corrleation, causation and so forth. There is actual academic research on this kind of thing. The fact that responsible, motivated parents raised responsible, motivated kids is largely genetic rather than a result of their parenting techniques.

A good Definition (from the article): "... Success is having an interesting life. "

... as long as you don't have the Chinese definition of "interesting life".

There is no Chinese curse of an "interesting life" or "interesting times"


No definition of success in the article, which I take to be a very personal thing.

Personally I view "being happy and content with life" as more of a success than the materialistic or academic view of success that this article seems to imply.

step 1, define success.

not a joke. Is it monetary success? Is it happiness?

Define success.

I'd rather have a happy child who appreciates what shes has than a successful one (measuring sucess as having a bachelor's degree and a high paying job and an assortment of material goods).

I'm with you 100%. From what I've seen most parents fall into one of two extremes. Those that are simply bad parents. They are, on balance, neglectful and/or mean to their children. Or they are hyper involved with their kids because they want them to be super successful. That set bifurcates into two more groups: basically the helicopter parents that try to protect their child from everything and arrange for the child to face no really challenges until they have graduated college and left the nest and those that push their children super hard to give them a perfect Ivy League entrance resume. The first groups kids are absolutely helpless and have almost no chance of being successful. The second groups kids probably will be successful if they don't kill themselves but grow up to be high pressure asshole parents to their kids repeating the cycle.

It's so rare that I find parents that really seem to be focused on what's best for their children and their children's happiness.

Even among my close friends who I thought we're smart enough to avoid these traps they largely fit one of the stereotypes.

I almost want to have kids just to see if it would happen to me too but I think that's probably not a good reason to have kids.

Read only the first couple of sections. Seemed like a pretty terrible article. Maybe there's some sort of insight hiding somewhere in there, but it's well disguised. Skip.

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