Globe and Mail

Bringing up baby

Saturday, April 3, 1999
The Globe and Mail

This just in: We're a nation of bad parents. We know this courtesy of the nonprofit group Invest In Kids Foundation, which released a survey of 1,645 parents with young children this week. According to the survey, Canadian parents display a shocking lack of basic knowledge about how to raise children. The usual pundits claimed to be "disturbed" by the results. And of course it was guaranteed to be accurate 95% of the time.

Now, any parent who didn't actually read the survey might feel pangs of guilt. On closer inspection, it is Invest In Kids that should be feeling sheepish.

The survey did not actually examine how parents raise their children. Instead it used vague questions about biology and psychology to trip us all up.

For instance, can infants as young as six months manipulate their parents? Anyone who has raced to the kitchen for a bottle in the middle of the night or performed acrobatics to amuse a cranky kid would doubtless answer yes. When infants want something, they wail until they get it; manipulation in its purest form. But unless you answered false - and only 18% did - then you are an ill-informed parent.

The survey also asked if parents knew that reading to a child stimulates brain development. They didn't ask if the parents actually read to their kids, mind you, just whether they knew how a child's mind grew. The result? Only 47% of parents claimed to have detailed knowledge of neuroscience.

And then most parents admitted to feeling confused by a baby's demands as parents have been from time immemorial. This was another nail in the coffin of our collective parenting skills.

Yet parenting is an eternally confusing business in which learning on the job is essential. It is an activity in which instinct, intuition, and practical knowledge are more conducive to success than a grasp of academic child psychology. We would be far more worried if the survey revealed that new parents thought they knew it all from the moment baby arrived.

The supposedly disturbing results of this parenting survey point to one practical conclusion. When a pollster asks, "Can a lobby group manipulate parents?" remember, the answer is yes.

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