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    479. The Economist’s Guide to Parenting: 10 Years Later

    Prioritizing a child's individual desires and interests over societal expectations can lead to unique and beneficial outcomes in parenting, as demonstrated by economist Steven Levitt's nonconformist approach.

    en-usOctober 21, 2021

    About this Episode

     In one of the earliest Freakonomics Radio episodes (No. 39!), we asked a bunch of economists with young kids how they approached child-rearing. Now the kids are old enough to talk — and they have a lot to say. We hear about nature vs. nurture, capitalism vs. Marxism, and why you sometimes don’t tell your friends that your father is an economist.

    🔑 Key Takeaways

    • Economist parents approach parenting methodically, but success is not necessarily correlated. Spend time with your child - it goes by quickly. Some children become passionate about economics, while others question capitalism's effectiveness.
    • Parenting can be evidence-based and joyful at the same time. Expose children to enriching activities from a young age, but also relax and enjoy the process. Consider the true cost of free childcare and acknowledge privilege.
    • Parents prioritize children's well-being by paying fair compensation to caregivers, sacrificing their own careers, and instilling healthy habits early on, like limiting sugar intake and using sign language for communication.
    • Communication training from an early age can develop strong communication skills and a sense of self. Curiosity about psychology and a desire to effect positive change can drive young individuals to question authority and strive for greater good.
    • Sofia Sacerdote believes that the field of economics reduces individuals to interchangeable workers in a market, rather than recognizing them as complex individuals that require care. She finds it challenging to align her political beliefs with market economics and capitalism.
    • Sofia Sacerdote's political beliefs are shaped by her desire to create a more compassionate world and address historical injustices using insights from Marxist and Black feminist scholars, while recognizing the limitations of market forces.
    • As parents, it's important to lead with kindness and flexibility, regardless of political or ideological differences. A positive relationship with our children can have a lasting impact on their future aspirations.
    • Passion and homeschooling can lead to success in pursuing academic goals. Follow the Freakonomics Radio Network for insightful content.
    • Professor Caplan believes in homeschooling his children to create a suitable and interesting learning environment. He views himself as a whistleblower against anti-intellectualism in the modern education system.
    • By focusing on essential parts of education and prioritizing fun and autonomy in parenting, Bryan Caplan's homeschooling approach emphasizes individual choice and economic freedom while recognizing the importance of credentials for career success.
    • Prioritizing a child's individual desires and interests over societal expectations can lead to unique and beneficial outcomes in parenting, as demonstrated by economist Steven Levitt's nonconformist approach.
    • The way parents raise their children can have a significant impact on their development. While helicopter parenting may not be necessary for success, prioritizing a child's upbringing is still important. Personal beliefs and cultural background can also influence parenting approaches.
    • Parents should prioritize love and happiness in their children's pursuits and not solely focus on traditional measures of success like going to college. Supporting their individual passions and goals can ultimately lead to fulfillment.
    • Focus on teaching your child important values and supporting their self-esteem, but don't blame yourself for their struggles or feel the need to always be in control. Tragedies may remind us that some things are beyond our control as parents.
    • Parenting involves both nature and nurture, but it is difficult to determine which has more influence on a child's behavior and personality. Accepting the unpredictable ways of the universe and being present in a child's life can improve relationships.
    • Research shows that while parents do have an impact on their children's lives, the power of peer influence is strong. It's important to make the best choices for a child by putting in great effort, but luck and genetics also play a role in their success. Encouraging a child to make their own choices is crucial in giving them the opportunity to succeed in a safe and responsible way.
    • Parents should have protocols in place such as supervising their children's social media use, having open and honest conversations with children about benefits and risks of social media, and protecting their privacy and safety.

    📝 Podcast Summary

    The Myth of Obsessive Parenting and Its Impact on Children's Success

    Obsessive parenting to maximize a child's potential through culture cramming and extracurricular activities, as encouraged in modern times, may not matter as much as thought. There might be a correlation between success and obsessive parenting, but it's not necessarily causal. Economist parents approach parenting in a nerdy way, with some even treating it like a project. The approach could have an impact on how their children view the world - some of them turn out to be just as passionate about market economics as their parents, while others question if capitalism is effective in taking care of people. However, the biggest lesson is to cherish the time spent with one's child, as it goes by in a blink of an eye.

    A Balanced Approach to Parenting: Mixing Evidence and Joy

    Parents Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers are devoted to evidence-based parenting, but also understand the importance of joy and happiness in their children's lives. Their daughter Matilda was exposed to music and sign language classes at a young age, and raised sugar-free until age three. The family acknowledges their privilege in being able to afford a nanny, but also acknowledges the true cost of free childcare from family members. While still focused on maximizing their children's potential, Stevenson and Wolfers have learned to relax and find joy in the process of parenting.

    Parents prioritize their children's needs and well-being through compensation, sacrifices in careers, and healthy habits.

    Parents value their children and want to provide the best care for them. This includes offering fair compensation to childcare providers and making sacrifices in their own careers to prioritize their children's well-being. Additionally, implementing healthy habits from a young age, such as limiting sugar intake and using sign language for communication, can have long-lasting benefits for children. These actions showcase the importance of putting children's needs first and instilling positive habits early on.

    Matilda Wolfers: A Young Communicator with a Passion for Psychology and Positive Change

    Matilda Wolfers, at just 12 years old, already exhibits strong communication skills and a willingness to question authority based on relevant facts. She recognizes the importance of learning to express her needs and desires effectively, thanks in part to early communication training. Matilda is interested in the psychology behind advertising and believes that controlling how people think can be a force for good in the world. Although her parents may have influenced her development, it's clear that Matilda has a strong sense of self and a desire to effect positive change.

    An Insight into the Critical Views of Sofia Sacerdote on Economics

    Sofia Sacerdote, a junior at Brown University, shares her critical views on the field of economics. She believes that the field reduces people to competitive players in a market, and treats them as workers and interchangeable bodies, instead of complex individuals that require care. Sofia finds it difficult to see how market economics and capitalism can meet our goals of taking care of people and feels that it is not aligned with her political beliefs. While Sofia adores her father and has learned a great deal from him, she has trouble reconciling his field of study with her worldview.

    A Marxist Medical Student's Ideology Rooted in Care and Equity

    Sofia Sacerdote, who comes from a family with a strong ethic of mutual aid and cares for people, plans to attend medical school after graduating next year. Although her father, an economist, believes in market forces, he does not see Sofia’s Marxist worldview as inconsistent. Rather, he acknowledges market failures and notes that there are multiple viewpoints on public economics. Sofia’s political worldview is grounded in her desire to make the world more caring and right historical wrongs, drawing on Marxist and Black feminist scholars.

    Sofia Sacerdote's Parents Taught Her the Value of Softness and Flexibility in Parenting

    Sofia Sacerdote's perspective on softness and flexibility in parenting has helped shape her values as a future physician or in whatever role she takes on. Her parents' approach to parenting has allowed her to lead at times and has given her an appreciation for kindness and flexibility. While Bruce Sacerdote may not agree with Sofia's Marxist views, he recognizes the importance of actions over stated positions and supports her fantastic work. Despite political differences, Sofia still turns to her father for guidance and growth. Ultimately, parenting may not be as influential as we think, but Sofia's relationship with her parents has left a positive impact on her life and future aspirations.

    Twins with a Passion for Economics and History

    A pair of 18-year-old twins, sons of famous economist Bryan Caplan, share their interest in becoming professional economists, with a focus on economic history. They credit their father for persuading them to switch to homeschooling in order to learn about ideas and read about topics they were passionate about. The twin brothers are pursuing double majors in economics and history with minors in math and Spanish. The Freakonomics Radio Network, to which Bryan Caplan's podcast People I (Mostly) Admire belongs, can be followed for free on any podcast app.

    Professor and Author Homeschools Children Despite Criticisms of Education System

    Bryan Caplan, a professor and author, has been homeschooling his children, despite writing a book titled “The Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money”. Caplan views himself as a whistle-blower, and believes that there is a rising anti-intellectual approach to education. Through homeschooling his children, Caplan chooses the topics that interest them and create a suitable learning environment. As a professor, Caplan believes he has the capability to multitask and juggle multiple responsibilities. Caplan's unique approach to homeschooling his children stems from his belief that the modern education system is not worth the investment of taxpayer money.

    Economist Bryan Caplan's Approach to Homeschooling and Parenting

    Bryan Caplan, an economist, home-schooled his children and believes in skipping meaningless parts of education while focusing on essential parts that count. He brought his kids to his office and taught them economics. He believes in free trade, libertarianism, parenting for fun and less influence on children. His son Aidan agrees with his economic philosophies, defending capitalism and free trade. Tristan is more of a minarchist and believes in minimal libertarianism. The brothers went to Vanderbilt due to its scholarship and the financial concern was overwhelming. They feel the need for credentials in today’s world for a good-paying job. Aidan would pay more attention to his kid’s choice while Tristan wanted to proceed only after achieving minimal libertarianism.

    The Benefits of Being a Selective Nonconformist in Parenting and Academia

    Being a selective nonconformist allows for unique and interesting research in the academic world, as demonstrated by economist Steven Levitt and his groundbreaking work. Levitt's parenting style also reflects his nonconformist attitude, striving to do things differently with each of his two families. This approach can be beneficial to parents who prioritize their children's individual desires and interests over societal expectations.

    The Impact of Parenting Styles on Children's Upbringing

    Parenting styles and beliefs can greatly affect the way children are raised, and it's important to reflect on past mistakes and experiences. Although it may be difficult to invest heavily in multiple children, helicopter parenting may not be as crucial to their success as previously thought. The investments made in children don't always result in big returns, but it's still important to prioritize their upbringing. Even with a background in economics, parenting styles may not always reflect that. Different cultural backgrounds and personal beliefs can play a bigger role in the parenting approach taken.

    A Parenting Shift Towards Unconditional Love and Alternative Measures of Success

    Author Steven Levitt has shifted his parenting style towards unconditional love, wanting his children to feel loved no matter their accomplishments. While he admires accomplishment, he values kindness and joy in his children's pursuits and believes that success is not always defined by traditional measures like going to college. His oldest daughter Amanda decided not to attend college, which he initially thought was a bad idea, but now sees as the right choice for her as she pursues entrepreneurship and writing. Levitt's daughter Lily, who is majoring in psychology and minoring in economics, sees her minor as a reflection of her changing outlook on incentives.

    The Importance of Fostering Values and Letting Go of Control as a Parent.

    Parents should focus on instilling values such as working hard and being kind in their children rather than seeking their approval or impressing them. Additionally, parents may not always be responsible for their child's self-esteem and should not feel guilty if their child struggles with self-hatred or other complexities of the human psyche. Tragedies like the loss of a child can also greatly impact a parent's perspective on parenting and highlight the fact that they cannot always control everything.

    Steven Levitt on Parenting: Nature vs Nurture

    Steven Levitt, economist and co-author of Freakonomics, reflects on his experiences as a father and the balance between nature and nurture in shaping a child's life. He admits to feeling helpless in keeping his children safe and recognizes the importance of accepting the universe's unpredictable ways. Reflecting on his second chance at fatherhood, Levitt notes a difference in his availability and presence in his children's lives, leading to improved relationships. However, he recognizes the complexity of nature versus nurture in shaping a child's behavior and personality, admitting that his small sample size of four children cannot give conclusive evidence. The power of nature versus nurture remains a difficult question for any parent to answer.

    The Truth About Parenting Choices and Their Effect on Children's Lives

    Research suggests that peer influence is powerful but parents are still the ones who choose their children's school and friends. The notion of 'nurture' is greatly overrated as data shows it doesn't matter much, although it doesn't mean parenting cannot matter at all. Economist Bryan Caplan suggests that multiplying one's effort many-fold is necessary to make a big difference in a child's life. Moreover, 80% nature or 20% nature, it's important to get the puzzle right and make the best choices for one's child. However, parenting choices don't necessarily guarantee success - luck and genetics also play a role. At the end of the day, the best thing parents can do for their children is giving them the opportunity to make their case for what they want in a safe and responsible way.

    Balancing Social Media Use with Privacy and Safety for Children

    Parents need to strike a balance between allowing their children to engage with social media and protecting their privacy and safety. Matilda's parents have put protocols in place, such as having Matilda show her mother videos before posting them online. They also have concerns about internet privacy and how young people relate to each other through social media. Matilda recognizes the legitimacy of her parents' concerns and acknowledges the need for supervision in her social media use. As technology continues to evolve, it is important for parents and young people to have open and honest conversations about the benefits and risks of social media.

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