The Social Science of Raising Happy Kids

We wrote in Freakonomics about our views on parenting. Mostly, we were skeptical of how much parents could do to improve their kids’ futures. One can clearly be a terrible parent through neglect or abuse. The tougher question is whether being an “obsessive” parent who drags children to a never-ending procession of soccer practices, museums, and acting classes is better than just sitting on the couch watching Austin Powers with your kids.

One group of social scientists has devoted an enormous amount of effort to figuring out what makes kids happy. I have no idea if they’ve come up with the right answers, but they’ve put together a wealth of interesting materials for parents at the Greater Good Science Center. If you’d prefer something a little more academic, check out the science part of the Greater Good Web site.

Visiting the site got me thinking about what the goal of raising children should be. The Greater Good Center’s stated goal is to raise “happy and emotionally literate kids.” Those are laudable goals, but certainly not the only ones, or even the first ones that come to mind. I care most about raising kids who are happy and successful as adults, even if that happens to mean that they aren’t very happy as children. I want my kids to like me when they are grown up, but I also want them to do what I tell them to do, the first time I tell them to do it. I don’t want my kids to be sissies, the way I was — I want them to be tough, and able to take whatever criticism and misfortunes the real world has to offer. I also want them to be creative, and to take risks (but not too many risks).

I suspect that the folks who run the Greater Good Web site would disagree not only with what I am doing as a parent day to day, but even with the objectives I am trying to achieve. Nonetheless, there were a lot of things on the site with which I plan to experiment.

(Hat tip: Laura Beth Nielsen)

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.

 

COMMENTS: 75

View All Comments »
  1. Tom says:

    Early on in my parenting career, I saw a Newsweek review discussing a book whose thrust was that a parent’s goal should be to make his kids “resilient.”

    I didn’t read the book, and may not have made it all the way through the Newsweek article, but just that snippet has ended up serving as a terrific prism through which to view my parental decisions — ok, if I do this, will it make them less resilient or more resilient? So far, so good.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  2. Tom says:

    Early on in my parenting career, I saw a Newsweek review discussing a book whose thrust was that a parent’s goal should be to make his kids “resilient.”

    I didn’t read the book, and may not have made it all the way through the Newsweek article, but just that snippet has ended up serving as a terrific prism through which to view my parental decisions — ok, if I do this, will it make them less resilient or more resilient? So far, so good.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  3. A mom says:

    If you figure out how to get kids to do something the first time you ask them to, please let us know. If you think Freakonomics was a hit — that book would sell millions!

    The info on greater good seems really solid and designed to help kids be happier now for exactly the reasons you say — happier kids are more likely to be resilient, successful, confident, and cooperative.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  4. A mom says:

    If you figure out how to get kids to do something the first time you ask them to, please let us know. If you think Freakonomics was a hit — that book would sell millions!

    The info on greater good seems really solid and designed to help kids be happier now for exactly the reasons you say — happier kids are more likely to be resilient, successful, confident, and cooperative.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  5. Christine says:

    I wonder if it is even possible to raise children who are happy and successful adults if they are not first emotionally literate or if their childhood isn’t on balance happy. Certainly the Greater Good Science Center posts about fostering a growth mindset are relevant for raising children who take on challenges (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/half_full/?p=49) and can withstand misfortune (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/half_full/?p=56).

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  6. Christine says:

    I wonder if it is even possible to raise children who are happy and successful adults if they are not first emotionally literate or if their childhood isn’t on balance happy. Certainly the Greater Good Science Center posts about fostering a growth mindset are relevant for raising children who take on challenges (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/half_full/?p=49) and can withstand misfortune (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/half_full/?p=56).

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  7. Foo Fighter says:

    Fundamentally the goal of having kids is to propagate the species.

    The way you raise your kids should result in them being able to attract mates when they are adults and to have the desire to further propagate the species.

    What makes (or should make; I guess I’m being an idealist here) a person attractive as a mate? I’d say the ability to provide the hierarchy of needs to their potential mate, from the physiological to the self-actualizing.

    It sounds like the Great Good guys are focusing towards the top of the pyramid and you’re more worried about the base to middle.

    (I’m aware of criticisms of the hierarchy of needs, but think it at least makes a good starting point for discussions like this.)

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  8. Foo Fighter says:

    Fundamentally the goal of having kids is to propagate the species.

    The way you raise your kids should result in them being able to attract mates when they are adults and to have the desire to further propagate the species.

    What makes (or should make; I guess I’m being an idealist here) a person attractive as a mate? I’d say the ability to provide the hierarchy of needs to their potential mate, from the physiological to the self-actualizing.

    It sounds like the Great Good guys are focusing towards the top of the pyramid and you’re more worried about the base to middle.

    (I’m aware of criticisms of the hierarchy of needs, but think it at least makes a good starting point for discussions like this.)

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1