Parenting that Makes a Difference - Dilbert Blog

Parenting that Makes a Difference

What is the single most important, optional thing that parents can do to ensure the happiness and success of a child?

For today’s topic, I’m assuming that taking care of a child’s health is mandatory, not optional. And the law says you have to send your kid to school, or home school. So education isn’t optional either.

Your mind is probably sorting through a number of parenting styles right now. You’re thinking about how much time the mother spends with a child. You’re thinking about the type of discipline a parent uses. You’re thinking about role modeling, and how much focus is put on schoolwork. You might think nutrition, love, hugging, and a dozen other factors are important, and you’d be right. But what is the one factor that is bigger than them all?

My hypothesis is that the month you conceive is the most important factor in a child’s success. And no, I don’t mean horoscopes are important. What matters most is how old a kid is for the class he is placed in. Macolm Gladwell described in his book Outliers how the older kids in a class are identified as gifted athletes, when in fact they are simply older. Coaches give more attention, training and resources to develop the perceived talents of older kids, thus widening the gap over their younger classmates.

When I first heard about the birth month advantage, I assumed it didn’t matter much for ordinary kids who had no plans to be professional athletes. But consider any kids you know, and how much they change, mentally, emotionally, and physically in the course of one year. The youngest kids in a given class are at a huge intellectual disadvantage compared to the oldest. How different is the experience of a kid that breezes through school thinking he’s brilliant, versus the kid who needs a tutor to keep up?

We know that some childhood advantages disappear over time. A recent study showed that raw intelligence was a better predictor of long term income than a child’s socioeconomic starting point. Likewise, maybe the younger kids with talent learn to try harder, and to cope with failure, which has its own advantages later in life.

Let’s test the hypothesis, albeit unscientifically, that birth month advantages are lasting. If you have siblings, and one of you was young for your class, and the other was old, which one of you is more successful as an adult?