The "The Nurture Assumption" Loophole

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Tom Adams

Aug 26, 2019, 9:24:01 AM8/26/19
to Less Wrong Parents
The book The Nurture Assumption argue that parenting does not matter in the way children turn out.

But the author makes an exception for parents who seek professional help.

So how big is this loophole?

The National Parenting Survey indicates that 89% of parents used medical professionals as a resource and 82% used resources from teachers and other childcare professionals:

That implies a potentially big loophole,  Perhaps 90% of parents are doing stuff that does matter according to the criteria of The Nurture Assumption.

But I am not sure that all this is parenting help since one of the categories was medical professionals perhaps most of that was just medical advice.

The survey does not break out parenting or psychological services. I'd like to see some data on that.

There are lots of conditions where parents seek professional help: Autism. ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Conduct Disorder, Learning Disabilities, other behavioral problems.  Abusive parents are forced by the courts to get professional training.  Foundations and governments support professional parenting training from The Incredible Years program, the Oregon Parent Management Training program, and other parenting programs.

I would guess that at least 10% of parents in the USA get professional help on parenting or behavioral/developmental issues.  In some European countries, with national parenting or well-care programs, the rates are probably much higher.

In my own family, I have a total of 9 kids and grandkids (including step-kids).  4 of the 9 have had professional help for Autism, Learning Disabilities, Behavioral Problems, Child Abuse.

It appears that there is a heck of a lot of effective parenting going on out there according to the criteria defined in The Nurture Assumption

What a surprise!

Tom Adams

Aug 26, 2019, 9:34:37 AM8/26/19
to Less Wrong Parents
Correction, the statistic for my family is 4 of 12 have received professional help.  But six of those kids are under 11 years old so the number could still go up.

Dave Orr

Aug 26, 2019, 2:51:11 PM8/26/19
to Tom Adams, Less Wrong Parents
I don't have good citations handy, but at the Packard Foundation we've found that improvement in poor parenting can lead to positive outcomes. My current theory is that once parenting is above a certain bar, then the marginal difference on kid outcomes from improving parenting is minimal. At the bottom margin this is pretty obvious -- going from beating your kids to not beating them is a huge upgrade and you would expect to see that in the results.

I think this fits in pretty well with kids with special needs of one kind or another. Perhaps typical middle/upper class parenting is poor parenting for these kids because their needs are different, and advice from experts/medical professionals can help parents meet that bar. If that's true, then you would predict seeing significant benefits from adopting best practices for special needs kids, and then slower/zero marginal gains from really investing in the absolute best parenting you can give. My confidence is pretty low here though.

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Tom Adams

Aug 27, 2019, 11:30:07 AM8/27/19
to Less Wrong Parents
Looks like the Packard Foundation targets low socioeconomic groups rather than specifically poor parenting. Maybe there is some self-selection where parents who are frustrated with their results tend to show up for parent training, not sure.  The US has a voluntary early childhood home-visit program (MIECHV) that might support some targeting toward poor parenting.  And the parents of kids who have identified issues in school can be targeted, perhaps that indirectly targets poor parenting.

Kazdin was once asked why certain kids have behavioral problems.  He said that the mystery was why don't all kids have these problems since almost all parents do engage in the practices that condition a select group of kids to have problems.  In some cases, no doubt it's something special about the kid. But there are other interesting possibilities.

We have had some discussions here about whether to use operant conditioning or not.  The premise of these discussions is that the parent has a choice.  Parents think of it a method that they can choose to use or not.  But, in fact, most parents have no clue whether or not they are conditioning their kids.  Most parents are like unware BF Skinners who sometimes just happen to train a pigeon to bob it's head excessively.  Then they need help to learn how to untrain the extreme behavior that they inadvertently trained. By this mechanism, a perfectly normal kid can develop a behavioral disorder while living in a perfectly normal environment.
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Tom Adams

Aug 30, 2019, 10:21:23 AM8/30/19
to Less Wrong Parents
From the Cochrane Review: "Parenting programmes appear effective for parents regardless of socioeconomic status, trial setting and severity of conduct problems at baseline (that is diagnosed with CD or ODD, or scored above the clinical cut-off point on a validated measure of conduct problems). However, practitioners should note that faithful implementation of the programme appears to be an important component of clinical effectiveness and, thus, they should consider whether their organisation is willing to provide sufficient resources so that they can deliver the intervention with fidelity."

But, they did not comment directly on  "bad parenting" as a factor relative to effectiveness.  I think all the parents were volunteering for training programs, by the way.

On Monday, August 26, 2019 at 2:51:11 PM UTC-4, Dave Orr wrote:
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