Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Oh Dear! More flawed logic. A British upper class lady writing below ignores the role of social class

Personality traits are highly heritable so what was probably found in the research was that upper class mothers had greater self-confidence and that they expected more of their children. That their children had greater self-confidence could therefore have been a matter of simple genetic inheritance, not a product of expectations or anything else

A study by the University of London reported last week in New Scientist magazine revealed that determined mothers, in particular, tend to produce ultra-confident daughters. This has been widely misinterpreted to mean that becoming the modern-day equivalent of an old-fashioned stage mother is a good thing. What the study actually shows is the importance of having confidence in your children, which is not remotely the same thing as being pushy: it is arguably the exact opposite. Have confidence in their abilities, the study concludes, and they will have few issues with self-esteem.

This does not mean forcing them to do five A-levels. It means not snorting and saying, “Yeah, right,” when your child announces she would like to be foreign secretary; and it also means, surely, leading by example, which probably means working – because it’s harder to be ambitious and confident when you’re milling about vacuuming or putting a load of washing on.

A closer look at the study reveals that there were 300 boys and girls involved, born in 1970. When the children were aged 10, their mothers were asked at what age they believed their child would leave school – a question chosen to illustrate each mother’s belief in her child’s capabilities [And which would have correlated highly with the mother's class rank] . Twenty years later the children themselves answered questions designed to measure their self-confidence.

Those whose mothers had high hopes for them were more likely to report that they felt in control of their lives by the age of 30. The answers also showed that the self-esteem of the women was linked to their mothers’ belief in them as they were growing up, regardless of other factors such as class and education. In addition, a mother’s own confidence and ambition were deemed likely to have rubbed off on her daughter.

I’m stumbling along in the dark like everybody else when it comes to child-rearing, but this study makes perfect sense to me. I was fortunate enough to have a mother [Her mother was an obviously clever Indian lady who married -- several times -- into the upper strata of British society] who thought my ambitions were a bit low-key – when I wanted to be a nurse, she said I should be a doctor; when I wanted to learn Italian, she asked what was wrong with Arabic or Chinese; when I said I might be a journalist, she wondered what on earth was wrong with me – what about the Nobel for literature? She was not remotely pushy – I don’t recall her ever looking over my homework – but she had absolute faith in me.

I don’t ever look at my own children’s homework either (in some circles this is akin to child abuse) because they are perfectly intelligent teenagers who don’t need their mummy to help with commas or write their essays for them on the sly, and I have absolute faith in them. They spend a lot of time just sort of hanging out. No doubt they could be honing their intellects instead of going to see bands or drawing cartoons. But they are their own creatures, for better or worse – not some tragic experiment in creating the version of myself that I’d have liked to be.

Everyone wants the best for their children, whether they are pushy parents or the more shambolic kind. I may be completely allergic to pushiness, but I don’t deny that it has its advantages. Where it fails is in creating confident, relaxed, well-rounded people who are socially at ease wherever they may land. Which is to say, happy people. Tell your children to aim high and let them get on with it.


The writer above is India Knight. Her mother was certainly a clever lady. The Christian name "India" is the sort of name one does find in British upper class circles but could also be portrayed as a frank admission of her Indian origins. The daughter is similarly clever (as one would expect from someone who writes regularly for "The Times"). Her surname "Knight" is adopted from one of her eminent stepfathers. I do not mean to mock the lady, however. Her devotion to her severely handicapped child shows great character. I actually admire how she has made her way so well in British society.

Australia: No mercy even for the littlies

Fat phobics want to harass 3-year-olds

COMPULSORY health checks at daycare centres will be considered to target Queensland's spiralling obesity epidemic, Health Minister Stephen Robertson says. The measure is one being considered by the State Government as it targets preventative lifestyle diseases - smoking, obesity, alcohol and sun exposure - which are clogging the state's health care system and costing almost $5 million in funding annually.

Mr Robertson said details on how such a plan would be carried out had not yet been discussed but it was hoped parents could be given information about warning signs of bad health in their children. "We haven't decided how we're going to provide for greater screening of our young people," he said today. "I want to look at a range of options but compulsion should always be the last measure that you look at. "Education is always preferred but I want to look at the best ways to get these messages through and change some unfortunate behaviours."

He said Queensland had some of the nation's highest rates of obesity, smoking and sun exposure and individuals had to start taking responsibility. The Government had set the target of making Queensland the healthiest state, he said. But it could not "sit down with families on a Friday night when they watch the footy and order the pizza".

Mr Robertson said it was "frightening" how many children were being affected by the avoidable and chronic disease Type 2 diabetes because of bad diets and inactive lifestyles. "That's a terrible indictment on us as a community and we need to take some drastic steps to turn that around," he said. But the Health Minister said he disagreed with another suggestion put forward of a user-pays health system for the obese.


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