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Unless you teach for a living, most of your teaching experience will probably come from teaching your own kids. It’s important for you to take an active role in their lives because you can’t always count on teachers at school. You’re the one who loves your kids the most. This article will show you how to help them achieve their full potential.

The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.

Parenting Style
The way you interact with your kids can be classified into one of four parenting styles1:
  • Authoritative
  • Authoritarian
  • Permissive
  • Neglectful
Authoritative parents are demanding and responsive. Demanding refers to discipline, control, and supervision. Responsiveness refers to emotional warmth, acceptance, and involvement in a child’s life. Authoritative parents will discipline a child for being late for hockey practice. But they will show support by attending games and cheering.

Authoritarian parents are demanding but not responsive. They discourage open communication, and there is a usually a low level of trust. Kids feel controlled and criticized. The motto for this style is: “children should be seen and not heard.”

Permissive parents are responsive but not demanding. They try to be friends with their kids rather than parents. Neglectful parents are neither responsive nor demanding. They are not involved in their children’s lives, and they don’t care what they do.

Authoritative parenting is the best style because kids are encouraged to develop problem-solving and critical thinking skills. They develop positive attitudes towards school, and work hard to get good grades. Authoritarian parenting discourages independent thought, and kids become dependent on adult control and guidance. These kids often lose interest in school, and end up rebelling as they get older. Kids from permissive and neglectful families are often impulsive and irresponsible. Neglected kids are at highest risk of getting into trouble and doing poorly in school.

It’s important for parents to teach their kids self-discipline and the ability to delay gratification. In a study from Stanford University, researchers offered 4-year-olds the choice of getting one marshmallow right away, or two marshmallows after 15 minutes2. Children who were able to postpone their desires went on to develop better social skills, greater self-confidence, and higher SAT scores as young adults.

Discipline is a symbol of caring to a child. He needs guidance. If there is love, there is no such thing as being too tough with a child.
-Bette Davis

Family Dinner
Authoritative parents are involved in the lives of their kids. Researchers have shown that teenagers who regularly eat together with their parents are less likely to drink, smoke, and do drugs3.
  • Make it a habit to eat dinner with your kids.
  • Talk about the day’s events. Listen to what your kids have to say.
  • Share your opinions. Don’t be condescending.

TV Rots Your Brain
As an authoritative parent, one of the best things you can do is unplug the TV, and save your family’s brain cells. In a study from New Zealand, researchers found that watching lots of TV during childhood was associated with lower education later in life4. High school dropouts watched an average of 3 hours of TV per weeknight when they were kids, compared to 2 hours for those who obtained university degrees.

Similarly, a study from the University of Washington found that 6- and 7-year-olds performed worse on academic and intelligence tests if they had watched TV more than 3 hours a day when they were 3 years old or younger5.

Learning to use time alone, instead of escaping from it, is especially important in our early years.
-Mihály Csíkszentmihályi

Parental Influence
How much influence do you really have on your kids? After all, some kids from good neighborhoods drop out of school, and some kids from bad neighborhoods achieve fame and fortune. Consider the story of Shawn Corey Carter. He grew up in a housing project in Brooklyn, New York. His father left when he was 12, and Shawn sold drugs when he was in high school. Not the most promising start to life.

After spending time on the streets as a hustler, Shawn turned things around by developing his skills as a rapper. He started his own record label, and named it Roc-A-Fella Records in reference to John D. Rockefeller, the American oil magnate and businessman. Shawn’s big breakthrough came with his third album Hard Knock Life. From there, the rapper known as Jay-Z went on to become the richest hip hop entertainer in the world, with an estimated net worth of $600 million.

To determine the influence of parents versus genetics, Bruce Sacerdote at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) compared demographic data from adopted children, and their adopted and biological parents6. Results showed that adoptive parents’ education and income had only a small effect on children’s test scores, but a large influence on college attendance and marital status. Kids were less likely to marry young when they were adopted into rich families. Also, kids were 40 percent more likely to graduate from college when they were adopted by mothers with college degrees. With the right guidance, you can make a big difference in your children’s lives.

Home Schooling
Sacerdote showed that the average parent doesn’t have much influence on their children’s test scores. Is there anything you can do to beat the average? The answer is home schooling. In the United States, up to 2 million kids are home-schooled, and the number is growing by 15–20 percent per year7.

In a study by Lawrence Rudner at the University of Maryland, over 20,000 home schoolers were administered standardized performance tests8. Test scores showed that home schoolers performed in the 70th and 80th percentiles, Catholic/private school students in the 60th and 70th percentiles, and public school students in the 50th percentile. The results were consistent across all grades and all subjects. By the age of 6, home schoolers were performing about one school year ahead. By the age of 14, home schoolers were performing at the same level as 18-year-olds in the public school system.

Home schooling achieves exceptional results. The downside is it requires a lot of time and effort—77 percent of home school mothers do not work. The money sacrificed by not working is the biggest expense since the median cost of home schooling is only about $400 per year. This pays for expenses such as textbooks, lesson materials, tutoring, enrichment services, and testing.

The principal goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done—men who are creative, inventive and discoverers.
-Jean Piaget

You don’t need a university education to home-school your kids. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI) collected data on 1,700 home school families9. He found that home schoolers scored in the 80th and 90th percentiles, regardless of whether their mothers had college degrees. In fact, home schoolers whose mothers never finished high school scored 55 percentage points higher than public school students from similar families. The secret of home schooling is one-on-one teaching from someone who cares. You can’t get that sort of attention in a public school classroom with 35 other kids.

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.
-Henry Adams

Social Adjustment
Home schoolers may be smart, but what about their social skills? Many parents believe that their kids need to be in a classroom with other kids. This is a myth. The evidence shows that home schoolers are more socially adjusted than kids who go to traditional schools. Researchers from the University of Amsterdam found that home schoolers were more mature, had better social skills, and higher self-esteem than public school students10. Far from being isolated, home schoolers were involved in an average of five social activities such as music, ballet, and church.

Rishi Valley School
If home schooling is not practical for your family, try setting aside a few nights a week to tutor your child. When I was in high school, my parents bought me textbooks for all of my courses in advance, so that I could study them during my summer holidays. I also practiced with old tests from upper-year students. When September rolled around, it was easy to do well. I won the award for top student every year.

Whether it’s helping your kids with homework, or buying them next year’s textbooks, it’s possible to do a lot with a little. In the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, there is a small rural village named Egavaboyapalle. The heart of the village is the Rishi Valley School, run by the husband-and-wife team of Y.A. Padmanabha and Rama Rao. The founding of the school sparked major changes: the village’s literacy rate increased from near zero to 70 percent; 95 percent of students went on to pass the entrance exam for advancement to upper grade levels; and the incidence of disease dropped dramatically11.

School in a Box
The secret to the school’s success was helping villagers help themselves. The first step was teaching children with a “School in a Box.” This is a set of 500 illustrated instructional cards for math, language, science, health, and environmental studies, with a facilitator’s manual for the teacher. To learn language, children start by playing with rubber letters. They learn faster by touching and playing, rather than simply memorizing. They move on to stenciling letters on paper, and reviewing words with picture and puzzle cards. The key principle is learning by doing. Time is taught using an hourglass. Measurement is taught by measuring things in real life. Children work together in small groups, and help each other solve problems. For each subject, children advance to the next level of cards only after mastering the previous one.

According to Mrs. Rao, “The instructional cards implant the notion of categories and subcategories for everything. We make the children study their own village. They make statistical charts on the number of men, the number of women, the number of people who can read, the number who can’t, the length of people’s noses….In short, the children learn to constantly compare. Thus, they develop objectivity, by finding out things for themselves, through research.”

Sustainable Education
The second step was teaching parents. Children were encouraged to bring their stories home from school. This motivated parents to learn how to read. Mr. Rao explained, “This way you don’t have a middle-aged peasant saying, ‘What use is reading to me?’” In the evenings, the Rishi Valley School offered courses on adult literacy, and other subjects such as land reclamation, reforestation, hygiene, and beekeeping. To foster more learning by doing, students and parents were given responsibility for the school’s fruit trees, vegetable garden, and plant nursery. The garden and nurseries generated income that helped the school sustain itself.

If this is what villagers can accomplish in rural India, imagine what you can accomplish with your kids.

Children are the world's most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.
-John F. Kennedy

  1. Aunola K, Stattin H, Nurmi J. (2000). Parenting styles and adolescents' achievement strategies. Journal of Adolescence. 23:205–222.
  2. Mischel M et al. (1989). Delay of gratification in children. Science. 244:933–38.
  3. Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (2005). The importance of family dinners II. http://www.casacolumbia.org
  4. Hancox RJ, Milne BJ, Poulton R. (2005). Association of television viewing during childhood with poor educational achievement. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 159:614–618.
  5. Zimmerman FJ, Christakis DA. (2005). Children’s television viewing and cognitive outcomes: a longitudinal analysis of national data. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 159:619–625.
  6. Sacerdote B. (2000). The nature and nurture of economic outcomes. National Bureau of Economic Research. Working Paper No. 7949.
  7. Bauman KJ. (2001). Home-schooling in the United States: trends and characteristics. U.S. Census Bureau. Working Paper Series No. 53.
  8. Rudner LM. (1999). Scholastic achievement and demographic characteristics of home school students in 1998. Education Policy Analysis Archives. 7(8). http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v7n8
  9. Ray BD. (1997). Strengths of their own—home schoolers across America: academic achievement, family characteristics, and longitudinal traits. National Home Education Research Institute.
  10. Blok H. (2004). Performance in home schooling: an argument against compulsory schooling in the Netherlands. International Review of Education. 50(1):39–52.
  11. Kaplan R.D. (1996). The ends of the earth: a journey at the dawn of the 21st century. pp. 354–368. Random House.

Copyright © 2009 by Paul Lem, M.D.
Buy the book at www.MasterLifeFaster.com