Control Group: Parentology

Rebecca Traister in The New York Times:

BabyHis name is Dalton Conley, and he’s a sociologist at New York University who’s taken his own fatherhood, put it in the blender with his professional interest in scientific inquiry, and produced “Parentology.” He characterizes his technique as the opposite of everything uptight, including “old-world parenting; traditional parenting; textbook parenting; tiger mothering; bringing up bébé.” He’s not into that ponderous, prescriptive stuff. His brand, he says, is more like “jazz parenting,” an “improvisational approach.” Conley describes himself as a “freak” whose parenting decisions are based on “flexibility and fluidity, attention to (often counterintuitive, myth-busting) research. . . . Trial and error. Hypothesis revision and more experimentation about what works. In other words, the scientific method.” He lets his children curse at him; he tells them they’re in special education classes because of the better student-­teacher ratio; they camp out around a hot plate while their apartment is renovated. He is a wild and crazy guy. Except that he has also spent his career “studying traditional measures of socioeconomic success” and is therefore not interested in any “hippy-dippy perspective where all I want for them is to be quote-unquote ‘happy.’ ” Conley has “long been obsessed with societal ‘merit badges’ . . . little markers that I was on the right path to please my elders. And my hopes for my kids were no different.”

Research suggests that “having a weird name makes you more likely to have impulse control,” and that impulse control is “even more important than I.Q. in predicting socioeconomic success, marital stability, and even staying out of prison.” So Conley names his firstborn daughter E and his younger son Yo Xing Heyno Augustus Eisner Alexander Weiser Knuckles. When Conley and his wife tackle the question of whether to put their baby girl in her own crib or a family bed, they decide to co-sleep: “Luckily, we had a significant body of science on our side.” Conley explains how stress in infants whose needs are unreliably met or who experience “parental abuse or trauma” leads to long-term physical and psychological consequences deep into life. “The goal,” he writes, “is not to have a baby who quiets herself down. . . . It’s to have a well-­adjusted adult in 20 years. We were going to just keep cuddling E on our air mattress, lowering her cortisol levels, no matter what anyone else said.”

More here.