Why you should care
Because while learning is a lifelong pursuit, time is ticking down: The necessary goods for learning have a developmental sweet spot.
So your teenage daughter doesn’t want to be seen in public with you. That phase will pass (you hope). Her intelligence, on the other hand, was already solidified by the time she became a teen, according to a new study published in the journal Intelligence.
It’s been well established that the sweet spot for IQ development happens during a child’s first few years of life and that parental engagement has a lot to do with the extent to which she reaches her intellectual potential. (No pressure.) But for teens, it’s not clear whether better, more engaged parenting actually boosts intelligence. At least that’s what a new study conducted by Kevin M. Beaver, a professor of criminology at Florida State University College of Criminology & Criminal Justice, found; he says he was taken aback by the results and expected at least some positive influences from parents. “I’m somewhat surprised by the findings … that parenting is unrelated to intelligence” in young adults, Beaver wrote in an email.
That doesn’t mean it’s time to kick back and watch Thursday Night Football while your kid struggles with calculus.
Even though scientists are well past the nature-versus-nurture dichotomy, there’s still debate over how much each affects a person’s development — and, of course, it’s tricky to separate certain parenting traits from genetics. To better suss out how much genetics plays a part in IQ among young adults, Beaver and his team analyzed a trove of surveys of more than 15,000 students, ages 9 to 17, with both adoptive and biological parents, over a 15-year period. (The surveys asked questions about such topics as how often teens had gone to the movies or played a sport with either parent in the past month, or how much freedom they had in picking their friends.) Beaver and his team then created two sets of data, one for adopted kids and the other for kids living with their biological parents, and compared everyone’s IQs along with what they dished out about their parents’ behavior.
The result? There’s no solid link between teen smarts and how engaged their parents are, Beaver’s analysis found.
Hold on. That doesn’t mean it’s time to kick back and watch Thursday Night Football while your kid struggles with calculus. Although this research shows that active parenting may not affect intelligence, Beaver says that’s no excuse to take a backseat in your teen’s life; engaged parenting still affects other important things — like, uh, happiness and confidence.
Even so, the study has its critics. For starters, using data that asks students to report on how engaged their parents are fails to provide a full picture of what’s going on at home, says Anne Fernald, a professor of psychology at Stanford University. “They didn’t measure anything about the parents directly,” she tells OZY. And even though Beaver focused his study on young adults, he wants to research that famous developmental sweet spot: the first two years of a child’s life. Beaver’s hypothesis? If parenting styles don’t change very much over a child’s first 18 years, it could mean that his conclusion about adolescents’ IQs — that genetics plays a far greater role than engaged parenting — may be similar for very young children’s IQs too.
No way, says Fernald. IQ, like height, she argues, is all about fulfilling potential. In other words, if parents don’t nurture intelligence by talking to and engaging with their children, those kids will fall short.