by Melinda Wenner Moyer
Publication Date: July 20, 2021
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
How to Raise Kids Who Aren't Assholes is a clear, actionable, sometimes humorous (but always science-based) guide for parents on how to shape their kids into honest, kind, generous, confident, independent, and resilient people...who just might save the world one day.
"Wenner Moyer crafts a winning guide for parents who wish to build a 'better, fairer, stronger world.' This delightful mix of strategy and humor shouldn’t be missed."
-Publisher's Weekly, Starred review
As an award-winning science journalist, Melinda Wenner Moyer was regularly asked to investigate and address all kinds of parenting questions: how to potty train, when and whether to get vaccines, and how to help kids sleep through the night. But as Melinda's children grew, she found that one huge area was ignored in the realm of parenting advice: how do we make sure our kids don't grow up to be assholes?
On social media, in the news, and from the highest levels are government, kids are increasingly getting the message that being selfish, obnoxious and cruel is okay. Hate crimes among children and teens are rising, while compassion among teens has been dropping. We know, of course, that young people have the capacity for great empathy, resilience, and action, and we all want to bring up kids who will help build a better tomorrow. But how do we actually do this? How do we raise children who are kind, considerate, and ethical inside and outside the home, who will grow into adults committed to making the world a better place?
How to Raise Kids Who Aren't Assholes is a deeply researched, evidence-based primer that provides a fresh, often surprising perspective on parenting issues, from toddlerhood through the teenage years. First, Melinda outlines the traits we want our children to possess--including honesty, generosity, and antiracism--and then she provides scientifically-based strategies that will help parents instill those characteristics in their kids. Learn how to raise the kind of kids you actually want to hang out with--and who just might save the world.
While I wouldn’t consider myself a stellar parent by any measure, I enjoy reading about parenting studies and generally try to do my best for my kids. So I picked this up not expecting to learn too much new information, only to be completely gobsmacked by how much of my general liberal parenting knowledge was completely wrong – and which bits were right. It’s a well-researched and thought provoking book, and I’ve already recommended it to other parents.
“More than anything else, I want my kids to be happy and to feel loved. Yet as I observe the cruelty that is increasingly enveloping our country, a growing part of me wants something else for my kids, too: I want them to be kindhearted and to treat other people with respect and dignity. It’s not something I used to actively think about, but now it feels pressing and essential.”
The book covers a diverse group of topics, including self-esteem, kindness, racism, gender inequalities and sibling rivalry. Each chapter covers a topic and is summarized in a list of five or so points, with scientific backup for each bit of advice, as well as strategies for how to apply it. The author has a knack for condensing studies and presenting them in an easily understandable way, as well as highlighting what they’re saying – or not saying (looking at you, screentime study). Other books and authors are frequently referenced (the notes section at the end of the book is huge!), making it easy to know where to go if you want more information on certain topics, and I’ve already put several on hold at the library. Even with all that knowledge, however, the author admits that even she sometimes fails to follow her own advice, and I loved how very nonjudgemental the whole book was.
“A growing body of research suggests that ‘soft skills’ like empathy and kindness predict long-term success far more than do ‘hard skills’ such as academic scores and grades.”
You may be wondering why being kind (the flip-side of being an asshole, I’d say) is even important. After all, as the author also points out, we frequently have examples of people in our highest offices who are frankly quite awful people. But studies show that kind kids are more likely to be popular, to have good self-esteem, and to do better in both school and their future careers. One of my key takeaways was how simply talking about kids’ feelings can improve how they treat others. It helps develop something called “theory of mind,” where kids can think about and predict how other people are feeling. Unsurprisingly, that’s related to being kinder, having higher self-esteem, being less racist, and also leads to better sibling relationships.
It applies to parents as well. The author uses one example of a parent catching a child taking money from the mom’s purse. The immediate response for many people would be to yell “That’s stealing!” or something similar, and leave it at that. But, if the parent asks the child why, they find out that they want to donate money to a cause at school, so the parent can then explain that while that’s a good use of money, they need to ask first or it’s considered stealing, which hurts other people. Emphasizing feelings, asking your kids to identify their feelings, giving explanations – these are all things that can seem like overdoing it, but studies show that it’s necessary to spell these things out for kids. Reading books about diversity and racism isn’t much good if you’re not also discussing it with your kids. And on that note, the author is white and she acknowledges that privilege, specifically addressing a large chunk of the racism chapter to white parents.
Overall, this book gave me a lot of food for thought, a lot of ideas for changing my parenting style, and a bit of hope, too. Recommended to any parent looking for a research heavy book to help their kids build a “better, fairer, stronger world.”