Raising children who grow into successful adults takes time and attention and it certainly won't happen by accident. Fortunately, there's no shortage of research on the subject. Here's what experts say the parents of kids who thrive do differently.
They teach them to pay attention
Canadian researchers have found that kindergartners who are better at paying attention tend to grow into adults with higher earnings. They looked at data from a long-running study which rated 2,850 5- and 6- year-olds on characteristics such as inattention, hyperactivity, aggression, opposition, anxiety, and prosociality. They then looked at their income tax returns once those individuals were between 33 and 35 and found a correlation between inattention as a youngster with lower earnings as an adult. After crunching the numbers, the researchers surmise that in theory, if the kids who were inattentive could be moved one standard deviation closer to the attentive end of the spectrum, they could earn an extra $73,232 for men and $45,569 for women over the course of a 40-year career.
Great, but you may be wondering how exactly parents can help increase kids' attention spans. One simple approach: Read to them, and get them loving books so they read for pleasure as they mature. Reading books has been shown to activate all the major parts of the brain and strengthen selective attention and sustained attention.
They invite them into the kitchen
Eating nutritious food and maintaining a healthy body weight certainly is correlated with success. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the University of Michigan studied 64 5- to 7-year-olds and found that when they prepared food themselves, they ate more of it. They were asks to assemble either a salad or a dessert with the ingredients of their choice. When presented with a similar food put together by an experimenter, the kids tended to pick their own concoction. So, if you want your kids to eat healthier foods, ask them to help prepare them. Just be careful with the recipes you have them work on. The researchers found that kids also will eat any kind of food they create themselves, including unhealthy kinds.
They limit screen time
Researchers at the University of Calgary have found that preschool kids who spend too much time on video games, internet-connected devices, and watching television often display delays and deficits in learning when they begin school at age 5. They asked 2,500 Canadian families to report the number of hours their kids spend on these activities, and found that the kids spent, on average, 2.4, 3.6, and 1.6 hours of screen time per day at 2, 3, and 5 years of age, respectively. All of those numbers are too high considering experts recommend that kids aged 2 to 5 spend no more than one hour a day looking at a screen, and when they do it should be for activities which help them learn and develop. The researchers also found a correlation between too much screen time and negative physical, behavioral, and cognitive outcomes. Kids with excessive screen time generally were not meeting developmental milestones in language and communication, problem-solving, and fine and gross motor skills.
They talk to them about safe driving
About 3,000 U.S. teens between 15 and 18 die every year in car crashes, the leading cause of death for the age group. But researchers at the University of Iowa found that when they trained parents to improve communication with their kids on the topic of safe driving they reduced the likelihood of accidents by as much as 80 percent. The study involved following 150 families for three years, with video monitoring systems installed in their vehicles. Participant vehicles were split into thirds, with 50 sending messages to parents when unsafe driving happened--events such as sudden braking, accelerating, and swerving. Fifty parents did not receive notifications, and the final third received notifications and were trained in communicating with their kids about unsafe driving. The latter group had 80 percent fewer subsequent unsafe driving incidents compared with the 100 drivers in the other two groups, and 65 percent fewer than the group that received only parental notifications.
While your car probably doesn't have video monitoring equipment on board, there are apps you can install on your teenager's phone which will monitor things like speed and texting while driving. And all the major cellular companies offer devices which plug into a car's OBD port and will send parents alerts about how a vehicle is being driven. These technologies, coupled with a regular dose of lecturing and teaching on the subject of safe driving, will increase the likelihood that your teen reaches adulthood safely.