“Inductive Parenting”

Another interesting tidbit from Tomasello, Why We Cooperate:

adults who assume that children are not naturally helpful and cooperative and attempt to make them so through external reinforcements and punishments do not create children who internalize social norms and use them to regulate their own behavior. Much research has shown that so-called inductive parenting – in which adults communicate with children about the effects of their actions on others and about the rationality of cooperative social action – is the most effective parenting style to encourage internalization of societal norms and values. Such inductive parenting works best because it correctly assumes a child is already disposed to make the cooperative choice when the effects of her actions on others and on group functioning are made clear to her. Children are altruistic by nature, and this is a predisposition that (because children are also naturally selfish) adults attempt to nurture.

Tomasello means that, given the innate human impulse to help, to inform, and to share, children grow into socially responsible adults when they build empathetic views onto others’ behavior and rationalize natural cooperative impulses. The combination of empathy and rationalization seem to solidify the (apparently) biologically predetermined behaviors into socially sanctioned norms (supported via an arbitrary system of rewards and of punishments). Counterfactually, a child who somehow fails to develop empathy for others or who irrationally interprets biological impulses will find himself at odds with societal expectations.

It would seem to me that empathy is more important than rationalization. Indeed, there exist many social norms which, when we think about them, don’t make a whole lot of sense. But if someone lacks empathy, they have a particularly troubling deficiency. We tend to call such rare people sociopaths – they can reason their way into and out of behavioral patterns, however, they don’t care how their behaviors effect others since they have no mechanism for caring about such things.

Let’s end on a happy note! Parents: teach your kids to think about how others feel when various things happen, and teach them the reasons why we do things the way we do. Someday, your kids will thank you for your wonderful parenting!


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