Kids benefit when their parents spend quality time encouraging them to think and to take on challenging pursuits. But this won’t improve a child’s IQ, a new study finds.
Their reading to you, talking with you at the dinner table and taking an active interest in your life could make you happy. And that’s important. But it won’t make you smarter, says Kevin Beaver. Previous research has suggested different types of parenting could affect a child’s IQ. Short for intelligence quotient, IQ is a score that measures human intelligence. But those earlier data hadn’t separated out the effect of genetics on IQ. Beaver’s team wanted to know: Are children’s IQ scores really affected by how their parents raised them? Or are those scores just a reflection of what genes a child inherited?
To find out, the team pored over information from a study of more than 15,000 U.S. middle- and high-school students. It’s called the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Starting in the 1994-to-1995 school year, researchers had asked students a series of questions. For instance: How warm and loving are your parents? How much do you talk with them? How close do you feel to your parents? How much do you think they care about you?
Students also were given a list of 10 activities. Then the questionnaire asked how many of those activities students had done with their parents in the previous week. Did they play sports together? Go shopping? Talk with each other over dinner? Watch a movie together?
Students also answered questions about how permissive their parents were. For example, did their parents let them choose their own friends, choose what to watch on TV or choose for themselves when to go to bed?
The researchers then gave the students a test to gauge their IQ. Called a Picture Vocabulary Test, it asked the students to link words and images. Scores on this test have been linked repeatedly to IQ. Later in life, between the ages of 18 and 26, these people were tested again. Beaver’s group was especially interested in results from a group of about 220 students who had been adopted. The parents who raised them had not passed on any genes to them. So if there was a link between the students’ IQs and the way their parents raised them, the researchers should see it most clearly in the adopted students’ scores.
What does Beaver make of the new findings? We all have strengths and weaknesses, he says. That means some of us will have to work harder than others to do well. And in some cases, other people will always be better than us at certain things. “The key is to find what you are good at and what you enjoy.” Then, he says, “Work your hardest to become the best you can be.”