Family life

New study on raising smart kids

Reading aloud and family dinners have often been attributed to higher IQs in kids, but a surprising new study says that may not be the case.

KidsAndMath-January2014-iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

I was never the type of parent who put headphones on my swollen belly to pipe music into my womb for my fetuses, and certainly not one who propped my newborns in front of an educational DVD in the hopes that they’d be baby brainiacs. I didn’t take extra prenatal supplements to encourage the development of my kids’ brains and any omega vitamins my son and daughter get are from their food, not any so-called IQ booster pills.

All that being said, once my children were born, I did spend nearly every waking moment playing and reading with them. Sometimes the books were a little over their heads (I read a lot of non-fiction while my kids were young, and I read aloud to them often) and I have a fondness for flash cards and fact books. And while the importance of family dinner is often debated, in my house there is no question—dinners together are a must.

Read more: How to raise a smart baby>

Conventional thinking has been that reading together and eating as a family contributes to intelligence in later life (I’ll admit, my flash card fetish was an attempt to boost my kids’ IQs), but surprising new research challenges that idea.

“Previous research that has detected parenting-related behaviours affect intelligence is perhaps incorrect because it hasn’t taken into account genetic transmission,” says Kevin Beaver, a criminology professor at Florida State University.

Beaver compared a US-representative sample of youth alongside a sample of adopted children and discovered evidence supporting the argument that IQ is not the result of parental socialization. The study, which was published in the medical journal Intelligence, looked at parenting behaviours and whether they had an effect on verbal intelligence, which was measured by IQ tests taken by students when they were in middle school and then again as adults. What makes this particular study interesting is that Beaver used an adoption-based research design.

“We thought this was a very interesting set up and when we tested these two competing hypotheses in this adoptive-based research design, we found there was no association between parenting and the child’s intelligence later in life once we accounted for genetic influences,” Beaver says. “In previous research, it looks as though parenting is having an effect on child intelligence, but in reality the parents who are more intelligent are doing these things and it is masking the genetic transformation of intelligence to their children.”

But before you scrap bedtime stories—because, hey, why bother if it’s not going to help your kids?—think about the other benefits to your kids. For me, time spent with my kids means that I’m building relationships with them—sometimes it’s studying for school or having dinner together. My hope is that this time means we’re building trust between each other and helps them learn our family’s values.

And truthfully, I’m just happy I can ditch the flash cards.

Follow along as Jennifer Pinarski shares her experiences about giving up her big city job and lifestyle to live in rural Ontario with her husband, while staying home to raise their two young children. Read more Run-at-home mom posts or follow her @JenPinarski.