Parenting Problem Solving

Shortcuts: Rules (repost)

These are reposts of a series I did years ago on mental shortcuts.

After some debating with the toddler about whales vs sharks, I started down a thought experiment that Dunbar’s Number might not be about seeking justice and instead be about winning arguments.

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking > 5. Rules)

adult american football athlete audience
Photo by Pixabay on

Rules exist to help reduce the friction of society so that we can more easily work with strangers. Without rules, we need to have potentially damaging interactions with individuals, establish a series of data points about them to decide what kind of person they are to know how to handle them in the future. Instead, we create laws, policies, and traditions to define how we interact with each other. This frees our brains from Dunbar’s Number such that we can have larger social groups over that about 150 person limit.

We also have an instinctive bias to when others break the rules. People who severely or habitually do so need to be punished. We will claim it to be that others see that society will not tolerate the behavior, but really it is so we feel better that a rule breaker did not get away with it this time.

I started thinking about this because I had a conversation with a coworker about an odd claim about a rule. One problem with rules is there are too many for any individual to understand them all. We have specializations, so experts in an area are expected to know the rules for that knowledge domain.

People are human and may inform us about things that are less true and more desires of the way things ought to be. Traditions can sometimes fall into the latter. Sometimes when properly challenged, traditions find their way into being codified as laws or policies so that people properly behave.

Hammurabi almost 4,000 years ago solved this misunderstanding about what the rules are by writing them down. It really is a good way to handle it. One can read the rules oneself to check to see if how it was explained is correct or missing an important distinction.

And then, there is intentional rule breaking. Do you drive faster than the speed limit? Read all the terms for using a website? Criminals are deemed people who break the rules intentionally. Most of us are breaking some rules several times a day. Some intentionally, some by ignorance. Some because we were set up for failure. Some because the likelihood of being caught and punished are so low the wasted effort at complying is not worth it.

(This post is part of a series. Intro > 1. Illusions > 2. Labeling > 3. Math > 4. Multitasking > 5. Rules)

Discipline Parenting

Defiance of parental authority leads to success?

toddler with red adidas sweat shirt
Photo by mohamed Abdelgaffar on

Fleur pauses if you say, “Careful!” She complies with commands to help, but… only if she wants to do so. If she does not, then she just continues on with what she wants and ignores my presence. When it gets to her, the babbling back, though, is too utterly cute because it feels like I know what she is saying even though she cannot yet say it. We call this her being “strong-willed.”

A while ago, I noticed articles claiming that strong-willed children are more successful according to science. Intending to bookmark one to remind myself that I want this in my child any time I feel frustrated about this behavior, I found they linked to the actual study which is not behind a paywall.

Spengler, Marion & Brunner, Martin & Damian, Rodica & Lüdtke, Oliver & Martin, Romain & Roberts, Brent. (2015). Student Characteristics and Behaviors at Age 12 Predict Occupational Success 40 Years Later Over and Above Childhood IQ and Parental Socioeconomic Status. Developmental psychology. 51. 10.1037/dev0000025.

Note that this study is using income for occupational success, is longitudinal, and is somewhat self-reported. I do wonder if being willing to admit to “rule breaking and defiance of parental authority” in a study makes a difference to who gets rated strong in that measure. Like, they are so defiant that they are essentially bragging to authorities about doing so. Also, the people talking about their strong-willed kids have toddlers. The study they cite looks at pre-teenagers. Lots of behaviors at ages 2 or 5 or even 8 don’t persist to age 12.

That said, I was pretty defiant of adult authority in school. It did persist from elementary through high school. I guess I can only hope that Fleur keeps it up? That won’t stop me from having her do what I want her to do. I just perhaps might be a bit proud of her doing it.

Also, the article basically seems to be saying that after controlling for IQ, parental socio-economic status, and educational attainment, this rule breaking and defiance of parental authority seemed to be the best predictor of higher income. But, they admit that they don’t really have a good, non-ad hoc explanation so the causality needs to be explored. (Basically, don’t train your kid to have these behaviors until psychology understands why.)