Defiance of parental authority leads to success?

toddler with red adidas sweat shirt

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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.)

Student Handbook

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Being a technocrat, if I have a question about school policy, then my instinct is two-pronged:

  1. find the document that explains it: the student handbook (K-12) or bulletin (university)
  2. find the data.

Naturally, not trusting a teenager to even know where his student handbook is located, I went to the web site. This one is terrible. It took me half an hour before I was satisfied I had found it.

Worse, the document reads as though it was written by an Ed.D. and a lawyer. It sought to define terms in legalese like governments do, such as what an infraction is, the severity levels, and the recourse the school administration will take. If the parents typically have a reading level of at least a bachelor’s degree or above, then I think this is fine. If the parents lacked upward mobility because historically this school system failed them, then they probably will struggle to understand these rules.

It makes me wonder if part of the reason the school system has such problems with discipline is due to parents and students not really understanding the expectations because the school is obscuring it from them. The students find out things are wrong after getting caught. Which makes things seem arbitrary.

Of course, parents have to report they understand the rules. How many actually do? I suspect not many teachers do.

They have their own classroom rules and probably only enforce the school ones when made to by the administration. Of course, this means navigating a random set of rules in each class plus another set outside them.