Here’s the biggest piece of non-news you’re likely to hear today: Kids don’t listen to their parents.

Part of my living depends on this fact. As a tutor, one of the features that makes me effective (besides my knowledge, training and experience) is, simply, I am not the parent.

Kids listen to me, behave for me, accept my advice, work hard for me, whereas they often won’t do any of these things when their parents sit down and try to help them.

I also know this from our home schooling days. The toughest kids to educate were my own. Other parents complained of the same problem; their children wouldn’t cooperate, wouldn’t take instruction. For this reason we started a home school co-op, where we traded lessons and taught small groups of kids, including our own. When our children were among their peers, they would listen to us because their pals were listening.

One of the reasons kids don’t listen to their parents is biological. The theory of parent-offspring conflict says that this conflict arises because parents and children are genetically related. Parents’ genes are contained in their children, and so parents try to shape and guide their children towards the parents’ best interests, which may or may not be the same as the child’s best interests (even though to the parent it feels like they are). As a protective adaptation, children are biologically programmed to be skeptical and resistant to their parents’ efforts to influence them.

As Steven Pinker explains: Children are not just attracted to the norms of their peers; to some degree they are immune to the expectations of their parents (The Blank Slate, p 390).

What this means is that peers, as well as other, non-related adults, can often have more developmental influence on kids than parents.

Teachers, coaches, community leaders, parents of other children, all play potentially critical roles in the character development and mental health of the kids whose lives they are part of.

I believe that we, as a society, shine the spotlight too exclusively on parenting, as if each parent was only impacting their own children. In fact, all adults who come in contact with children own a tremendous responsibility.

Look at Steven Pinker’s example of the cynical use of our fixation on parents, by some of the largest corporations:

The most vehement propagandists for the importance of parents are the beer and tobacco companies, which sponsor ad campaigns such as “Families Talk About Drinking” and “Parents Should Talk to Kids About Not Smoking.” (A sample ad: “Daughter speaks to the camera, as if it were her mother, reassuring her that her words about not smoking are with her, even when her mother is not with her.”) By putting the onus on parents to keep teens sober and smoke-free, these advanced consumer capitalists can divert attention from their own massive influence on adolescent peer culture. (The Blank Slate, p 393)

We all raise all of our children.

photo taken inside Grand Central Terminal, NYC