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Economic child rearing

On a whim, I browsed through the iTunes store podcast section, did a search under “economics” and found some interesting stuff. This particular thing I think many people would find interesting… One of my old professors from GMU has a podcast series entitled “Econtalk”. One of his podcasts is called “The Economics of Parenting.” No, he does not talk about the dollars and cents involved, but the idea of aligning your wishes for your child and the incentives for them to follow those rules. It’s classic economics (or rational choice theory if you prefer) which means that it sounds a lot like common sense. For example, how do you avoid the inevitable struggle of bundling up your 2 year old before going out? You want them to be wrapped up to protect against the cold, but they feel obstinate and like to practice saying “No!” The simplest thing is to pick them up and take them outside without a coat into the cold weather. They will gladly put on the coat and you don’t even have to tell them… And no, they aren’t advocating putting your child in danger, but 30 seconds of cold will not hurt them.

A more interesting thing to me is the idea of sharing the child’s punishment. If they do something that they shouldn’t and you decide to punish them by withholding dessert, you should forgo dessert as well. The same goes for grounding, loss of phone or internet privileges, etc. The reason this is effective is sound economic theory. By doing this, a couple of things happen. First of all, it eliminates the possibility of a child misreading their punishment as a way for you to profit, i.e. they don’t get dessert so that you can have extra. That’s a little silly, but it can happen. More importantly, it reinforces the idea of punishment as a way of changing behavior instead of the child thinking that some sort of revenge or bullying is taking place. In addition, it eliminates those temptations for the parent. That’s especially important for some people….

It’s a good example of how broad a reach economic reasoning can have and why it is such a fascinating field of study. In addition, Roberts is a good talker and enjoyable to listen to, check them out here:

http://www.econlib.org/library/EconTalk.html

Isaac

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