If someone were to ask which personal characteristics can predict a child’s happiness and satisfaction when he was an adult, what would you respond? Would you consider intelligence, creativity, athletic ability, or some other quality? Dr. Leonard Sax, MD, PhD, has posed that question in his new book, The Collapse of Parenting. The answer, based on long term scientific studies, is none of those qualities. Rather, it’s self-control.
During the previous century, psychologists discovered that personality has five dimensions: conscientiousness, openness, extroversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability. Of these five traits, the one that most often correlates with happiness, wealth, and life satisfaction is conscientiousness. Dr. Sax states, “Individuals who are more conscientious earn and save more money, even after researchers adjust for intelligence, race, ethnicity, and education. . . , (they) are also significantly happier than individuals who are less conscientious, and they are substantially more satisfied with their lives..” (119) Research studies have also found that these individuals are less likes to suffer obesity or Alzheimer’s.
Is self-control genetic, or can parents instill this quality into their children? The answer: ”Conscientious is not hardwired. It is not determined at birth. It is something you can influence. It is something you can change.” (125) Parents can teach self control to young children as well as teens. In order to do so, they must become more authoritative. They need to act like what they are– parents, not friends! They need to establish firm guidelines. Their imperative is “to implement a simple program that builds self control . . . Put your toys away after you play with them. No cell phone until you do your household chores.” (124) These are RULES! They should be reasonable, and parents must impose them consistently. And of course, serving as role models is essential! Children and teens are very sensitive to hypocrisy, so parents must live by example. Such is the primary responsibility of parents.