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11 Parenting Myths That Have Been Debunked by Science

Almost all parents have heard parenting myths before and may have even believed them since they sounded so convincing and were endorsed by so many parents. 

But do you ever wonder, if the well-known parenting advice works, why do we still have so many parenting issues, adolescent delinquents, and youth problems in society?

Are they just the result of parents executing them incorrectly?

Somehow, this doesn’t add up.

It turns out many of these myths are simply unsound advice on parenting. They have been debunked by scientific studies (and common sense). Let’s review the 11 most common parenting myths you must not believe.

mother son and stranger question each other

The terrible-twos is just a phase that’ll eventually pass.

The terrible twos are the periods of time when toddlers begin to develop curiosity and the ability to explore their environment, but if adults interfere, their frustrations manifest as tantrums. These meltdowns are called the terrible twos because they are unpleasant and difficult for parents to deal with​1​.

Emotional dysregulation leads to temper tantrums in toddlers. Children who do not develop self-regulation skills will not be able to contain their negative emotions during a difficult time.

It is also around this time​2​ when some children develop oppositional defiant disorder characterized by disobedience, stubbornness, and tantrums​3​

This “phase” doesn’t pass in some families and gets worse if ignored while parenting toddlers.

Kids are resilient.

Resilience is not an innate trait that babies are born with.

Resilience means doing reasonably well when exposed to threats or adversity. It depends on the extent of three different parts:

  1. The severity and nature of the child’s trauma
  2. Risk factors such as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)
  3. Protective factors such as the security provided by family, schools, peers, and the environment.

Resilient children are those whose protective factors outweigh the extent of trauma plus the risk factors​4​.

Most protective factors are external to the child. For example, warm, supportive parents, a stable environment, and positive experiences in life. So “kids are resilient” is not true if those protective factors are missing​5​.

You can spoil your baby by holding them too much.

Positive gentle touch is one of the best ways to help your baby regulate and grow​6​. It even saved the life of a premature baby struggling to regulate her body.

In addition to not spoiling your baby, nurturing, responsive parenting has been shown to provide positive outcomes for children​7​

Don’t be your child’s friend.

Parents who resonate with this one tend to have a skewed view of friends or be highly controlling. They think that being friends means being permissive, giving bad advice, not being responsible, or not having rules or boundaries. These are lousy friends.

Being a good friend means giving good advice and guidance, providing comfort and support, being empathetic and understanding, treating others with respect, being responsible, and holding healthy boundaries.

Who doesn’t need this kind of friend​8​?

Giving consequence is the best way for kids to learn

Besides biological needs such as food or air, the top three intrinsic motivators for humans are autonomy, competence, and relationship​9​.

Having a good relationship with your child is one of the most powerful motivators.

When you punish, you may prevent them from doing certain things in the short term, but sooner or later, the bad behavior returns because they are not motivated to behave better. 

Love motivates. When your child is close to you, they are more likely to adopt your values. So if you value a positive behavior, they are more likely to do that willingly even without punishment. 

Consequences have it

Giving punitive consequences damages your parent-child relationship. Strengthening your relationship is a much better way to help kids learn.

Some kids need tough love.

Kids need love and nurturing. Decades of research have confirmed that sensitive and responsive parenting leads to secure attachment and produces the best outcomes in children​10​.

In contrast, mean or tough parenting is associated with worse outcomes, including lower academic performance, fewer mental health issues, less life satisfaction, and poorer wellbeing​11​.

If you don’t do “this”, “that” will happen.

Some parents are caught in the either-or parenting mindset

“If you don’t tightly control them, they’ll walk all over you.” 

“If you don’t punish them, they’ll never learn.”

“If you don’t show them who’s in charge, they’ll rule the house.”

“If you don’t teach them to obey authorities, they’ll get arrested by police.”

Using the fear of one extreme, these statements scare parents into believing the other extreme offers a better option.

Parenting issues often have more than two solutions. Many different approaches can be taken to resolve a problem. Extreme options, like those found in either-or statements, are rarely good ones.

Better solutions usually exist. Those who are willing to look for them can find them. 

If you turned out fine, then you should raise your own children the same way you were raised.

Knowing someone else did something that turned out well is encouraging, and it is tempting to follow their example. However, correlation does not imply causation.

“I turned out fine,” is often used by parents to justify questionable parenting practices​12​.

“I fell down the stairs as a child and I turned out fine” doesn’t mean we let our children fall down the stairs intentionally.

When we were kids, most of us didn’t wear seat belts. With the advancement of knowledge, we now know seat belts save lives and ask our kids to wear them.

Rather than simply following the status quo, aim to learn more and do better.

Parenting comes naturally.

Parenting is hard and not something that comes naturally to most parents. Our ancestors did a great job using their instincts to provide for and protect their children. Back then, that was all there was to parenting.

Nowadays, children need much more than just food and a roof over their heads to succeed and be happy in life. They need self-esteem​13​, autonomy, competence, emotional regulation, stress coping skills, problem-solving skills, and so much more to be a successful and happy child​14​.

Parenting beliefs that you can just wing it are dangerous. They encourage parents to trust their parenting instincts despite facts and science that point in the opposite direction, and it makes parents who want to seek help doubt themselves.

Parenting doesn’t matter that much.

While parenting isn’t the only factor that can influence a child’s outcomes, it does matter.

Nature versus nurture is an age-old question. Recent research looking at 14.5 million pairs of twins from almost every twin study ever conducted in the past 50 years shed light on this debate.

Genes and environment both affect a person’s behavior and character traits roughly the same amount. Considering that parenting is one of the most important aspects of the environment a child grows up in, it is evident that parenting matters​15​.

There is no handbook in parenting.

There is an actual handbook in parenting. Its name is, you guessed it, “Handbook of Parenting”.

However, it’s not a typical parenting book you would pick up in the bookstore. It’s a collection of the most influential psychology studies from recent years. 

Counselors and psychologists learn about best parenting practices from these resources. But these are scientific studies, so most people won’t find them easy or interesting to read.

Final thoughts on parenting myths

Parenting is undoubtedly difficult. Parenting advice based on these myths usually helps parents feel better about their parenting method, but they often do children a disservice. The purpose of debunking them is not to criticize or make parents feel guilty. By empowering you with correct information, you will be able to make better decisions for your children. The key to healthy parenting is to find the right balance using good information and doing the best you can in your circumstances.

References

  1. 1.
    POTEGAL M, DAVIDSON RJ. Temper Tantrums in Young Children: 1. Behavioral Composition. Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics. Published online June 2003:140-147. doi:10.1097/00004703-200306000-00002
  2. 2.
    LAVIGNE JV, CICCHETTI C, GIBBONS RD, BINNS HJ, LARSEN L, DEVITO C. Oppositional Defiant Disorder With Onset in Preschool Years: Longitudinal Stability and Pathways to Other Disorders. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. Published online December 2001:1393-1400. doi:10.1097/00004583-200112000-00009
  3. 3.
    Kazdin AE. Problem-solving skills training and parent management training for oppositional defiant disorder and conduct disorder. In: Evidence-Based Psychotherapies for Children and Adolescents. The Guilford Press; 2010:211–226.
  4. 4.
    Kumpfer KL. Factors and Processes Contributing to Resilience. Longitudinal Research in the Social and Behavioral Sciences: An Interdisciplinary Series.:179-224. doi:10.1007/0-306-47167-1_9
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    Masten A, Barnes A. Resilience in Children: Developmental Perspectives. Children. Published online July 17, 2018:98. doi:10.3390/children5070098
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    Barnett L. Keep in touch: The importance of touch in infant development. Infant Observation. Published online August 2005:115-123. doi:10.1080/13698030500171530
  7. 7.
    Gordon M. Roots of Empathy: responsive parenting, caring societies. Keio j med. Published online 2003:236-243. doi:10.2302/kjm.52.236
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    Green BL, Furrer C, McAllister C. How Do Relationships Support Parenting? Effects of Attachment Style and Social Support on Parenting Behavior in an At-Risk Population. American Journal of Community Psychology. Published online July 3, 2007:96-108. doi:10.1007/s10464-007-9127-y
  9. 9.
    Ryan RM, Deci EL. Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist. Published online 2000:68-78. doi:10.1037/0003-066x.55.1.68
  10. 10.
    Cabral de Mello M. Responsive parenting: interventions and outcomes. Bull World Health Organ. Published online December 1, 2006:991-998. doi:10.2471/blt.06.030163
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    Rezai Niaraki F, Rahimi H. The impact of authoritative, permissive and authoritarian behavior of parents on self-concept, psychological health and life quality. European Online Journal of Natural and Social Sciences. 2013;2(1):78.
  12. 12.
    Bauman LJ, Friedman SB. CORPORAL PUNISHMENT. Pediatric Clinics of North America. Published online April 1998:403-414. doi:10.1016/s0031-3955(05)70015-8
  13. 13.
    Tavani CM, Losh SC. Motivation, self-confidence, and expectations as predictors of the academic performances among our high school students. Child Study Journal. 2003;33(3):141-151.
  14. 14.
    Patrick BC, Skinner EA, Connell JP. What motivates children’s behavior and emotion? Joint effects of perceived control and autonomy in the academic domain. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Published online October 1993:781-791. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.65.4.781
  15. 15.
    Polderman TJC, Benyamin B, de Leeuw CA, et al. Meta-analysis of the heritability of human traits based on fifty years of twin studies. Nat Genet. Published online May 18, 2015:702-709. doi:10.1038/ng.3285

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