Emily Oster, a health economist at Brown University and the author of Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting from Birth to Preschool, answers your most common questions on parenthood, plus offers an excerpt from her best-selling book on Allergens.
After an extensive review of research and data related to parenting, can you share what your top 3 tips for parents would be?
First, recognize that not everyone will make the same choices. Data doesn’t always tell you what to do and your preferences matter; just because someone else is doing it one way, doesn’t necessarily mean that is the right way for you.
Second, do not forget that parents are also people. Being miserable does not inherently make you a better parent and it is okay to sometimes prioritize yourself.
Third, try to accept the lack of control that comes with parenting. At the end of the book I share a story from my parenting which ends with, basically, our pediatrician telling me to “Try not to think about it” when I came to her with my latest parenting neurosis. Sometimes, this is really the best advice.
How do you think parental judgment plays a role in how we make parenting decisions? And how you would like to see that change?
I think we all feel judged some of the time as parents, both explicitly (like, when random people tell you how you are doing things wrong) and implicitly when we see people do things differently, and wonder if they are judging us. It’s hard to know how to fix this, but I think one first step is to recognize that not everyone is going to want to make the same choices, so just because our choices differ doesn’t necessarily imply I should judge you, or that you are judging me.
For any parents who are struggling with the countless and seemingly impossible parenting decisions like breastfeeding, sleep training, etc, what reassuring advice would you give them?
In the moments of early parenting every decision seems hugely weighted. Like, this is the decision that is going to make or break your child. Yes, some decisions matter some. But there are very, very few – if any – decisions which are THE decision. Recognizing this cannot help but take the pressure off a bit.
What area of parenting were you surprised to find the least amount of data on? And what do you think are the common misconceptions drawn from this lack of data?
Screen time, for sure. There is very little – basically, nothing – that would help us think about questions like “How much app time is too much?” It’s a hard area to study since these technologies are so new. It would be great to know more here, but I think we are going to have to wait.
Conversely, what area of parenting did you see strong data, leading to better recommendations for parents?
Early allergen introduction is one I keep coming back to in interviews about the book. The evidence has evolved, now, to the point where it’s pretty clear that early allergen exposure is key. This is an interesting research space since it represents a total change in advice from even a few years ago.
In a randomized controlled trial, the kind I like best, the researchers recruited about 700 babies between 4 and 11 months old. They found that children who were exposed to peanuts were far less likely to be allergic to them by age 5 than children who were not.
The data is clear: Early and regular exposure to allergens such as peanut, egg, and milk is important. Learn more about the new research on food allergen introduction in this exclusive excerpt from Cribsheet here.
About Emily Oster
Emily Oster is a professor of economics at Brown University and the author of Cribsheet: A Data-Driven Guide to Better, More Relaxed Parenting, from Birth to Preschool and Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong--and What You Really Need to Know. She was a speaker at the 2007 TED conference and her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Esquire. Oster is married to economist Jesse Shapiro and is also the daughter of two economists. She has two children.
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