Best Practices for Raising Kids

Friday, December 28th, 2012

Westerners are often struck by the emotional security, self-confidence, curiosity, and autonomy of members of small-scale societies, Jared Diamond says, which lends him to suggest a list of best practices for raising kids from hunter-gatherers:

We see that people in small-scale societies spend far more time talking to each other than we do, and they spend no time at all on passive entertainment supplied by outsiders, such as television, videogames, and books. We are struck by the precocious development of social skills in their children. These are qualities that most of us admire, and would like to see in our own children, but we discourage development of those qualities by ranking and grading our children and constantly ­telling them what to do. The adolescent identity crises that plague American teenagers aren’t an issue for hunter-gatherer children. The Westerners who have lived with hunter-gatherers and other small-scale societies speculate that these admirable qualities develop because of the way in which their children are brought up: namely, with constant security and stimulation, as a result of the long nursing period, sleeping near parents for ­several years, far more social models available to children through ­allo-parenting, far more social stimulation through constant physical contact and proximity of caretakers, instant caretaker responses to a child’s crying, and the minimal amount of physical punishment.

I strongly suspect that young hunter-gatherers display such emotional security, self-­confidence, curiosity, and autonomy because they’ve grown up in an environment that they’re well adapted to. Modern children can be left to their own devices in playgrounds and parks, too, but not in factories or office buildings.

Also, modern children can learn many “primitive” tasks by watching their parents — gardening, DIY repairs, etc. — but they can’t get much out of watching adults read reports, run numbers in Excel, email colleagues, etc.


  1. Bruce Charlton says:

    Diamond’s analysis seems to be distorted by considering only two types of society from an economic perspective — modern and hunter-gatherer.

    The meaning becomes much clearer if a third type of society is included: the agrarian (peasant) societies which have comprised almost the whole world through almost all of recorded history. Then the link between child rearing practices and is apprent.

    I wrote (in 2000):

    “…Ancestral hunter gatherers experienced a way of life that was — in world historical terms — leisured and egalitarian, and enjoyed health and life expectancy at a high level. Of the three kinds of society as described by Gellner: hunter-gatherer, agrarian, and mercantile, it is probable that hunter-gatherers had the best life, overall. Hunter gatherer societies are the happiest and peasant societies are the most miserable — while industrial-mercantile societies such as our own lie somewhere in between.

    “That, at any rate, is the conclusion of anthropologist Jerome Barkow — and his opinion is widely confirmed by the reports of many independent anthropologists who have experienced the alternatives of foraging, agrarian and industrial society.

    “The ‘naturalness’ of nomadic foraging is also shown by differences in the harshness of child rearing practices in different types of society. Child rearing involves varying elements of forcible training that are necessary to prepare children for their social role. Peasant societies typically employ extremely repressive forms of socialization, extreme discipline, restriction, and the use of child labour. Industrial mercantile societies (such as our own) are much less tough on children — but still require many unnatural behaviors (eg. sitting in classrooms or examination halls for long periods of time without speaking or moving). ”

    But nomadic foragers are able and willing to give their children even more freedom than the most liberal ‘modern parent’ — and such a relaxed upbringing of unstructured interaction with peers apparently prepares the child properly for the adult life to come.”

    But another factor is probably important — and I was unaware of this in 2000 — some groups of hunter-gatherers would be cognitively incapable of modern child rearing (whether modern methods were adaptive or not).

  2. Namae Nanka says:

    Robert Epstein on the myth of teen brain and the normalization of the adolescent pathologies.

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