The Science Behind Raising Kids Who Aren’t Jerks: Melinda Wenner Moyer

Written by: Lianne Castelino

Published: Jan 15, 2022

She remembers the moment vividly.

“The title of the book was what came first to me,” says Melinda Wenner Moyer about her foray into becoming an author for the first time.

“I was out with my husband for our anniversary [in] October of 2018,” the award-winning journalist and young mother shared with Lianne Castelino during an interview for Where Parents Talk.


Click for video transcription

Welcome to where parents talk on Lianne Castelino. Our guest today is a mom of two and an award winning journalist who specializes in science, medicine and parenting topics. She’s also a contributing editor at Scientific American magazine, and a contributing writer for the New York Times and The Washington Post. Melinda Wenner Moyer is also a first time author. She published her first book in the summer of 2021. It’s called How to raise kids who aren’t assholes, science based strategies for better parenting from tots to teens. Melinda Wenner Moyer joins us from New York. Thank you so much for being here.

Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

I wanted to start with first things first, Melinda, what led you to naming the book what you did?

Yes. Okay. So actually, the title of the book was what came first to me, I was out actually, with my husband for our anniversary, it was two and a half years ago is October of August, almost three years ago, October of 2018. And just to sort of give some context about like, how I was feeling i At that point, was increasingly frustrated by the bad behavior that I’ve been seeing around me. And that includes from people in positions of political power in the US, from the me to allegations that had been hitting the news. And I’d seen, for instance, that rates of bullying and hate crimes had been going up. And so I was just starting to get really worried about my kids, and who they were going to become, and you know, who they were learning from, with all of this bad behavior happening. And I had kind of realized that what I wanted more than anything else was to make sure that my kids grew up to be good people and not to be jerks. And so I was out with my husband, as I said, and, and I just remember, out of nowhere, I said, I should write a book called How to raise kids who aren’t assholes. And, and that’s, and then I looked at him, it was really funny, because I had been wanting to write a book, and I really couldn’t settle on an idea. And at that moment, I looked at him, and he looked at me, and he was like, that’s, I think that’s your book. And I was like, I think that’s my book, too. And then the next morning, I emailed my agents, and there we have it.

You know, it’s so fascinating to hear you say that, and I can totally understand that. You know, for a lot of people, they might have the book first, and it takes them forever to get to that title. But in your case, it was the reverse. And I guess in my mind, I’m thinking, you must have been really, you know, feeling compelled deeply and sort of troubled by what you were seeing around you. Was there a specific incident? Or was it a confluence of factors, as you described over time that led you to say?

You know what, this is obnoxious behavior, this detestable behavior, someone’s got to do something about it for the next generation.

I will say it was it was a confluence of things. But there were certainly some things that stuck with me. And really, I think were important drivers. For me to decide to write the book. I had read some reports from the Southern Poverty Law Center, that were that came out soon after Trump had been elected. And they were surveys of teachers in the US, who had seen just some really, really bad and scary behavior from kids in schools soon after the election. And so this was kids who were really parroting a lot of what Trump’s rhetoric was things that he said, like build a wall, like there were kids chanting that in the cafeteria. There were other things that include words, I don’t really want to say that teachers were hearing students say to each other, and a lot of, you know, racist and very sexist things. And so I remember stumbling across some of those reports, and just being really overwhelmed and thinking, you know, I didn’t know if that was happening in my kids school. I certainly hope not, but I was worried about, you know, what kind of effects is that going to have on all the kids who are observing this, even if it’s only a few kids who are instigating it. And there was something in my town too, I live in a really small town in New York, and and there was a swastika that was drawn on a wall outside of our school a couple of years ago, right around the time I decided to write the book, too. And that really hit home. And that was a really difficult moment for our community. So yeah, I think it was it was a confluence of a lot of these things. And just seeing some of the things I was seeing on TV and hearing some of the things I was hearing just I just was really worried.

Yeah, let me ask you were just one begin to put together a book like this because, you know, as a journalist with that background, you obviously covered, you know, really related themes in your other work. But then when it comes to also infusing this book with science and evidence based strategies around how to not raise obnoxious unlikable people, where did you go about starting? And take us through the research that you undertook?

Yeah, that’s a great question. Because we’re where do you start with a topic this big, it was really hard. I first started thinking about, okay, what are the aspects? So? Okay, so the book is, you know, how to raise kids who aren’t assholes? And I thought of like, what are what are the characteristics that are associated with being a jerk, essentially? And then what are kind of the opposite of that, that? What are the things that we want to foster that sort of the opposite of of that? And so, you know, I knew one really key trait that I wanted to learn about was generosity. How does generosity develop? How does helpfulness develop those seemed really, really key, along with racism, or anti racism? I guess I should say, I wanted to know, you know, how do we is there science on raising anti racist kids and anti sexist kids? And so I thought of these kinds of key areas, and then I dug into the research. And because I wanted to see, you know, Was there enough research for me to be able to make strong recommendations that I could stand behind? And say, yes, the science really, really supports, you know, one particular approach. And, and I did find, I mean, there was actually a lot more research than I expected, I wasn’t sure what I was going to find. But, you know, I knew that there was research on child development, but I didn’t realize there was so much research on how different parenting approaches shape, child development and shape the development of values and character. And so yeah, I kind of dug into the research in surrounding particular areas that seemed relevant. And then when I found that there was enough research to really be able to make strong recommendations, I realized, okay, that’s going to be one chapter, like, yes, generosity and helpfulness, there’s tons of research on that. So that will become one chapter. And anti sexism will be a chapter anti racism will be a chapter. And I kind of did it that way. And then if I found things where I couldn’t find a lot of interesting research, you know, I thought, well, I can’t really, I can’t really say much about that, because I didn’t want it to be based on theory, I really wanted everything to be based on evidence.

So along those lines, can you give us examples of any of those topics that you just talked about? Anti racism, inclusion, you know, motivation. And talk to us about what the Science showed, and what you discovered? And you yourself learned through that research process?

Yeah. Guess where to start? I guess. I mean, we could start with anti racism, because this is one where I think the research is surprising. It’s, it goes against, I think, a lot of parenting instincts for white parents in particular. Because so I, from looking at the research, I understood there’s, you know, different kinds of research that you can look at. And one area of research is, you know, really observing what do parents do when it comes to talking to kids about race or engaging with kids about race. And, and it was very clear that especially with white parents, the parents just don’t talk about race, and they do that they I think, from a good place of good intentions, they think, you know, if I don’t talk to my kids about race, then maybe they won’t notice it, they won’t notice skin color, they won’t make a big deal out of it. And the idea is, you know, we can just raise colorblind kids who just don’t don’t pay attention to race at all. And so the research is pretty clear that that is how most white parents will raise their kids obviously, for caring for parents of color, or parents of children of color, that’s very different. Because you you know, those parents are need to have these conversations with their kids from an early age often, because their kids might be experiencing racism. So that’s, that’s a whole nother issue. But I was really, I focused a lot on the research on white parents cuz I think white parents had the most to learn from what I was reading. So anyway, um, so that’s so white parents tend to espouse colorblind parenting. But when you look at the research, first of all, the research is very clear that kids even babies see race from a very young age. There’s research showing that that babies as young as three months old, will spend more time looking at pictures of adults who share the skin color of their caregivers. So they’re, they’re absolutely seeing differences in skin color from a very young age. And they also kids, one of the things they’re doing when they’re toddlers, preschoolers and up through the school age years is they’re really trying to figure out what social categories matter in the world. And why does the world look the way it does. And they notice, for instance, that there’s very clear racial hierarchy in society. And so they you know, they see that most politicians and most people in positions of power are white. And, and they might notice in their own communities, too, that you know, the kids with the big houses in in their school are more often white. And if their parents aren’t talking to them about why this hierarchy exists, and the fact that racism is very largely responsible for this hierarchy in society, they will come to their own conclusions. And if you think about like, what’s the simplest conclusion for a hierarchy like this, some kids will say, Well, maybe white people are just better or smarter. And this is obviously not the conclusion that we want our kids to have if we want to be raising anti racist kids. So what the research shows is actually talking with kids about race and skin color from a young age, you know, sort of normalizing the topic, because kids also pick up on the fact that that parents avoid the topic, and then it becomes like a even more titillating. It’s like this is a clearly an important aspect of society. But my parents won’t talk about it, maybe that means it’s taboo or bad in some way. And then they can sometimes get this idea that like, race is bad. Anyway. So talking about race explaining why, why people have different skin colors, even like explaining the science of it, that people have different levels of a chemical called melanin in their skin. And that is based on you know, how much melanin their parents have and their ancestors had and where they, where they lived long time ago, could kind of just sort of normalize the explanations and explain that racism still exists. And it’s kind of built into society. And that’s why these hierarchies exist, those kinds of conversations, when parents have them with kids, those kids will, will score a lot lower on tests of racial prejudice, they basically, they don’t develop as much prejudice, compared with kids whose parents don’t talk about race. So that was a really big, really clear take home from the research, which I think, yeah, as I said, like, I think it’s a little counterintuitive for a lot of parents.

Yeah. And it’s so interesting to hear it, you break it down, because when you started, you said, you know, it comes from a place of good intention from a lot of parents, and it is very innocent. But when you explain it the way you do, you can see how those conclusions can be drawn by kids as they get older. Now, you know, when it comes to teens, and adolescents and young adults, which is sort of the the focus of our, our audience here. So many of these topics that you cover, become even more cemented in their minds. So I wonder on the topic, for example of bullying, which you cover off in the book, what surprised you most through the research that you that you undertook on that topic?
Yeah, bullying, the research was also very surprising to me, because I think I and a lot of parents have a kind of idea about bullying, that, that, first of all, that kids who bully, they know exactly what they’re doing. They’re trying to, you know, inflict harm and pain on other kids. And there certainly are bullies like that. And that, you know, I think there’s also an idea that if you, if you’re a good parent, your kids just kind of know not to believe, like, they just understand what it is, they would never do it, we don’t really have to have explicit conversations. And both of those ideas were challenged by the research when I dug into it. So first of all, there are bullying is like more of a continuum than a black and white thing. There are a lot of kids who will, you know, occasionally bully. And, and they don’t necessarily, this was really surprising. A lot of bullies don’t necessarily understand that what they’re doing is actually hurtful. So there was a really fascinating study, actually, that that first assessed whether kids and I think these might have been about middle school aged kids first assessed whether or not they ever engaged in bullying by asking them kind of a series of questions about, you know, how they treated other people and what they did sometimes. And then they showed the kids a series of cartoons, that depicted different kinds of behaviors, including bullying behaviors, and they asked the kids, you know, how would you feel if you were doing the bullying care? Or how would you feel if you were being bullied here? I mean, they didn’t use the words bullying, but like, how would you feel if you were being treated this way. And they found that 70% of the kids who they had determined from the earlier part of the study did sometimes engage in bullying, they didn’t seem to perceive that bullying behavior was hurtful. Like they, they weren’t able to say, Oh, if I were being treated this way, I would have my feelings hurt. And and that’s really interesting. It’s like there’s a disconnect sometimes in kids between, you know, actions and their impact on others. And kids might be engaging in sort of what they think is harmed, harm less kind of teasing or just having fun, when of course, that can be really, really hurtful for another child. And this is related to a skill called theory of mind, which is the ability for a child to kind of put themselves in another person’s shoes and to understand how another person’s feeling and understand that that can be different from how they’re feeling. And this is something that as adults we do all the time. We’re pretty good at it. Usually not everybody maybe. But kids really it takes a long time for them to develop that skill. And so kids who engage in bullying sometimes it’s because they haven’t mastered that skill. They really just don’t understand And then what they’re doing is as hurtful as it is. And so based on that, what the research suggests is that parents really should be having like explicit regular conversations about what bullying is about what it can look like, and, and, you know, always kind of trying to tie behavior and choices and actions to their effects on other people and really try to make those connections explicit with kids, because they just don’t always get it on a level that we think that they do. If that makes sense.
It does, you know, it stands to reason that if somebody doesn’t know that something is wrong, or potentially wrong, they’re just going to continue doing it sort of oblivious. When do those conversations, ideally need to start?

Gosh, I think that they should start from the time that, you know, kids are toddlers and preschoolers. And, you know, you don’t necessarily need to define bullying in a very, you know, formal way with kids that age, but you can talk about it, let’s say a child feels hurt by what somebody else did. You can talk about, you know, why does that why is that hurtful to you? And why did that hurt your feelings? Why did that make you feel bad, and and then kind of weave that into conversations down the line, if you see your child, maybe not being as friendly as they could be to another child on the playground, you can say, hey, remember, when you know when that that other child said that thing to you that made you feel bad? Well, I wonder whether this child on the playground now that you’re not playing with might be feeling a little left out or might be feeling upset. And so you know, just constantly kind of trying to have these explicit conversations about the that that kind of bridge these ideas that like what you do and how you behave has always has an effect on other people, even if you don’t really intend it to even if you’re not trying to be hurtful. And also, I think one of the other really key insights from the research that was surprising, and a little disturbing, a little worrying, I guess, for parents is that it seems that the the parents of kids who bully are often the least likely to realize that their kids bully. So generally speaking kids or not, parents are often not aware when their kids are engaging in bullying behaviors, it’s not, it’s just not something that necessarily will see based on behavior at home. But the the, the parents of bullies are often like the least likely to recognize that their kids might be doing that. And so that’s just something to keep in mind. Like, I think we all want to think the best of our kids and think our kids will never ever do that. But a lot of kids, you know, they might not be bullies all the time, but they might engage in this behavior occasionally, you know, or be bullied one day and bully the next day. There’s, it’s really this continuum. It’s not this black and white thing. And so all parents should be having these conversations, even when we think there’s no way our kids are engaging in this kind of behavior.

You know, it’s interesting, it strikes me that a lot of what you’re describing that’s in the book really is rooted around emotional intelligence, right? self awareness and self control. And I guess it’s such a convoluted term, I guess, in many ways to explain to a child, many adults are aware of it, but children certainly aren’t. But if that’s what it sounds like, to me, is that a safe assessment for someone who hasn’t read the book yet?

Yes, no, I absolutely agree. A lot of it is really a lot of the take homes in my book surrounds the the idea of emotional intelligence and the things we can do as parents to boost it, and to help our kids develop it. And a lot of that, honestly, is like, talking about feelings all the time, like not all the time, but as much as you can. Allowing your kids to have feelings, talking about your own feelings. The more we talk about feelings and emotions, the you know, the better our kids are able to understand feelings, recognize feelings, and others understand, you know, how, how actions can affect feelings. And this is all part of emotional intelligence. Very important part. So yeah. And that’s true of teens, too, like letting your teenagers have their big feelings, even if we don’t understand them. But you know, saying, Wow, you seem really upset today. And just sort of letting them have those feelings being there. If your kids want to talk about them. They don’t always I know, but just sort of giving them that, that ability. Like I think that a lot of parents sometimes we don’t like negative feelings. We don’t like our kids to have them and we almost shame our kids for having them or we say like, why are you so upset? This is not a big deal. You know, we kind of be little their feelings. And when we do that, it makes it harder for our kids to develop that emotional intelligence.

That’s very true. So Melinda, you and your husband are both journalists, and you’re both parents. You’ve got two kids who are seven and 10 years old. I’m imagining that the time from the time you decided to write the book to the time you finished at the dinner table conversations in your household must be quite interesting. I wonder for like, what, if any impact did writing this book and everything you learned? How did that influence how you parent and your parenting approach?

Yeah, I think one of the biggest changes, and I noticed this at the dinner table specifically, actually, is that I am much more likely to bring up things that have happened in like current events, or in my own life, that, that I use kind of to start a conversation on a topic. I think a lot of times before I wrote the book, I would think, you know, my kids don’t need to know about the difficult day ahead at work, my kids don’t need to know about, you know, some decision I’m making, for instance, like recently, our family made a change to the birth control that we are using. And that’s something that like I would ever think of talking to my kids about, but now, I realized, well, this is actually something we could talk about. And I could explain what you know, we could talk about birth control at the dinner table. And, you know, why not, in a way, like, it’s something that’s happening in my life, and I’m happy, you know, why not talk about it, it’s just an opportunity for the kids to understand the kinds of decisions that adults have to make, but also to have them ask questions and try to understand, you know, what’s birth control? Why do you have to think about this? And actually, that conversation was really interesting, because it ended up involving discussions about like sexism, too, because we were talking about how women are often expected to deal with birth control. And men often aren’t. And that was a really interesting conversation about, you know, sort of the different expectations and the unfair expectations sometimes in our society. So yeah, I think, you know, and when there’s something that happens in the news that might involve, you know, racist behavior, or anything, really, I am much more likely now to figure out a way to talk about it with my kids, you know, in an age appropriate way, because often those are really, really productive and constructive conversations, because we’re talking about value our values when we, when we bring these into the dinner table conversation.

Age appropriate, those are such key words to what you just said. And I, you know, I applaud you for, for that example of birth control and at the dinner table, because you’re right, I mean, 99% of parents would absolutely not conceive of it conceived, which is, pardon the pun, of broaching that topic at the dinner table. And but what you just described is that it organically led to other things that you were able to educate them on or open their eyes on, which I think is so interesting.

Yeah, I mean, it’s certainly can be uncomfortable. And I, I sometimes struggle with how do I explain this to my kids? And but sometimes, and they asked me questions sometimes. And I do say, like, I’m not sure how to answer that right now. And so it’s okay. I think it’s okay to have these conversations. Even if you don’t think you have all the answers. Even if you’re kind of scared about what your kids are going to ask, you can always say, I don’t have the right answer for you right now. But let me get back to you. And then you could think about it or do some research on how to frame it. And then you know, the next day say, Okay, well, now I’m ready to answer your question. So it’s, it’s okay to be nervous and not have all the answers, and it’s still can be very constructive experience.

For sure. I want to talk to you about a couple of other themes that you cover off, and you alluded to one of them earlier, but it’s around generosity and giving spirit, what did you learn in that area?

So there, the the research was really focused on talking to kids about feelings, which I know I mentioned before, but I was very surprised by just how clear it is in the research that the more we talk about feelings, the more we let our kids have feelings, the more likely our kids are to be generous and helpful, because it’s not always, like the connection isn’t obvious. Like why would talking about feelings make kids more generous, but the research is really interesting there. And I can, I can just describe one study that I think helps to really illustrate the link here. So this was with younger kids. But I think, I think I think it would apply also to to parents of older kids as well. Researchers invited moms and their kids into a lab and had the moms read a book to the kids. And the researchers measured just how frequently the mothers pause the reading to talk about feelings with their kids. And so they you know, whether that would be a mom pausing to say, how do you think this character feels right now? Or how would you feel if you somebody just said that to you, you know, kind of just pausing to have these conversations about emotions. And then so they did that first part of the experiment and then the researchers would invite each of the kids one by one into another room to play with the researcher. And during the the playtime the researcher would pretend to need help with something. So in one instance, the researcher would drop a pencil and pretend she couldn’t reach it and say, Oh, I wish I could reach my pencil. And then in another one, she she would pretend to be cold and say I wish I had that blank. Get over there across the room, I’m so cold. And they watch to see what did the kids do? Do they help the researchers or not. And they found that the kids whose moms talked more about feelings in the first part of the study, which they presumed the moms did this a lot at home, those kids were more likely to be generous and helpful in the next part of the study. And the theory there is that when we talk about feelings, when we let our kids you know, experience their feelings, don’t shame them for it, we make it easier for for kids to be able to recognize other people’s feelings and, and recognize the ways in which our choices and actions can affect other people’s feelings. So if you think about what it takes to be generous, or helpful in a particular situation, your child has to be able to kind of look at the other person, figure out how they’re feeling or what they need, and then make a choice about what they can do to make that person feel better. And and that requires a real fluency with emotions, and emotional, you know, emotional intelligence, emotional literacy. And the more that we just like, have these conversations at home, the more the easier, our kids can develop that skill.

Yeah, it sounds fascinating. Melinda, let me ask you, what are your top three tips or strategies that you learned through this book through the research that you’d like parents to know about and to take away from this book?

Okay, let’s see. Well, one, big one, which I think I’ve already touched upon a little is just don’t walk away from the awkward topics, bring, you know your life into conversations with your kids. But I know we kind of already talked about that. So maybe that maybe I’ll try to pick at least three others to here’s, here’s one that I think is pretty straightforward. But it can be hard to do in practice, it takes a little intention is the way we praise kids. We often as parents, and again, this is we have the best of intentions, but we love to say things like you’re so smart to our kids, or you’re so good at ballet, you’re so good at math, you know, you’re so good at reading. And these are very natural kinds of praise that we like to give our kids. But this is this is considered like praise for for smarts or for skills. And when we praise kids for like smarts or for skills, they they start to think of intelligence and ability as something that’s fixed. Like it’s, you’re either born with it really or you’re not. And there’s really not much you can do about it. And so let’s say your kid gets a good grade on a math test, and you say, Oh, you’re so good at math. And then two weeks later, they get a bad grade on a math test. And suddenly, they think, Well, gosh, maybe mom was wrong, maybe maybe I’m not good at math. And maybe I’m just I was born not good at math, I’m never gonna be good at math. And kids in this kind of fixed mindset are less likely to want to persevere in the face of challenges. They’re, they just think, well, gosh, I guess I’m not good at math. And so I’m not going to really try very hard because I can’t really do anything about it. If on the other hand, Instead of praising for smarts, or for ability, you praise for effort, and you tie effort to outcome. So let’s say again, your kid gets a good grade on a math test. And you say, oh, you know, it must have been because you’ve worked so hard, it must have been because you studied so hard. And you’re and you kind of fostered this idea that ability is something that grows with effort. And smarts are something that grow with effort. Then when kids encounter challenges, or they do get you know, B or C on a math test, they don’t think of it as I’m just terrible at math, and there’s no hope. They think, oh, maybe I just didn’t try hard enough. Or maybe I need to keep working and I can get better. And there’s really interesting research that that shows that this is this happens with kids. This is a lot of Carol Dweck ‘s work. She’s a psychologist at Stanford. And she wrote a book called Mindset that really talks all about this. But yeah, kids, when they are praised for effort, she found after getting a test, those kids who were praised for effort were much more likely to want to do harder problems. And they were much more likely to work harder at the problems then kids who had been praised for being smart when they were given a test, those kids then are much less likely to want to do hard problems and were much less likely to persevere when they were faced with hard problems. So that’s another really interesting thing, praise for effort when you can it’s really hard to remember sometimes, but it can be very helpful for fostering that resilience that I think a lot of us want to see in our kids. I know I’ve kind of, I could give one more maybe time. Yeah. Okay. Let’s see. Okay. I think one more if you have more than one child. This has to do with how how you handle sibling conflict. Because this is something that really has transformed how I help my kids when they’re fighting.

Parents often would just want to let their kids kind of work out conflict by themselves. And honestly, that’s what the advice used to be from psychologists let your kids figure it out, you know, you’re teaching them conflict resolution skills, or you’re not teaching them but they’re learning conflict resolution skills, if you just let them be. But research then found that that’s not always what happens often, when we just let our kids work out conflicts, the more dominant child will, will win, and sometimes based on physical force, or coercion. And so in those instances, our kids are not really learning how to, you know, constructively handle conflict. They’re learning that like physical force, sometimes it’s a good way to resolve conflict. So what researchers now suggest parents do is they mediate conflict when when kids are fighting. So instead of either letting the kids be or kind of being a referee, where you say, decide what should happen, you go in when your kids are fighting, and you say, oh, gosh, you know, okay, you guys are really upset. Let’s take a minute, let’s take some deep breaths, let’s, if they’re fighting over something, you kind of like, take whatever they’re fighting over. And then you actually try to sit down with them. And you ask each child to say what happened, why they’re upset, share their feelings, you know, you again, are kind of letting them you’re validating their feelings, you’re acknowledging their feelings. And when you do this, and you let each child say, their perspective, and how they’re feeling, the other child gets to hear the perspective of their sibling. And that can be very, very useful for fostering this theory of mind skill that we’ve talked about. It really helps kids, you know, develop the ability to take another child’s perspective, because they’re literally hearing their siblings perspective. And then once everybody’s had a chance to sort of air what, how they feel what their perspective is, you as a parent kind of help them brainstorm a cooperative solution. This sounds like a lot of work. And it can be the first couple of times, but I have done this with my kids, and they are now much more likely to kind of cooperatively, figure out, you know, what’s, what’s a solution, like a compromise essentially than they used to be? They’re much more likely to sort of sit there and and think of the other child’s perspective and think, Okay, well, how about we maybe we could try it this way? Or maybe we could do this. And so that’s really been very, very helpful for for our family. And I know, because there’s clinical trials on this approach, that it’s been very helpful for other families to wow, tons of incredible advice and just the descriptions and anecdotes that you shared there.

Melinda, you know, it just illustrates a slight change in approach and in mindset as parents that can have such a deep impact, as you described, not just in that moment, but moving forward.
Thank you for sharing your time with us today. The book is called how to raise kids who aren’t assholes, science based strategies for better parenting from tots to teens. Melinda Wenner Moyer. It has been a pleasure.

Thank you so much.

“At that point, [I] was increasingly frustrated by the bad behaviour I’d been seeing around me. And that includes from people in positions of political power in the US, the Metoo allegations that had been hitting the news. And I’d seen, for instance, that rates of bullying and hate crimes had been going up,” she says.

Unafraid to ask questions and probe deeper, Wenner Moyer was already armed with a keen perspective on news and current events as a journalist. She is a contributing writer for the New York Times and The Washington Post, as well as a contributing editor at Scientific American magazine.

In the end though, her role as a mom of a 10 and 7-year-old proved to be the tipping point — fuelling her angst into action.

“I was just starting to get really worried about my kids, and who they were going to become, and who they were learning from with all of this bad behaviour happening,” she says. I had kind of realized that what I wanted more than anything else was to make sure that my kids grew up to be good people and not to be jerks. And so I was out with my husband, and I just remember, out of nowhere, I said, I should write a book called how to raise kids who aren’t assholes.”

She stayed true to her word, and the rest is history.

“I thought of what are what are the characteristics that are associated with being a jerk, essentially? And then what is kind of the opposite of that?
What are the things that we want to foster that are sort of the opposite of that,” says Wenner Moyer, who holds degrees in Science and in Music, as well as a Master’s in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting.

Published in 2021, ‘How To Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes fuses Wenner Moyer’s different worlds into 352 pages of science-based strategies to raise children kind, compassionate, empathetic children.

“There was actually a lot more research than I expected,” says the resident of Hudson Valley, New York. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to find. I didn’t realize there was so much research on how different parenting approaches shape child development and shape the development of values and character.”

During an interview with Where Parents Talk, Melinda Wenner Moyer discusses:

  • Key themes covered in her book, How To Raise Kids Who Aren’t Assholes
  • Most surprising findings supported by science
  • The impact of bullying
  • Impact of her book on her own parenting approach
  • Top three strategies for parents

Related links:

Melinda Wenner Moyer.com

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