Sometimes, Good Parents Produce Bad Kids

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hide captionPsychiatrist Richard Friedman found some kids are just "bad seeds."

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Psychiatrist Richard Friedman found some kids are just "bad seeds."

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When kids act out, it's often the parents who get the blame.

Whether they're getting in trouble in school or misbehaving with family, many parents worry they're doing something wrong. But that may not always be the case.

Guests:

Dr. Richard Friedman, professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York

Po Bronson, author of NurtureShock

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Anyone with kids knows that every one is different. Some may be more creative, others more coordinated. Well, what about behavior? In a recent article in the New York Times, psychiatrist Richard Friedman pointed out that mental health professionals have long been trained to see children as products of their environment, intrinsically good until influenced otherwise, and he disagrees.

While there are all too many bad parents around, he argues, chronic bad behavior by a child does not necessarily mean bad parenting is responsible. Some kids are just bad seeds. He joins us in a moment.

Later in the hour, Superman turns 700, and the lead character in the comic book starts a walk across America. But first, are you the parent of a difficult child? Were you once a bad kid? Who's to blame? Is it nature or nurture? Call and tell us your story, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Dr. Richard Friedman, professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College joins us from our bureau in New York. Nice to have you on the program today.

Dr. RICHARD FRIEDMAN (Professor of Psychiatry, Weill Cornell Medical College): Thank you, it's a pleasure to be here, Neal.

CONAN: And the idea that some kids can be bad, it's a little tough to take.

Dr. FRIEDMAN: Well, it is tough to take because I think the bias is that, you know, kids are good otherwise, until they're influenced to be bad.

CONAN: And well, go ahead.

Dr. FRIEDMAN: So the notion that, you know, there could be something intrinsically difficult or problematic about a kid goes against the grain. It's hard for people to accept.

CONAN: It's pessimistic, for one thing.

Dr. FRIEDMAN: It's pessimistic on the one hand, but on the other hand, you know, when you have parents who have done their best, and you can't really find that they've done anything terrible to account for the outcome in a kid, it's I think it's helpful for them to understand that it's not necessarily their fault if they see that their kid has all kinds of problems.

CONAN: Did you come to this conclusion by treating children or by treating their parents?

Dr. FRIEDMAN: By treating their parents. I'm not a child psychiatrist. I'm a general adult psychiatrist. But I have colleagues who are child psychiatrists who have seen the other side of the equation, as well.

But I've been struck by, you know, families and parents, mostly, who report difficulties in their kids.

CONAN: Even their adult kids, grown up, yeah.

Dr. FRIEDMAN: Yes.

CONAN: Yeah, yeah. And I have to say, one of the things that jumped out about this article, it was very quickly among the most emailed articles in the New York Times. So there's been a lot of reaction to it.

One definitional question, though: You are talking about what you describe as toxic children but not kids who are psychopaths.

Dr. FRIEDMAN: Right. I'm not talking about the, you know, kids who grow up to be criminals and who grow up to be, you know, thieves and murderers and everything in between that.

I'm talking about garden-variety bad behavior: rudeness, self-centeredness, difficulty getting along with others, just plain not nice.

CONAN: And one of the cases you describe is parents who came to you, and they are having terrible problems with their teenage son, and you they'd gone to any number of lengths to try to treat this. However, they also had two other sons who came out fine.

Dr. FRIEDMAN: Yes. So you could say on the one hand, you know, these parents may have been doing something in a subtle way that was bad, but then you'd have to explain: How is it that they raised two perfectly normal, healthy, well-adjusted kids?

And, you know, when you go into it with them, you know, their kid who was very difficult that they were talking to me about, he drew a different response from them. He was, since the time he was very, very young, difficult to get along with, temperamental, irritable, stormy, very, very hard to get along with. And he drew different responses from his parents than his siblings did.

CONAN: And isn't this conclusion, though, that you reach, well, you say it goes against the grain, it's heresy, isn't it, for psychiatry?

Dr. FRIEDMAN: Not really. I mean, you know, we now have a vulnerability model for most human traits and also for most mental illnesses that basically posits that, you know, behavior is the result of an interaction between, you know, inborn, congenital or genetic factors and the environment.

And while the environment has tremendous power to mold people's behavior and feelings, it's not all powerful. And there are things that people do have that cannot be shaped or changed by even the best or worst environment.

CONAN: So obviously, if you lock a kid in the closet for 12 hours a day, they're going to come out a little strange, but on the other hand, you can have strange kids who were raised by perfectly nice people in a perfectly healthy environment.

Dr. FRIEDMAN: Yes. And, you know, most psychiatrists have seen this, that, you know, you can see people with very, very severe mental illness who come out of the most protected, most loving environments and the converse. You can see people, you know, who are remarkably resilient and have lived in, you know, abusive, really hideously bad environments with terrible families who come out fine.

CONAN: I wonder: How do parents take this? Can they accept the fact, when you tell them that maybe it's well, it's not really your fault, you've done everything you could, or you've certainly done well enough?

Dr. FRIEDMAN: You know, it's interesting. The responses were very strong. I mean, on the one hand, I think that people took this to mean that I was giving bad parents a get-out-jail card, you know, a pass, which I emphatically was not.

I mean, I feel that there are plenty of bad parents, and I don't mean to say that in the least. But on the other hand, there are plenty of good parents or good enough parents who have very, very difficult children, whose problems they're not entirely responsible for nor can they be.

CONAN: And I wonder, since the article has come out, what's been the reaction that you've gotten, obviously, from a wider public?

Dr. FRIEDMAN: I would say a split between those two points of view, one a sense of relief. One person, you know, may thank you so much. I've been wracking my brains all these years, feeling very, very guilty.

Other people emailed and said you've done a terrible thing by writing this and saying that children can be bad seeds because, one, it condemns them, and literally, you're saying that they're, you know, inalterably bad, which I'm not. And two, you're giving permission to parents who are bad not to examine their own behavior and think what is it I'm doing that's bad, or what is it I might do to make things better.

CONAN: And that's obviously not what you're saying, and you go to some lengths in the article to say there is a whole range of bad parenting that is unfortunately all too common.

Dr. FRIEDMAN: Yes.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. Our guest again is Dr. Richard Friedman. He wrote the piece "Accepting that Good Parents May Plant Bad Seeds." It was published in the New York Times, and he joins us from our bureau in New York, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

And we'll begin with Lydia(ph) calling from Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. Lydia, are you there? Hello, Lydia? I guess Lydia's not with us. Let's see if we can go to the next caller, and we'll go to Jill(ph), Jill with us from West Bloomfield in Michigan.

JILL (Caller): Yeah, hi. I was listening to your intro, and I don't think I think sometimes parents and children just don't hit it off. It's two different personalities, and the parents just cannot deal with the child's personality in some way.

CONAN: Do you speak from...

JILL: I mean, my sister and my brother get along perfectly with my mother, and yet I'm always, me and my mother are always at each other's you know, we're always in conflict with each other.

CONAN: And has that been true since you were very little?

JILL: Ever since I can remember. I don't, I mean before I mean, I had a hard time in school because I was teased and bullied, and I just don't think my parents could I don't feel, I didn't feel a lot of times like they took it seriously. Or if they did, they didn't what I they didn't have the reaction I wanted them to.

Many times, I asked to leave the school and go to a different school. So I think, you know, a lot of times, you know, things happen and that, I mean, for me, somehow I managed to crawl out I mean, I'm a perfectly well-mannered person, member of society, and I've got friends who think I'm just the sweetest, you know, that think I'm a very sweet person. I've been very lucky but...

CONAN: Just you and your mom.

JILL: My parents and I just don't get my mother and I just don't get along.

CONAN: All right, Jill, thanks very much, and let's hope that things improve over time.

JILL: Oh, I hope so, too. I really do. I'd really like to get together and make up and be friends with my siblings.

CONAN: Thanks very much, bye-bye.

JILL: Bye.

CONAN: And it's a point that Joe(ph) raises also in an email from Minneapolis: Children have environmental influences besides their parents. The social environments of their schools is a very close second. A bad best friend can make a good child bad.

Dr. FRIEDMAN: Yes. I mean, kids are unbelievably influenced by their peers. I mean, obviously, it's not just the family. But Jill raises a really important point, which is, you know, there are lots of mismatches between kids and their parents.

I mean, you can have a very extroverted, outgoing kid and a very shy, inhibited parent, and it would be difficult, or vice versa, and it leaves lot of room for conflict over many, many years.

CONAN: And there was a case again in your article of a woman who her now-adult daughter, after you talked to her, said look, you know, I love her, and I miss her. I just don't like her very much.

Dr. FRIEDMAN: Yes. She found her very difficult to get along with, very critical and demanding and demeaning.

CONAN: Here's an email from Paul(ph) in Michigan: I come from a family of five children. Four of us turned out just find. My twin, fraternal brother has had a behavior problem throughout his life. Our parents treated us all equally and did their best to help my brother. He's not an evil person, but my parents were not at fault. That's just the way he is.

Dr. FRIEDMAN: Yes. I mean, he's pointing out that, you know, kids don't come into the world as blank tablets. They're not tabula rasa. I mean, Jerome Kagan, the psychologist at Harvard, showed very early on, you can identify temperamental trends in kids.

You know, there's a group that's shy and afraid of strangers and reacts to new things with a lot of anxiety, and there's a group that's quite comfortable socially and extroverted. And if you follow these kids over many years, which he did, you find out that these states, these traits, these temperament traits, are stable.

But you can see them early, early, early in life. They're hard-wired.

CONAN: They're hard-wired. Can they be ameliorated?

Dr. FRIEDMAN: You know, there's a certain amount of plasticity, yes. And you know, you'll probably never take a shy, very, very shy and frightened child, and turn this child into an exuberant extrovert. That happens in a vanishingly small number of kids in his sample.

But there are a fair number of kids on both ends of the spectrum that sort of trend toward the middle in later years. So there's some movement.

CONAN: We're talking with Dr. Richard Friedman, psychiatrist, about why bad kids sometimes happen to good parents. More of your calls in a moment.

If you're the parent of a difficult child or were once a bad kid, who is to blame, nature or nurture? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Parents, you can relax a bit. Sometimes bad kids, the bullies, the thieves, the meanies, just happen. That's what psychiatrist Richard Friedman argued in a recent piece for the New York Times. Of course, there are many bad parents too. But perfectly decent parents, he says, can produce toxic kids.

Are you the parent of a difficult child? Were you once a bad kid? Who's to blame: nature, nurture? Tell us your story, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Dr. Richard Friedman is a professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. You can find a link to his piece in the Times at npr.org. Just click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We're going to bring another voice into the conversation, Po Bronson, co-author of the book "NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children." In it, he writes about some of the myths parents may have about their influence on children, especially when there is bad behavior. He joins us today from KQED, our member station in San Francisco. Nice of you to be with us.

Mr. PO BRONSON (Co-author, "NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children"): Thank you, Neal, really nice to be with you guys.

CONAN: And I know you've read the piece in the Times.

Mr. BRONSON: Sure.

CONAN: What did it make you think about?

Mr. BRONSON: Well, I very much liked Dr. Friedman's article. I thought it did hit a note. I thought it was even-keeled, and some of the interpretations of what he's giving permission to people do, I think it clearly comes across as not what he means and what he's saying.

And the only thing that I would add is that when it comes to defining what is good parenting, there's a lot of science out there that is correcting what people think is there, and parents of kids who are acting badly not psychopaths, as Dr. Friedman says should know that there is emerging bodies of work which can actually be very helpful.

And the idea that there's nothing we can do - there's always new things being looked at, even - even looking at shyness. I'm privy to some data out of Canada on some pilot students, some new work being done this year that is working with three and four-year-olds to help relieve them of their enduring panic, shyness and social anxiety, helping their prefrontal cortex control that amygdale reaction.

You know, whether it comes from looking at kids from bullying, and there's great new data out of Finland that can help schools and parents understand why who becomes bullies and why, or whether you know, work on sibling cruelty, great work out of Illinois by Laurie Kramer(ph) that can help relieve this incredible cruelty that goes on between siblings.

Or work out of Notre Dame by Mark Cummings(ph) on helping kids learn how to actually resolve arguments rather than just storm off. And there's valuable information out there.

I do agree with Dr. Friedman, but I also add the point that science is not at a loss completely here for finding new ways to help some kids we did not think we could help before.

CONAN: Well, Dr. Friedman, you were talking about that just before the break.

Dr. FRIEDMAN: Yes, absolutely. I really appreciate those points. I mean, even insofar as, you know, helping kids to develop, you know, a capacity for empathy, you know, something that everybody believed was, you know, inalterable, it's hard-wired, you're either nice and have empathy, or you don't. But it turns out that you probably can acquire empathy in certain social situations, and you can be taught. You can actually learn how to model and think about other people's feelings.

CONAN: I wanted to ask you both about this email that we got from Zach(ph) in Boulder: The development of a person includes multiple interacting variables, an idea which ought to be communicated to the public to dispel theories of unidirectional causality: it's the kids' fault or it's the parents' fault.

However, what is a bad child? What is a bad parent? Bad parenting, not only is this quite subjective, it's an ambiguous term that ought to be clarified for the public. Po Bronson?

Mr. BRONSON: Well, I agree with Zach that the blame game is not helpful here, and looking for single causes is a sort of a binary way of thinking that also doesn't add to anything.

Certainly there are multiple variables, but at the same time, that doesn't mean you should just always say there's multiple variables, meaning there's nothing we can do. Seeing a teen who's unmotivated, you know, you could look to Joe Allen's(ph) work to try to find clues into teenagers' motivation that could actually really help them.

CONAN: I wonder, Dr. Friedman, when you're talking with these patients who come to you, I presume you've gone through the work to make sure that there is no you know, they're saying my kid's a problem and I've done nothing wrong, made sure that they didn't have them in a closet for 12 hours a day.

Dr. FRIEDMAN: You know, there's always an issue of trust. I mean, you know, I'm not a detective, and, you know, there will always be people for whom there's a question: Are you really hearing the true story?

So I presume that, you know, when I talk to people in my office, and I do a searching examination, that I'm getting some degree of accuracy. It's, as someone pointed out, how do you really know. You never really know.

Occasionally, I've met the kids, but even when you meet the kids, even a difficult kid can be nice, you know, and well-behaved in your office. So you know, you're getting a snapshot of people's behavior.

And most of these stories, most of this kind of information, comes out over multiple, multiple meetings. So it's not just one impression.

CONAN: Let's get another caller in on the conversation. Rob(ph) is with us calling from Detroit.

ROB (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Hi, Rob.

ROB: Thanks for taking my call, love your show.

CONAN: Sure, thank you.

ROB: I'm always, like, expanding my interest in these topics, but you know, I would disagree a lot. I think the onus is really on parents. I'm the youngest of - what I had was good parents, and I think best does not always equate to what's proper at the time.

And I benefited from my older siblings going through my parents learning how to be better parents. And I think that saying, even though parents are being good, I think, you know, it's parents' job to raise children, and kids can be they need that. They need what they provide.

It's parents' jobs to give them everything that they need, and I think that blame can in most cases be put on them for the problems.

Like I said, the parents I had definitely went through a lot of learning. My oldest siblings, the first two you know, my parents were alcoholics then, but they got past that. They had that experience, and even as alcoholics, I guarantee my parents did their best. But that doesn't mean what was right or what was necessary.

I definitely got the benefit from that, and that's, you know, I've turned out quite well. I have my own business and things are good, but...

CONAN: What about your siblings though?

ROB: Well, one's still trying to drink himself to death, you know, and the other one is sort of in a similar situation. I mean, there's plenty of love there, but they didn't have proper parenting, and the last gentleman that joined the conversation, he's talking about all these different things that we're learning about.

I think it's important to understand that those are more pieces to the puzzle, how parents guide and learn how to be good parents, to teach children, because they are to blame.

I mean, they're the ones that kids are learning from, and all these external things, and the first caller talking about the problems she had, if a parent doesn't have a skill set to help deal with that, the kid's going to seek either stuff from other outside influences, which probably a lot of times won't turn out well, or just become problematic.

And when that parent doesn't know how to deal with that, then it's like, well, they're a bad kid, and, you know, Mr. Friedman, you know, he's talking to people that I'm sure that the love is there and that they care, and I'm sure that they are really at their skill set's end, but at the end of the day, they're not doing what's right, and they need to get some new skill sets.

CONAN: Dr. Friedman?

Dr. FRIEDMAN: Well, I think he raises a really critical point, which is being a parents is an enormously complicated thing, and it's not something that, you know, anyone who has a kid just knows instantly.

I mean, I think people learn how to become parents over time. Some are just intrinsically better at it, like any other thing, and some learn along the way. But I think that he's right, that, you know, there are certain skills that, you know, you can acquire and get better at, and sometimes, depending upon where you are in the birth order, you'll be the recipient of, you know, an inexperienced parent where there are more problems, and by the time you get to your, you know, older siblings, I mean your younger siblings, who've, you know, actually had the benefit of, you know, parents who've had a little experience along the way, they have a different parent, in a sense, someone who's learned many, many more skills, has been through the ringer and understands, well, maybe this wasn't the best way to do things and I'm going to change what it is that I'm doing.

But, you know, we have to give parents a break. It can't be easy to raise kids. The model that most people have is their own parents and whatever they get in popular media.

CONAN: And obviously, when you're talking about Rob's(ph) situation, when you get substance abuse involved, it certainly changes the equation. But anyway, Rob, thanks for the call, and I hope your siblings do better.

ROB: Yeah, me too.

CONAN: All right, bye-bye. Let's go here's an email from Jake(ph) in Lawrence, Kansas: Growing up, I was the oldest of four, and I would terrorize my younger siblings. From the stories that I've heard from my mother, my behavior was not ideal by any means.

I would throw tantrums at the grocery store, scream at adults and other children at the top of my lungs. Unfortunately, I was horribly mean to my younger brother.

I like to think now that I've turned out just fine. I'm a recent college graduate. I have a decent job. I have a wonderful wife. It saddens me to think how I treated my siblings up until my teen years, and nowadays I do whatever I can to be the big brother that I wasn't when we were younger.

And I wonder, Po Bronson, there's a lot here that may be involved other than the parental situation.

Mr. BRONSON: Well, you're speaking of sibling dynamics and the inherent nature of why siblings can be so cruel to each other. They spend - you know, for every eight arguments they have, and they have something like they spend - 10 minutes of every hour together they spend arguing, on average, from the ages of sort of 10 and under.

And they can be incredibly cruel because the boundaries of sib-ship are very different than the boundaries of friendship. If you treated a friend like that, they wouldn't be your friend anymore, but you can continue to treat those siblings like that, and they are still your siblings.

CONAN: They're still going to show up at the breakfast table, yeah.

Mr. BRONSON: Right, but there is science that says what, as parents now, where are we to put our emphasis on making that better? And that science says stop trying to resolve the conflicts that do emerge and teach kids the skills of initiating play together in a constructive way. And they tend to get less fighting simply because they play better in the first place.

Fights still do happen. But in longitudinal studies, fighting between siblings alone is not an indicator of long-term problems. The indicator of long-term problems between siblings is when they literally don't care about each other and they don't interact, and not only don't play together, but don't even fight together either.

CONAN: There does come a point though where parents have to discipline their children. And I know that's one of the things you've written about, Po.

Mr. BRONSON: Yeah. We've written about it, especially the phenomenon of the kind of dad I am, the progressive dad, the kind of dad who could one-handed change a diaper and flip open a portacrib in under 12 seconds, that kind of thing.

And on most measures, you would think that progressive dads sort of beat all other kinds of dads because they're so involved in their children's lives. But there are actually a couple of risk factors to being a progressive dad. One has to do with higher rates of marital conflict. Because, often, parents who are doing co-parenting 50-50 end up arguing about the kids a lot, and 40 percent of the arguments are about the kids themselves. And the other risk factor is discipline. The progressive dads are really great at turning on the charm. But on average, we're not so great at consistently disciplining our kids. And if there's one thing out of the science of discipline is that inconsistency is not good for kids and does cause aggressive behavior down the road.

CONAN: Let's go next to Erin(ph), Erin with us from Portland.

ERIN (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Erin.

ERIN: Hi. I have to say I'm the parent of two boys, and I felt like the best parent when I had my first child and then was very humbled with my second child. And I read this article while on vacation last week with my difficult child. And I have to say thank you because not only did it help me to get through the week, but it really speaks to me strongly.

You know, he was one of those kids that I feel was hardwired. I worried when he was five whether he was empathetic and he was very introverted and all those things. So I feel like we've done all the "right things," quotation marks, and we've been in therapy and all of that for years with him. And I guess one of my comments is the focus of the therapy was so often what were we doing wrong.

CONAN: Hmm.

ERIN: And it's only been recently when I went to therapy and I - we were involved in a 15-weeks DBT training and it became apparent that maybe I - it wasn't me doing everything wrong. Maybe this child was just going to be a difficult child, you know?

So I wonder if there's some kinds of changes that are going to come through, you know, his research, the doctor's research, to kind of change the focus of some of the therapy.

CONAN: That was the presumption for many years, Dr. Friedman. If there's a problem, it's the parents.

Dr. FRIEDMAN: Right. But, you know, as Erin says, you know, she knew right from the get-go that her second child was fundamentally really different and more difficult and more challenging than her first child.

I was curious, Erin, what specifically made him difficult.

ERIN: Well, it's funny because he acts out, but specifically to the family unit. He's been diagnosed with oppositional defiance and all that, but he won't do it anywhere but within the family. So there's a lot of verbal abuse. There's sometimes physical things, property damage, things like that. But it's specifically towards the family unit. And at first, it was more for me, and so the constant focus was what is the mother doing wrong, kind of.

And I do agree with one of the callers that, you know, this is helping my skill set. I mean, truly, I can thank him for being a better parent, a better teacher and all kinds of things. But as the behavior is generalized to other family members, well, then all of the sudden, maybe he had a problem. Maybe it wasn't just me. But it took years for that to kind of happen. So that's some of the stuff that he shows.

CONAN: Well, Erin, I hope things improve. But thanks very much for the call.

ERIN: Well, you know, they have and we continue to keep trying. I certainly will not ever stop trying with him, but it's an interesting topic. And I think sometimes parents of kids like that need to step back and kind of hear some validation, that maybe it's not everything that they've done. So thank you.

CONAN: Thank you, Erin. We're talking about the phenomenon of good parents, bad kids. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And here's an email. This is from Meg(ph). I'm a 17-year-old girl, the youngest of four children in my family. At this point, I'm considered the difficult child. I know almost from birth I was very stubborn and hotheaded. But at this point in my life, I really don't understand how my siblings aren't more difficult - outraged at people around us and our parents. I feel like it probably isn't my parents' doing because my siblings have turned out all differently than me. So as a difficult child that has come to good parents, I would argue that it's nature over nurture.

And I wonder, Dr. Friedman, is there genetic evidence that it's nature?

Dr. FRIEDMAN: Well, there's plenty of genetic evidence that certain normal, you know, personality characteristics are inherited or that there's a large, you know, percent that you can explain on the basis of genetics but not all of it. Things like, you know, extraverts and shyness, warm-blooded, you know, comfortable socially with other people, aggression, you know, interest in novelty-seeking and thrill-seeking. I mean, these characteristics are - have huge genetic components to them.

So in a sense, you know, she knows that she's fundamentally different though she's living in the same environment as her siblings, and she recognizes in herself that there's something that makes her different than her siblings, that is being hotheaded.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And not being able to understand why her siblings don't react the same way that she does. Well, I guess they're just wired a little bit differently.

Dr. FRIEDMAN: Right. And we have different response dials. And we are -and they are, to some large extent, hardwired.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Po Bronson, we just have about a minute or so left.

Mr. BRONSON: Yeah, let me add to - with this because there is a tendency to label traits as bad traits when very often they are neither good nor bad traits. And stubbornness is something that Meg was mentioning, you know, and hotheadedness. I deal a lot with this with kids and parents of younger kids, and they say their kid is very oppositional and very stubborn and very determined, has tons of drive and all those kinds of things might really help them down the road.

When you look at teen risk, parents are like, oh, my kid is so prone to taking all these crazy risks. Well, having a risk-oriented brain might help you when you become adult and you have to actually, you know, challenge your boss or apply for positions you don't think you're going to get or create something meaningful, give it...

CONAN: Or fly a fighter jet.

Mr. BRONSON: Fly a - or we have the tendency with - because parents now tend to talk to their kids and don't, you know, spank them nearly as much when they're, say, five and six years old. So kids today who are five or six might act a little worse but they end up having better independent thinkers down the road. And we have a tendency to label things as bad too quickly.

CONAN: Thanks to you both. It's been an interesting conversation. Po Bronson, coauthor of "NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children," with us from KQED in San Francisco. Dr. Richard Friedman, professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. He joined us from our bureau in New York. You could find a link to his article at npr.org.

Coming up, Superman turns 700. Stay with us. This is NPR News.

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