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Study that says first-borns are smarter leads to debate among parents

Many parents say their first-borns are not necessarily the smartest

CNN News Wire | 10/24/2013, midnight
I am a middle child, and I don’t think my older sister would be too upset to hear me take ...

Her young boys seem like they’re “probably intellectually smarter,” she said, but they’re not getting the same grades as her oldest because he’s “just trying harder. He’s more focused.”

Previous studies, such as one I reported on back in 2007, found that first-borns had higher IQs than their siblings because they got more undivided time and attention from mom and dad before their sister or brother came along.

“Clearly we know that parents’ input and verbal involvement with kids has a pretty significant effect upon their development,” said Dr. Richard Gallagher of New York University’s Child Study Center. “And so if it gets what you would describe as slightly watered down for older born kids, that could have an effect.”

That said, Gallagher, associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine, said we need to be careful about assuming that a first-born is always going to perform better academically than his or her siblings. He also said there’s a takeaway here for all of us parents.

“When you know this information, it’s a good idea to say, ‘Hmmm. I guess I better not provide less attention in the early years to my next born kid. I guess I should also make sure that I should raise the same kinds of concerns about school performance with my younger kids that I’ve done with my older kids,’ “ he said.

When you hear that half of U.S. presidents are first-borns, and leading thinkers such as Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs were born first, too, you will probably run home and start giving children numbers 2, 3 and 4 some extra time and attention tonight.

But before you do that, keep in mind that Thomas Jefferson was the third of eight kids, and billionaire Bill Gates was a middle, too.

And ultimately, how much does it come down to nature vs. nurture?

“At the end of the day, you’re looking at that old scientific question,” said Fitting, the parenting blogger and mom of two young kids.

“I think that you’re always going to need a combination of the two, but all children are going to have a chance at something great if they have involved and engaged parents,” she added.

Give all children, no matter their birth order, the gift of thinking anything is possible, many moms say.

“Empowering children by telling them that they are the best whether they’re youngest, middle, oldest, I think that is really the key thing,” said designer Ghada Dergham of Palm Beach, Florida, a single mom of three children now in their 20s and a season regular on DIY’s “The Vanilla Ice Project” and “My Ice House.”

“Feed our children with the positivity of you can can do anything you put your mind to. Just be passionate about it and put your heart and soul in it and everything else will come together,” she added.

Kelly Wallace | CNN