How exactly does one measure parenting skills, I wonder? I mean, I have taken three children under the age of 5 to the grocery store and am simultaneously able to fend off requests for cookies while protecting the well-being of the eggs and chips. Don't tell me that doesn't take some skill. But I think that when researchers are talking about levels of parenting skill, they've got something else in mind--at least one hopes that it's something more sophisticated than, "has never handed a two-year-old a cigarette and bottle of Jack Daniels and told them to, 'keep on truckin.'"
Of course, good parenting skills, however they're defined, are pretty consistently correlated to the kinds of things we want to see in our kids. Though I confess that I do think that they lead to the regrettable tendency to lay any fault or problems that a kid may have at the feet of their parents rather than looking at other influences. But it's hard to understate the importance of being on top of things, parenting-wise--not that I see anyone about to make the attempt. I bring this up because the recent Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children took a look at what helped keep kids from high-risk backgrounds from engaging in dangerous or antisocial behavior (e.g. smoking, arson, carrying weapons, underage drinking, and so on), and their results indicate two significant influences in keeping boys away from such behavior: good parenting (surprise) and a positive school experience.
Well, I'm pretty sure that we're all aware of what it takes to produce good parenting, even if we may fall a little short from time to time. (Note to self: confirm that baby powder container is closed before allowing infant daughter to hold it, especially when near navy blue upholstery.) But providing boys with that positive school experience is the real challenge. An atmosphere where boys feel demotivated, where their natural bent for activity is too constrained, or where their interests and inclinations are ignored can quickly turn into an unpleasant experience, leading to the behavioral problems mentioned above. It's one of those things that seems so simple that I can't believe we need as study to tell us, but if we can keep boys feeling good about themselves at school, we can keep them out of trouble.