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The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do - Judith Rich Harris - Book Summary

There are two correlations that show up often enough that we can say they are true (although they may not be particularly strong). First, parents who do a good job of managing their lives and dealing with problems generally have children who do the same. Second, children who are shown love and affection are likely to grow up with cordial, well-adjusted relationships.

This, however, is a correlation, not necessarily a causation. It is possible that parents have the genetic disposition that was passed to their children, and both children and parents are more successful. It is also possible that nicer children are easier to care for and get kinder interactions from their parents, as well as others so they are also more successful.

We say “nature and nurture” and “genetics and environment” as if "environment" and nurture are synonyms -  but that assumes that environment accounts only as the parents who raise the child., Though there is plenty of evidence - from adopted children in the same family, separated identical twins, and from different children in the same family - that being in the same family doesn’t make children more similar in any way. In fact, it seems that similarities in personality arise only from genetics, and are not affected by parenting, birth order, family structure (from choice), having siblings or not and so on.

The only thing that was proved to be affected by parenting is IQ, but that is only in early childhood and the effect seems to fade as children turn into adults.

Children don’t learn only from their parents. As hunter-gatherers, - children were dependant on the group more than on their parents. This is more enhanced when we know that people are attracted to people that are similar to themselves. So they will prefer peers that are same-sex and have the same accent and color over other people, including other adults such as their parents. Children usually start to assimilate to their peer group - and each has a role within the group - such as the clown or the leader.

When we talk about environment - there are competing culture influences - there is the parents' behavior's, there is the culture  (all grown-ups behavior) and there is peer groups influence (and slightly older peers). Usually, the influence is quite similar, and we need to look at cases they differ to determine which has the most effect. By examining immigrants families - it is clear that children strive to assimilate to their peer groups, and not the family. Immigrants children speak without their original accent, and only bring the outside into the home and not the other way around. Deaf children with hearing parents preferred to learn sign language from their peers, even when risking a beating from their teachers (who taught them to read lips). So this means that cultures are passed on by the children’s peer group. The author calls this “group socialization theory.” A child’s goal is not to become a successful adult no more than a prisoner’s goal is to become a successful guard. A child’s goal is to be a successful child. Thus, the influence of peers is stronger than the influence of adults.

Quality time is a new concept. Prior to it, children played together, when the older kids controlled the younger kids (yes, life isn’t fair), but they were also responsible for their well being. It’s not clear that quality time is needed for children’s success, and parents shouldn’t feel guilty for not doing it.

Parents still have influence over their children - they determine their peer group by moving to a different neighborhood or school, and in earlier ages determine which friends they have. They also determine what they do at the home (another language, piano lessons, etc), but have almost no effect on their personality. They can also help children look more attractive and like other kids in the peer group so they can be more well-liked.

So, it doesn’t matter how we treat our children? It’s the same as how a wife treats her husband - she should act in a way that will make their relationship stronger, not in a way that builds his personality in any way. When we don’t listen to “experts” telling us how to raise our children and feel that we are damaging them deeply - parenting gets much easier and much more enjoyable to parents.

See here for more details.


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