BOOKMARKS; Do Peers Trump Parents?: Conventional Child-Rearing Theory May Be Based on Wishful Thinking

By Efran, Jay; Greene, Mitchell | Family Therapy Networker, May/June 1999 | Go to article overview

BOOKMARKS; Do Peers Trump Parents?: Conventional Child-Rearing Theory May Be Based on Wishful Thinking


Efran, Jay, Greene, Mitchell, Family Therapy Networker


The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do

Judith Rich Harris

The Free Press. 462 pp. ISBN: 0-684-84409-5

Anxious parents sending their children to summer camp often take pains to send along a list of their kids' food aversions, bedtime rituals, swimming fears and so on. However, experienced counselors have learned to take such lists with a grain of salt. They know that, at camp, children will generally eat whatever they see their bunkmates eating, and in their quest for peer approval, they will frequently attempt activities they previously feared or avoided at home.

In her bestseller, The Nurture Assumption , Judith Harris has stirred up a national controversy by arguing that the socialization of children hinges on peer interaction more than on what takes place at home with parents. Harris, now a 60-year-old grandmother who was tossed out of Harvard's doctoral psychology program 38 years ago because the faculty considered her a lightweight, has become a lightning rod in the latest installment of the perennial nature/nurture debate. Her sweet revenge is that her work has now won the American Psychological Association's coveted George A. Miller prize, awarded for superior achievement in integrating findings from diverse subfields of psychology, and named, as it happens, for the very professor who once sent her packing.

Harris argues that it is time for clinicians and researchers to end their 50-year fascination with the nurture assumption, the bedrock belief that a child's personality is shaped primarily by his or her parents. In Harris's opinion, the nurture assumption has been sustained mainly on the basis of flawed research and wishful thinking. She claims that generations of research investigators have allowed their preconceptions to blur their judgment, selling the public on false conclusions based on weak and inconsistent data. For example, most child development studies lack controls for parent-child genetic overlap, leading researchers to interpret a boy's aggressivity as being due to harsh parenting when it is just as likely that he and his father are both suffering from the same inherited impulsive disposition. Similarly, while firm and consistent parenting might foster greater maturity in children, investigators typically fail to point out that the cause and effect may operate in reverse--that is, even-tempered, compliant children may make rule enforcement easier for parents.

Harris insists that researchers also rely too heavily on questionnaire data, a relatively inexpensive way of collecting information riddled with methodological shortcomings, especially when parents are asked to report on both their own behavior and their children's reactions to it. Parents almost always overemphasize their children's in-home behavior and underrepresent behaviors that occur elsewhere, such as in school, on the playground and at the local mall. For example, divorced mothers asked to report on their children's reactions to the family breakup state that the divorce has adversely affected their offspring's adjustment. However, when the same children's attitudes and behaviors are evaluated outside the home by neutral observers, "the differences between the offspring of divorced and nondivorced parents get much smaller or go away entirely."

In short, Harris makes a cogent case for throwing out most of what we think we know about parent-child interaction and for concluding that no solid evidence shows that parents can, short of wholesale abuse, predictably affect their children's adult personality, achievement level, social behavior or mental health. According to Harris, no one style of parenting is linked to any particular set of personality outcomes. Except for genetic influence, there is no way to know whether the parents of a healthy, well-adjusted youngster were permissive or authoritarian, overindulgent or laissez-faire. Given this inherent lack of predictability, Harris thinks parents spend far too much time worrying about the latest advice child-rearing "experts" have concocted. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

BOOKMARKS; Do Peers Trump Parents?: Conventional Child-Rearing Theory May Be Based on Wishful Thinking
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.