The NURTURE ASSUMPTION: WHY CHILDREN TURN OUT THE WAY THEY DO

 
9780684844091: The NURTURE ASSUMPTION: WHY CHILDREN TURN OUT THE WAY THEY DO

How much credit do parents deserve when their children turn out well? How much blame when they turn out badly? This electrifying book explodes some of our deepest beliefs about children and parents and gives us something radically new to put in their place. With eloquence and wit, Judith Harris explains why parents have little power to determine the sort of people their children become. It is what children experience outside the home, in the company of their peers, that matters most. Parents don't socialize children: children socialize children. Yet we cling to the "nurture assumption", our unquestioned belief that, aside from their genes, what makes children turn out the way they do is the way their parents bring them up. This assumption is so deeply embedded in our culture that it underlies everything we are taught about rearing children and everything we believe about the emotional hangups of adults. But that doesn't make it true. Harris looks with a fresh eye at the real lives of real children and shows that the nurture assumption is nothing more than a cultural myth. Why do the children of immigrant parents end up speaking in the language and accent of their peers, not of their parents? Why are twins reared together no more alike than twins raised apart? Why does a boy who spends his first eight years with a nanny and his next ten years in boarding school nevertheless turn out just like his father? The nurture assumption cannot provide an answer to these questions. Judith Harris can. Using examples from folklore and literature as well as from scientific research, Harris shows us the world of childhood in all its richness and complexity. Relationships with parents and siblings are always important, but they vary from culture to culture. One aspect of childhood, however, is universal: the children's peer group. With a range that extends from the Yanomamo of the Brazilian rainforest to deaf Nicaraguan children learning to communicate for the very first time, Harris demonstrates the power peer groups have in shaping the lives of children. Along the way, we see that many cherished notions-- such as the idea that early mother-child attachments set the pattern for later relationships-- fail to explain what happens to real children, or to a girl named Cinderella, whose miserable home life did not keep her from being a great success in the world outside her cottage. Harris has a message that will change parents' lives: they have been sold a bill of goods. Parenting does not match its widely publicized job description. It is a job in which sincerity and hard work do not guarantee success. Through no fault of their own, good parents sometimes have bad kids. Harris offers parents wise counsel on what they can and cannot do, and relief from guilt for those whose best efforts have somehow failed to produce a happy, well-behaved, self-confident child. "The Nurture Assumption" is a profound work that brings together insights from psychology, sociology, anthropology, primatology, and evolutionary biology to offer a startling new view of who we are and how we got that way.

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Review:

Whether it's musical talent, criminal tendencies, or fashion sense, we humans want to know why we have it or why we don't. What makes us the way we are? Maybe it's in our genes, maybe it's how we were raised, maybe it's a little of both--in any case, Mom and Dad usually receive both the credit and the blame. But not so fast, says developmental psychology writer Judith Rich Harris. While it has been shown that genetics is only partly responsible for behavior, it is also true, Harris asserts, that parents play a very minor role in mental and emotional development. The Nurture Assumption explores the mountain of evidence pointing away from parents and toward peer groups as the strongest environmental influence on personality development. Rather than leaping into the nature vs. nurture fray, Harris instead posits nurture (parental) vs. nurture (peer group), and in her view your kid's friends win, hands down. This idea, difficult as it may be to accept, is supported by the countless studies Harris cites in her breezy, charming prose. She is upset about the blame laid on parents of troubled children and has much to say (mostly negative) about "professional parental advice-givers." Her own advice may be summarized as "guide your child's peer-group choices wisely," but the aim of the book is less to offer guidance than to tear off cultural blinders. Harris's ideas are so thought-provoking, challenging, and potentially controversial that anyone concerned with parenting issues will find The Nurture Assumption refreshing, important, and possibly life-changing. --Rob Lightner

About the Author:

Judith Rich Harris is also the author of No Two Alike: Human Nature and Human Individuality. A former writer of college textbooks, Harris is a recipient of the George A. Miller Award, given to the author of an outstanding article in psychology. She is an independent investigator and theoretician whose interests include evolutionary psychology, social psychology, developmental psychology, and behavioral genetics.

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Editorial: Free Press (1998)
ISBN 10: 0684844095 ISBN 13: 9780684844091
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Harris, Judith Rich
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