Monday, April 12, 2010

Did my dad douse my aspirations to be a doctor when I was young? Or did my mom mar that ambition, scaring me that I should cut open a live mammal. When I persisted with my ambition, I was scolded. Then I sobbed; my mom caressed me, dad deloused. Then, slowly I grew averse. So did my parent’s opinion shape my thought? Why not? Children of divorced parents are said to take to drugs more easily than those reared in parent-filled homes. Dysfunctional families, as the Americans like to politically call it correctly, are a product of parental flaws and favors.

All this assumes what in psychology is called “nurture”: the environment in which children grow affects their personality and character. “Not so easy, dear” says Judith Rich Harris, a grandmother psychologist who was booted out of Harvard for un-original research. But her book "The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do; Parents Matter Less Than You Think and Peers Matter More" is said to be highly researched, but not adequately understood. Huh, parent matter less! How, in this world, is that possible?

When she says parents don't “matter,” she means they do not leave a lasting effect into adulthood. She does accept that how parents treat a child affects how that child behaves at home, as well as whether the grown child regards the parents with love, resentment or anger. A peer group, not parents, “determines the sort of people [children] will be.” Her conclusion rests on her analysis of other scientists' research, especially studies of twins. Identical twins reared in the same home, for instance, are no more alike than those reared apart. And two children adopted by the same parents turn out no more alike than a duo raised separately.

The implications of Harris's theory are profound: a parent's love and affection does not make a child self-confident and friendly; reading her bedtime stories does not instill a love of books; getting divorced does not make a child insecure; giving in to a child's tantrums does not reinforce his explosive temper.

This offer of absolution worries child development experts. Dr. T. Berry Brazelton, professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and best-selling author, argues that ``the basis for all learning, social and cognitive, is laid down by parents in the first years of a child's life.'' That foundation helps a child forge an identity, which guides his choice of friends.

Actually parents -- pardon me, caregivers -- entered the fray quite late: until 1930s, few research studies cared about nurture. From then on, many started to include that excluded class. More in the next post...

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