As a parent, do you blame yourself if your child does not grow up to your expectation? I am no expert on the subject but a recent article in American Scientific Mind asked, “Do parents matter?” made me do some research on the subject.
It all started with Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), a Viennese doctor, who stressed the importance of childhood events and experiences. Freud blamed the problems of the child on the parents. He was especially hard on mothers. According to Freud, child development is described as a series of psychosexual stages. He outlined these stages as oral, anal, phallic, latency period and genital. Each stage involves the satisfaction of a libidinal desire and can later play a role in adult personality.
Since then much research has been done on child development and this has yielded many
theories on children’s mental, emotional, and social development. The debate continues as researchers try to find answers to many questions.
The article I referred to earlier is based on an interview done by the American Scientific Mind with Judith Rich Harris, author of The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out The Way They Do. The book was published 10 years ago. In the book Harris argues that parents matter much less, at least when it comes to determining the behavior of their children, than is typically assumed. Instead, Harris argued that a child’s peer group is far more important.
Harris says in the interview, “One of the reasons of writing the book was to reassure parents. I wanted them to know that parenting didn’t have to be such a difficult, anxiety-producing job, that there are many different ways to rear a child, and no convincing evidence that one way produces better results than another.”
Harris also says that most developmental psychologists still do not agree with her, but they are acknowledging that there’s another point of view.
Harris says that there is a greater awareness of genetic influences on personality. Personality is the sum total of the physical, mental, emotional, and social characteristics of an individual. It’s no longer enough to show, for example, that parents who are conscientious about childrearing tend to have children who are conscientious about their schoolwork. She asks, “Is this correlation due to what the children learned from their parents or to the genes they inherited from them?”
According to Harris, there are three different mental modules involved in social development. The first deals with relationships, including parent-child relationships. The second handles socialization. A stage where a child’s behavior becomes more similar to that of their same-sex peers. The third enables children to work out a successful strategy for competing with their peers, by figuring out what they are good at.
Harris says she has put together a lot of evidence showing that children learn at home how to behave at home (that’s where parents do have power!), and they learn outside the home how to behave outside the home. So if you want to improve the way children behave in school for instance, by making them more diligent and less disruptive in the classroom, then improving their home environment is not the way to do it. What you need is a school-based intervention. That’s where teachers have power. A talented teacher can influence a whole group of kids, says Harris.
Some readers of the article argued that Harris’s theory just encourages irresponsible parenting by shifting the onus on the child’s peers and teachers. One reader questioned the effects of television on child development.
So, are you any wiser today than you were before? As a parent, do you have a magic (or any) formula to raise a child? How was your upbringing? Who influenced you the most to be what you are today? How did that influence you to raise your children? Interesting questions, eh!