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Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do [Paperback]

Judith Rich Harris
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (84 customer reviews)
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Book Description

August 2000 0747548943 978-0747548942
This explodes some of our deepest beliefs and gives us something radically new to put in their place. Explains why parents have little power to determine the sort of people their children will become. It is what children experience "outside" the home that matters most in the long run. Children, not parents, socialise children.

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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Harris, author of a college-level textbook on child development, offers a contribution to the increasingly popular trend to absolve parents from feeling responsible for the rearing of their children. The inability of psychologists to demonstrate that parents have predictable effects on children, it is argued, vitiates the long-standing assumption of parents' crucial role in children's personality development. While the author's skepticism of the view that parents' behavior produces necessary and direct effects on children is itself well founded, her counterpoint to the "nurture assumption" is not. Rather than attempting to examine the evident complexity of parental influence on children, the author instead avoids the problem altogether, asserting that one must recognize "that children learn separately, in each social context, how to behave in that context." By consequence, the primary influence on a child's social development, Harris asserts, is not the family setting (in which the author thinks children merely learn how to behave toward other family members), but rather the peer group. Pleasant as this theory may be to some parents, this book contains not a shred of empirical research to support it. What substitutes for research are numerous anecdotes and pages of opining. Here, for example, is one of many personal observations the author uses to bolster her own argument: "I believe high or low status in the peer group has permanent effects on the personality. Children who are unpopular with their peers... never get over that. At least I didn't." While this kind of evidence is unlikely to sway the critical reader, it will undoubtedly find favor among those parents who, like the author, find in this book's thesis a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, which will mitigate guilty feelings about how they treated their children?feelings that, as the book implies, need not be analyzed. First broadcast to 20/20. BOMC alternate, QPB selection.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shattering the Myth of the All-Powerful Family July 11 2001
By A Customer
At last, someone has challenged the folk wisdom that situates parents squarely at the center of each child's universe. At last someone with intelligence, rigor, and a clear writing style has debunked the phony, softcore social science that backs up this ideological claim. At last someone has acknowledged the influence of peers on child development. Thank you, Ms. Harris, for freeing us from years of Freudian simplification.
As a college teacher I've always noticed the ways in which adolescents ape each other. One thing that has always been abundantly clear to me is how really uninterested in me my students are; they turn to one another for social validation and a shared sense of what is normative. It's not that I'm unimportant; it's that I, as an adult, am in a different social category, a category that matters less. Yet, in the psuedo-religious literature of the social sciences, parents shape children; Lockean epistemology said that each child was a tabula rasa -- a blank slate to be carved by society. We've taken this extreme claim a step farther. Our "experts" tell us that the blank slate is carved by only two people: mom and dad. Therapy reinforces this crude belief by suggesting that all other relationships are mere forms of disguise: patients reach back into their putative memories to find the "origins" of their adult relationships in some largely imagined past. This is not a scientific method; it takes for granted that which it sets out to prove, and so reinforces the nurture assumption.
Another thing that has always seemed obvious to me is that the formative period of a human being's life is in late adolescence, not early childhood, as the soothsayers claim. In the late teenage years mental illness emerges, personality traits codify.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Most Important Book a Parent Can Read Dec 13 2003
Judith Rich Harris has written a book that not only turns our culture's assumptions about child-rearing upside down, but also does so in a read that is funny, witty, and very enjoyable. The book provides a great deal of evidence that what we are told by the "experts" on child-rearing is often unsupported conjecture, and often fashioned from whole cloth. Yet we as parents continue to follow along, terrified of the possibility of being labeled by our peers as bad parents. The nail that sticks up is hammered down.
The book does not pretend to be a child-rearing manual, and in fact offers little advice for raising children. Its purpose is to make us question the assumptions by which we raise our children. The confrontational, irreverant, and occasionally flippant tone of the book is necessary to help the reader step outside the box and look objectively at what we as parents have considered our sacred duties.
The reviews critical of the book from homeschoolers are laughable. ... For the record, I think Ms. Harris is wrong about homeschool, but that's no reason to ignore 400 pages of paradigm-shifting thought.
As a father of two, I feel this is the most important book I have ever read. And the funny thing is, I have developed a much better relationship with my children since I took the book's principles to heart. Once I set myself free from the responsibility to "mold" my children into good adults, I began to enjoy my children, and they me, so much more.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Writing and Content Aug. 27 2003
There are so many reasons to give this book five stars and no reasons that I can think of to give it fewer than four stars. Let me list my reasons for giving it five stars in order of importance with number one being most important:
1. Her ideas are original. Harris�f argument contradicts much of the current dogma.
2. Her perspective is both deep and wide. Actually I am not qualified to assess how deep is her knowledge of the various fields of psychology, but after reading this book that provided so many examples to prove her points, I was convinced of much that she argued. I think everyone will recognize the unusual breadth of her perspective as she incorporates so many different fields into this �gfull picture�h view.
3. Harris�f writing is well crafted. She has no wasted space where the reader is waiting for her to make her point as are books that are light in content.
4. She is funny and witty without being caustic. Harris provides numerous humorous scenarios to illustrate her points.
5. She provides practical, detailed advice to parents that is much needed in our society.
I disagree with a few of her points like the degree of long-term influence some parents have on their children, but I don�ft think a prerequisite of a great book is to be 100% correct. This is a brilliant read.
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I came to this book from Steven Pinker's THE BLANK SLATE. He devotes much of a chapter to its thesis that 'kids socialize kids; parents don't.' Harris here makes the case at length, and a rollicking good read it is.
The main argument AGAINST Harris is this: IF it doesn't matter how parents treat their kids, they will mistreat them. Harris shows the folly of this by looking at how adults relate: I can't change my friends and family--they are 'who they are' despite my best efforts to improve them--yet it never occurs to me that because I cannot remake them in my image and likeness I might as well abuse them. How silly that sounds when you think about it! (And sad.) Further, Harris is clear that parents can do great damage to their kids. She in no way sanctions abuse or neglect.
What does she say, then? She makes plain what all of us with siblings know from experience but forget when considering theories of child development. Namely, if parenting shapes kids, why are siblings so DIFFERENT? My mom and dad had four kids--I'm the only one that ever read a philosophy book or a Russian novel, the only one with a jazz collection, and the only one who (like mother) plays a musical instrument. Though I love my two brothers and my sister, and they love me, my mom (-dad's dead) admits, "You were all different from day one. Jamie was always happy, Linda felt God got it wrong because obviously SHE should be the mother and I the child, and Billy Boy was running off by himself before he could tie his shoes."
Parents provide us with genes. That matters. Much of what they consciously do, however, has little effect on how their kids turn out.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Balanced view
This book presents a balanced view of the topic.
Published 3 months ago by Steven Choi
1.0 out of 5 stars Inspiration to everyone with a B.A. in psychology
A semi-scholastic and politically charged attack on minority groups. The "The Nurture-Assumption" is neither about the biological nor the evolutionary traits of child-rearing or... Read more
Published on May 6 2004 by "stonybrookbooks"
4.0 out of 5 stars What about birth order?
Very original book on developmental psychology from an evolutionary perspective. For an opposing viewpoint also from an evolutionary perspective check out Frank Sulloway's "Born to... Read more
Published on Aug. 16 2003 by Andrew R. Rowe
4.0 out of 5 stars Well done
This book appears to be very carefully put together. It's not your usual genes vs. environment infotainment. Read more
Published on March 8 2003 by David C N Swanson
3.0 out of 5 stars Look at both sides before deciding
As Barry Goldwater once said, "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice." The Nurture Assumption is an extremist, and therefore extremely interesting and revealing book. Read more
Published on Jan. 31 2003
1.0 out of 5 stars Homeschool views are unfounded.
I am apalled at this book. It is a slap in the face to parents.
While the author views going to public school herself as painful due to lack of friends and not being a... Read more
Published on Jan. 28 2003
2.0 out of 5 stars The quest for scholarly scientific standards?
Increasingly, it appears that psychologists today have abandoned the scholarly scientific approach of examining and weighing all relevant evidence, in favor of a new... Read more
Published on Dec 15 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars At last, a theory that might pan out
In The Nurture Assumption, Judith Rich Harris attacks the idea that parents play a major role in the formation of their childrens' personalities. Read more
Published on Nov. 19 2002 by James Daniels
1.0 out of 5 stars Dangerous, Simplistic and Irresponsible
So am I to conclude that the reason I take off my hat indoors and open doors for those behind me is because of my peers? This book is dangerous. Read more
Published on Oct. 12 2002
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting ideas, but many questions unanswered/ignored
As a mother of an almost 2 year old child, I picked up this book as it seemed a quite interesting read. And it is. Read more
Published on Sept. 22 2002 by Helene
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