Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do Paperback – Aug 2000
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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.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Overall, this is an interesting book that certainly provokes some thought about the genetic and peer influences on children. It's worth a read as long as you read it critically. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Tuptii
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 morePublished on May 6 2004
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 morePublished on Aug. 16 2003 by Andrew R. Rowe
This book appears to be very carefully put together. It's not your usual genes vs. environment infotainment. Read morePublished on March 8 2003 by David C N Swanson
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 morePublished on Jan. 31 2003
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
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 morePublished on Dec 15 2002
In The Nurture Assumption, Judith Rich Harris attacks the idea that parents play a major role in the formation of their childrens' personalities. Read morePublished on Nov. 19 2002 by James Daniels
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