Dialogues

The Nature of Nurture: Parents or Peers?

Dear Judy:

       I was a bit saddened by the ad hominem tone of your last reply. I accepted the invitation from Slate because I believed you came to a mistaken conclusion, despite honest intentions.
       I have only three brief points to make in this final reply. First, I continue to believe that you selected the evidence and ignored the data inconsistent with your premise. Each year’s literature provides ample support for the effect of family experience. The November 1998 issue of Developmental Psychology has two papers (Pages 1,233 to 1,245 and 1,450 to 1,458) pointing to the significant influence of parental behavior on children and youth.
       Second, you argued that peers play a major role in sculpting significant personality traits (e.g., introversion, sociability, impulsivity, conscientiousness, and others). I know of no study that has shown this claim to be true. Peers influence dress code, musical tastes, and dialect but not major personality profiles. And as I indicated in an early reply, peers do not exert power until the child is 6 or 7 years old.
       Finally, you acknowledge on Page 361 of your book a premise held by a majority of developmental scholars; namely, most of the information children process and store is unconscious. The problem for you is that almost all the studies you cite did not measure these unconscious structures, which include the shame and pride children carry with them because of the emotional identification with parents. You write, “The bond between parent and child lasts a lifetime.” You add, to my surprise, the suggestion that readers not blame their parents for their personality profile. I agree. But it does not follow from a restraint on ascribing blame to family that the family had no influence. Of course, adults should not blame their parents because, in most cases, parents did the best they could. The ethical imperative to accept oneself is independent of the scientific fact that families sculpt part of the adult profile.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Jerry

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