The idea that we can make our children turn out any way we want is an illusion,” wrote Harris in her book The Nurture Assumption. “You can neither perfect them nor ruin them.”
When Newsweek asked the question "Do Parents Matter?" Ms. Harris responded that parents do have an impact on their children. A parent's behavior towards their child can influence how the child behaves, especially when in the parent's presence. Additionally, this behavior can shape the type of relationship that develops between the parent and child as the child grows up.
The same family has children with a different attitude
Harris argued in her book that parents have little control over the development of their children’s personalities, intelligence, and moral values. She pointed to studies showing that despite differences in parenting styles, siblings often develop very different traits and skills. This suggests that our character is largely determined by genetics and life experiences, not how we are raised at home.
Parenting is influenced by the culture and period
According to Harris, parenting is greatly influenced by the culture and period in which it takes place. For instance, many parents today are more focused on creating a supportive environment for their kids to thrive than they were decades ago.
As Harris states, the approach to parenting has changed over time. In the past, parents did not prioritize satisfying their children's desires at the expense of their convenience and comfort. They were not concerned with constantly boosting their children's self-esteem, and in fact, believed that too much attention and praise could have negative effects, such as making them conceited.
"Despite the reduction in physical punishment, today’s adults are no less aggressive than their grandparents were. Despite the increase in praise and physical affection, they are not happier or more self-confident or in better mental health."- Harris
Children behave differently at home and school
Harris also noted that children can behave very differently at home and school due to the different expectations placed on them.
According to Harris, "Children learn at home how to behave at home 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."
No wonder you hear complaints from teachers about your kid but you see a different child at home.
The influence of peers is stronger than the influence of adults.
Harris also argued that the influence of peers is often stronger than the influence of adults. She pointed to studies showing that young children are more likely to adopt certain behaviors if they see their friends doing it, even if those behaviors run counter to what their parents have taught them.
Children have different goals than adults and their main goal is to be successful at being a child. Similarly, like a prisoner doesn't aspire to be a successful guard, a child doesn't aim to become a successful adult. That's why the influence of peers is greater than the influence of adults. As children grow up, parents' ability to influence their friendships decreases noticeably. By the time they turn 10 years old, parents' influence over their peer group becomes very limited.
What role can parents play in raising kids?
When we think of how much parents matter in raising kids, it’s natural to focus on the things we can do for our kids: set boundaries, provide for their needs, and help them make good choices. But it’s just as important to recognize that parenting is not a one-way street, but rather an interactive process between two individuals — the parent and the child — each with their own unique needs.
"I believe the most important function of parents is to give their children a happy home — not because it will make them more likely to succeed but because everyone has a right to a happy home life. Aside from that, there are other things parents can do, such as providing training in music or sports"-
As parents, we can do our best to provide an environment that supports healthy development and cultivate strong relationships with our children, but ultimately they will forge their paths in life. We should trust that kids have the strength and resilience to make good decisions — even when it looks like they’re making bad ones — and that our job is to provide support, guidance, and love along the way.
Ultimately, our role as parents is not to control or perfect our children; it’s to give them the tools they need for a successful life. We can do this by teaching them valuable lessons about responsibility, respect, communication, and problem-solving. We can also set a good example by taking care of our own mental and physical well-being, being mindful of our words and actions, and treating others with kindness.
Get weekly access to actionable content.
When you are ahead, your kids are ahead.
Join 1000+ parents.