how parents have little effect on how you turn out (parenting part 1)

parents dont understand fresh prince

Ah. …. “the apple never falls far from the tree.”


How often do we hear this as an explanation for why someone is, or does, as they are?

<too often>.


My quote?


“It doesn’t matter how far the apple falls from the tree it only matters where it lands.”



Here we go <with what I believe may be a controversial post … but there will be a parenting part 2>>.


While we so often point to parents as the major influencer with regard to how kids ‘turn out’ or their behavior later in life … there are some very interesting research studies out there that suggest a kids peer group is a stronger influence on their future behavior.


I will even use the exact words found in the 50TopModels guys book on page 46 “Why Parents are Unimportant” model:


“… how the parents rear the child has no long term effects on the child’s personality, intelligence or mental health.”

<insert ‘yikes’ here>



That will drive some parents a little crazy <and give another smaller percentage a built in excuse for the crappy job they may already be doing with regard to bringing up their kids>.


Let me begin by saying everything we have believed in with regard to ‘apple not falling far from the tree’ was driven by behaviorists’ belief that parents influence their children’s development by the rewards and punishments they dole out, and the Freudians’ belief that parents can mess up their children very badly and often do so.


That was ‘behaviorist beliefs.’

No real studies or research.

Just a bunch of published ‘here is what I believe’ mumbo jumbo <albeit smart expert driven mumbo jumbo>.


After all these years … this belief that parents influence the development of their children was simply being taken for granted <and it seems to make sense to us non behaviorist folk>.


So when psychologist Judith Rich Harris attacked this assertion in 1955 she wasn’t very popular.

There is no question that the adult caregivers play an important role in the baby’s life. It is from these older people that babies learn their first language, have their first experiences in forming and maintaining relationships, and get parents we are the kidstheir first lessons in following rules.

But all she was doing was questioning to what extent our personalities are shaped by our upbringing.

Harris noticed that most studies neglected to analyze the importance of genetic influences.

In addition there were no studies on the interplay between parent and child, i.e., whether children elicit particular behavior in their parents and not vice versa.


She contradicted the Freudian based behaviorists and development psychologists by suggesting we modify our behavior depending on the environment we are in <by the way … that makes sense when you think about it … children, in particular, are very adaptable>.


Her conclusion?

Children are shaped not by their parents but by the peer group in which they are socialized.


She poses that in home learning certainly sets the pattern for what is to follow. But that the actual content of what children learn may be irrelevant to the world outside their home.

The best words I found to describe his thought? Ultimately kids may cast it off when they step outside as easily as the dorky sweater their mother made them wear.



I will use psychologist Judith Rich Harris’ own words to explain how she got to where she got to:


The evidence developmental psychologists use to support the nurture assumption is not what it appears to be: it does not prove what it appears to prove. And there is a rising tide of evidence against the nurture assumption.


The nurture assumption is not a truism; it is not even a universally acknowledged truth. It is a product of our culture–a cherished cultural myth.


No one questions it because it seems self-evident. The two things that determine what sort of people your children will turn out to be are nature–their genes–and nurture–the way you bring them up. That is what you believe and it also happens to be what the professors of psychology believes. A happy coincidence that is not to be taken for granted, because in most sciences the expert thinks one thing and the ordinary citizen–the one who used to be called “the man on the street”–thinks something else. But on this the professor and the person ahead of you on the checkout line agree: nature and nurture rule. Nature gives parents a baby; the end result depends on how they nurture it. Good nurturing can make up for many of nature’s mistakes; lack of nurturing can trash nature’s best efforts.


That is what I used to think too, before I changed my mind.


What I changed my mind about was nurture, not environment. It isn’t all about genetics. The environment is just as important as the genes. The things children experience while they are growing up are just as important as the things they are born with. What I changed my mind about was whether “nurture” is really a synonym for “environment.”


By the way.


This doesn’t mean that a parent doesn’t influence a child’s ‘end adult space.’ parents follow not your adviceThey can place children in social environments and initiate a variety of actions that could impact final sociological behavior … but just Harris points out … have you ever noticed that children speak the dialect of their peer groups … and assume habits and behaviors of their peer group <varying from group behavior to individual style>.

Quick thought from me: In the end most of us should look at ourselves and thank the friends we had growing up for how we turned out.


Anyway. Before you ignore this thinking as sheer bullhockey <baloney, absurd, whatever> take a moment and think about this.


Reflecting on parenting is difficult.

Experiences in life appear very good when we remember or even anticipate them … but quite ordinary or downright bad when viewed in the actual present … in the moment as it were.


I say this because when you think about parenting most people will suggest it was a challenging but fairly positive life adventure.

Parents often look back on their attempts at steering their children toward social responsibility, being productive and some useful career <in some industry they can be proud of> or looking at their youth as a life filled with unconditional <sometimes tough> love, a long list of huggable moments and morning pancakes shared.


But most of the actual ‘in the present’ day-to-day tasks of child rearing are mind numbingly mundane at best … and harrowing at its worst. Nonstop changing smelly diapers inevitably shifts to constant cleaning up <or yelling at them to clean their rooms> to then to shuttling kids from activity to activity and eventually bailing them out of jail <or some disappointment>.



That was certainly jaded … but you get the point.

As with most things in Life … the majority of parenting is toil and drudgery. However in reflection we seek to find the reasons why it was all worthwhile.

That is human nature <and it maintains some sense of sanity>.

What refection neglects to uncover, because it is impossible to do so, are the numerous shaping moments a child has spent beyond the parents view and responsibility. All that time spent within their peer group assimilating learnings <attitudes & behaviors>.




I did not write this to suggest that parents have no responsibility nor to suggest that they certainly cannot influence how their children will turn out as adults … but rather to point out that we individuals are pretty self-reliant … even at a young age.


And I purposefully wrote ‘self-reliant’ because it is easy for us adults to stand on the sidelines and think our kids are simply ‘fitting in’ or ‘following the crowd’ but they are really not doing such a thing.

They are picking up pieces and parts of attitudes & behavior from their peer group. Almost sifting through everything they are seeing and hearing and encountering … slowly but surely building up their own self <or in a negative sense … tearing their own self down>.


There is certainly a bunch of research that actually suggests poor parenting drives children deeper into their peer group <socialized life learning> for behavioral cues.

And Freud was a big fan of the belief parents can screw their kids up <when they actually may simply further encourage deeper learning from their peer group>.

Suffice it to say … we can do good things and bad things during a kid’s childhood but if they are steeped in a peer group ultimately they will be defined by that socialization process.


parents appreciationWell.

A couple of thoughts to close.



Certainly makes you think a little more about who your kid is hanging around with doesn’t it?



Maybe we should all be rethinking the whole “the apple never falls far from the tree” and maybe instead ponder where the frickin’ apple falls instead.


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Written by Bruce