Parental Influence

Anna Emerick-Biad

February 16, 2018

As parents we have a great influence on our children. But perhaps not in the way or to the extent we commonly believe.

In No Two Alike and The Nurture Assumption, author Judith Rich Harris use dozens of peer reviewed scientific human development studies on identical twins and siblings to make two points:

1. Approximately 50% of your child’s personality is determined by genetics; and

2. Of the remaining 50%, no more than 10% is a direct result of parenting.

Focus on the last line…. no more than 10% is a direct result of parenting.

Surprising? Yes. Controversial? Definitely. But if Harris is correct – except for cases of parental negligence or abuse — the community in which our children learn and play is four times as important as our parental interventions, corrections and worries.

Harris splits the important developmental work in schools and self-organizing communities into three sub-systems:

  • Relationship building: knowing others, being known, and learning to predict how another human being will respond to our actions.
  • Socialization: learning how a community clarifies and enforces civil behavior for the good of the tribe; and
  • Status: how individual achievements are celebrated and rewarded to encourage individual growth.

While our decisions as parents impact behavior at home, and as parents we need to offer empathy, nurturing and support, it seems the natural, rough and tumble consequences from peers are more important for preparing children for adulthood and the real world. If this is true, one of the worst parental mistakes we can make it to intervene to short circuit such tacit learning.

At Acton Academy, our covenants, Eagles Bucks, badges and 360 Peer Reviews are far from perfect, but if Judith Rich Harris is correct, they provide important behavioral guardrails and feedback for young heroes destined to change the world.

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