While you are deeply focused on your own experience — and on your relationship with your kids — your children might not be paying much attention to you. Instead, they’re paying attention to their peers.
Believe it or not, the conventional wisdom about how parents influence child development may be surprisingly deeply flawed. In her bestselling book, The Nurture Assumption, sociologist and anthropologist Judith Rich Harris argues that the common assumption that “parents matter most” is misguided. Instead, genetics matters, as do peers.
Per Harris, your kids’ friends shape your children in profound ways. When you look at the actual evidence and data, this curious argument starts to make a lot of sense. Harris cites, as an example, that we learn language through our peers. A child may start out speaking the same language (with the same accent) as his parents. But when he goes to school — especially if he starts at a young age — he will mimic his peers and speak just like they do, even if his parents speak with a heavy accent or don’t even speak the language of the country.
Harris suggests that peers influence not only language development but also personality development. These influences can follow kids as they grow up and leave permanent marks. A new study, for instance, shows that kids who are bullied when they are young tend to be more depressed and to live shorter lives.
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