From: Philip Jonkers (email@example.com)
Date: Fri 18 Oct 2002 - 07:53:36 GMT
Here's some stuff I still wanted to share with you guys.
Have you heard? It's in the genes...
It's tough being a parent: you try your best and the kids grow up in spite
of you, according to Steven Pinker, evolutionary psychologist and researcher
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Time and again, he says, the
most exhaustive attempts by researchers to document the role of parents has
failed to find any significant influence. For example, identical twins
reared together were no more similar than identical twins reared apart.
"When you think about it, that is quite a shock. People confuse that with the finding that identical twins separated at birth are similar at all," he says. "Finding number two: adopted siblings growing up together don't end up similar at all, in intelligence, personality, or in life outcomes like divorce or criminal behaviour. Those are two shocks, because they are very inclusive measures of everything that a child experiences at home, whether the parents are nice or nasty, spank you or don't, whether you have TV sets or books."
Birth order, despite common belief, has no effect on personality. "I used to
believe it," he says. "I now believe I was wrong." Experiences that might be
thought to have a huge effect on behaviour - being raised by two lesbians,
growing up in a hippy commune rather than a conventional marriage - had very
Professor Pinker is the author of The Blank Slate, an attempt to analyse the
role of inheritance in normal human behaviour that has provoked other
researchers - notably Oliver James - into furious responses. Pinker argues
that children are what they are, rather than what their parents might want
them to be. Music lessons when young may make children grow into better
musicians. But no amount of parental pressure can make an extrovert out of
Children, however, can have a more discernible influence on each other.
"Kids acquire the language and accent of their peers, not of their parents. The children of immigrants do fine even if their parents never assimilate, as long as they are exposed to a peer group. Contrary to popular opinion, there is no difference between only children and kids with lots of siblings," he says. "It's not all in the genes, nowhere near all in the genes. A huge amount of variation is not genetic. But try as you might, you cannot pin it to the family either."
But could variation come from the way parents might treat one child
differently from another? "You try to measure those differences, and it
turns out that, yes, parents treat kids differently because kids are
different to begin with. The additional effect of treating a child
differently, above and beyond what he is already born with, also doesn't
seem to have an effect," he says. "The environment is enormously important,
but the parents may not be the most important part of that environment in
the shaping of personality and intelligence."
The first reaction of everyone to such evidence was, he says, remarkable.
"'So you are saying it doesn't matter how I treat my children?' Of course, it matters. Because parents have an enormous influence on the child's happiness and wellbeing. They may not turn them into one kind of person, but they can make their children very miserable. And no, it is not all right for a big, strong person to abuse a small helpless person for whom they are responsible."
Think of it this way, he says: you are not surprised to learn that you
cannot change the personality of your spouse. "But you wouldn't respond by
saying that it doesn't matter how I treat my spouse? Of course it matters
how you treat your spouse. How you treat your spouse affects the quality of
your relationship," he says. "If you are not nice to your children, they
will remember that when they grow up. So there are lots of reasons that
parents should be loving.
"But I think we have so distorted our conception of parenting as a kind of
moulding of raw material that we forgot the human side. That is why you get
what I think of as a shocking reaction, that as soon as parents find out
they cannot micro-manage their children's personalities, they think: 'Oh, I
can do whatever I want: I can beat them, I can abuse them, I can neglect
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