The Power of Their Peers

A book argues that parents have little influence. Provocative. But true?

Psychologists can call off their century-long search for the key to rearing a good child--not because they've found it but because it doesn't exist. At least, that is the thesis of a soon-to-be-published, destined-for-controversy book, The Nurture Assumption (Free Press; 480 pages). Its author, Judith Rich Harris, states baldly that parents do not have "any important long-term effects on the development of their child's personality."

Harris is not saying that the genetic lottery sets a child's destiny. Around half of the difference in personality among kids, she notes, is unaccounted for by genetics. Rather, she is saying that the crucial environmental...

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