The thesis of this article is that a child’s environment has more of an impact on personality than the parents. This can be seen as part of the ongoing debate on nature versus nurture—what has a bigger impact on a child’s development, genes or upbringing. Studies showed that the effect of parenting varied greatly from child to child, but Harris wanted to determine if they had an effect at all.
Personality comes partly from genes, and culture comes partly from parenting and mostly from peer groups. Studies have found that peer groups and parental guidance do have some effect on personality.
As Harris points out, “children have many environments” (Hariss, 1995). In each environment, they are socialized on how to behave. They learn what is valued and what is not, and how to get along with the others in the environment. As the children navigate these environments, their success is going to be mainly based on their personality and the interaction they have with others in the environment—not their parents’ teachings. Basically, “children learn separately how to behave in the home and out of the home” (Hariss, 1995).
Some parents may wonder if their parenting has any effect at all. The article points out that the children learn how to behave at home from their parents and others at home. It is one of the many environments that shapes them. Thus, parents do not have no impact on how a child acts away from home, but their impact is not as great as that of the away from home environment. If home-enforced behaviors are reinforced in other environments (such as “manners”), then they will be important to the child’s development.
The possibly frightening thing, the article tells us, is that a lot of the socialization takes place amongst other children. Basically, the children in a child’s life make up the group, and therefore the environment. The old concept of “peer pressure” is a strong one. Children will learn to behave the way the group wants them to behave, and that might include whoever the group happens to be.