Personality Development of Children: Who Matters More?
The impact of parents on child development has been a major matter among developmental psychologists who have been trying to find a direct link between parental activities and the personality development of children - Personality Development of Children: Who Matters More? introduction. The nature vs. nurture debate remains vital and keeps the world of developmental and clinical psychology polarized for a long time now (Encyclopedia. com). There are various factors that affect child development. “What happens during the prenatal period and the earliest months”, says Hutchinson (2008) “sets the stage for the journey through childhood, adolescence and adulthood”.
When talking about child development, one needs to take into consideration four types of development: physical, cognitive, emotional and social (Hutchinson, 2008). While all four are important, emotional development seems to be raising the most deliberation. One of the components of child emotional development is attachment – the ability to form emotional bonds with others. Scholars agree that attachment is one of the most important aspects of child development, as it sets the groundwork for emotional development and subsequent social functioning (Hutchinson, 2008).
More Essay Examples on John Bowlby Rubric
Attachment relationships and their vast influence on people’s behaviors in all stages of their life cycles are essential to the research of developmental and clinical psychology (Encyclopedia. com). The attachment theory was developed by psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bowlby, and focused on the infant-parent relationship and the impact of that relationship in the course of the life span of the child. The fundamental function of attachment theory is the protection of the child. Attachment between mother and the child guarantees that the child is sheltered from any harmful factors of his/her environment (Hutchinson, 2008).
Bowlby theorized four stages of attachment: preattachment, attachment in the making, clear-cut attachment and goal-corrected attachment. He believed that attachment is an evolving process and it becomes child’s individual “internal working model” for future relationships. Bowlby contended that these internal working models – that guide individual’s behavior, expectations and interpretations – are formed from the individual’s earliest experiences The child initiates interaction with mother by smiling, eaching, crying, looking, etc, to which the mother responds, creating the bond of attachment. The child starts the process, but the mother’s response determines the strength of that bond and profoundly influences the progress of the child’s internal working models (Hutchinson, 2008).
Mothers who are sensitive, available and responsive to their infant’s needs give their child sense of a secure “home base”, from which the child “ventures” to explore his environment. Conversely, insensitive and unsupportive mothers fill the child with uncertainty (Encyclopedia. om). The main tenet of attachment theory is that a young child needs to develop a relationship with at least one primary caregiver for social and emotional development to occur properly. Even though infants are capable of developing attachments with others, Bowlby claimed, attachment to mother is stronger and more consistent because it is the earliest. What’s more, he argued, if the attachment figure is broken or disrupted during the initial two year period the child will suffer “irreversible long-term consequences of this maternal deprivation”.
Although key concepts of attachment theory were integrated into existing models of behavioral therapy, some critics disagreed with the requirement for maternal love in order to function normally. Others questioned the effects of privation (no primary attachment figure) and deprivation (loss of the primary attachment figure) and the other forms of deprivation and understimulation that may affect children in institutions (Encyclopedia. com). One of the latest opponents of Bowlby’s attachment theory is Judith R. Harris, who in her book “The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do” states that “parents matter less […] and peers matter more”. Harris (1998) believes that actions of parents do not affect their child’s behavior, mental health, personality or character. It is the child’s peers that are most influential. Children and teens, points out Harris, tend to learn behaviors and social interactions more from their peers in social group than their parents.
It is true, says Harris, that children imitate their parents, by “tailoring” their behavior after same-sex parent. But the knowledge children gain from their parents is often seen as “outdated” or “embarrassing”. For that reason, children prefer to rely on and conform to their peers because they want to fit in with people that have similar interests. In her book, Harris (1998) tries to debunk the “nature vs. nurture” theory, according to which nature provides us with predetermined abilities and traits, while nurture shapes these genetic predispositions as we learn and mature.
The common assumption says Harris, is the “nurture assumption” when child’s development is equally affected by genes and the parental upbringing. Harris contradicts this belief by offering view that parents do not spend sufficient amount of time or talk to their children enough to make a lasting impression. Still, she says, children “remain emotionally attached to their parents” and they rely on parents when comes to basic needs: food, shelter, protection, comfort and advice.
Yet again, it is the peer groups – playmates, classmates, older cousins – from whom children learn how to behave, talk and function in the society (Harris, 1998). By using the examples of her own family, Colorado Adoption Project (intellectual ability and personality traits of 245 adopted kids showed no similarities with the scores of their adoptive parents) and the famous Minnesota studies of twins separated at birth, Harris argues that “when there is no genetic inheritance there is no resemblance” (Gladwell, 1998).
What’s more, says Harris, children from the same parents raised in the same household are no more alike than if they were raised in separate homes. Children, Harris concludes, “would develop into the same sort of adults if we left their lives outside the home unchanged – left them in their schools and their neighborhoods – but switched all the parents around” (Harris, 1998). She claims that there is no link between the particular social environment parents create for their children and the way those children turn out (Gladwell, 1998).
Harris takes her theory a couple of steps further by suggesting that it is not the parenting style that affects child’s personality development and that when away from their parents children can recreate themselves. In fact, says Harris, it is the other way around – most of the time the actions and the personality of the child shape the parents’ behavior. Even when parents do succeed in influencing their children, they are more likely to bring peer influences home than share home influences with peers, as according to Harris, peer acceptance or rejection overrides parental guidance or lack of it (Gladwell, 1998). I’m not saying that parents don’t matter” – Harris concludes her assumptions – “I’m saying that parents matter in some ways and don’t matter in other ways, and we have to look and study where they do, and where they don’t matter, and not assume that they matter everywhere without scientific justification for it” (PBS. org). What Harris, unfortunately, failed to recognize was the very important aspect that parents teach their children basic problem solving and moral reasoning that children often apply when parents are not around.
All people are born into unique social and cultural environments. As they develop, they are affected by various domains and factors of their surroundings and they go through multitude of experiences that affect their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. There are many causes and explanations of the events in the individual’s life. When working with a client, social workers must conceptualize and respond properly to client’s problem situations. One of the many ways of understanding a client is assessment.
Assessment is a crucial social work task that is assisted by utilizing various theories and case studies. Attachment theory offers an extensive view of human functioning, which can improve social workers’ understanding of clients and the therapeutic relationship when developing an intervention (Encyplopedia. com). When using the attachment theory, social workers must be able to recognize if child is developing adequately in three areas: physical, cognitive and socioemotional (Hutchison, 2008).
Attachment theory, with its emphasis on internal working models can be very useful in social work practice (McMillen, 1992). Social workers are encouraged to look carefully at the client’s current interactions with others to assess how the client engages in relationships and what biases she/he brings to intimate relationships. McMillen (1992). ) also suggest engaging the client in a corrective (or therapeutic) relationship to improve client’s well-being, support the client as he/she explores his/her past and examines his/her relationship biases.
The social workers should also encourage the client to express feelings and challenge his/her unhealthy beliefs about the self, and others, through new experiences. The task of utilizing Harris’ theory into social work practice might appear to be more challenging for social workers, because of the its dismissiveness of the “nurture” theories so embedded in our society. However, the model could be very valuable once the concept of social context as a determining factor in behavior is taken into consideration.
Harris supports the “group socialization” theory and the fact that people take on different roles in different situations and that everybody is are affected by a multitude of factors by his/her social system. For that reason, Harris’ theory might be applied in the same manner as other theories that treat about social functioning – the individual’s functioning within his/her social environment. And because of that social workers should be open to this view of human behavioral development.
Debunking the “Nurture Assumption” www.pbs.org
Gladwell, M. (1998). Do Parents Matter? New Yorker, 54-66.
Harris J.R. (1998). The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do. New York, NY: Free Press. Hutchinson, E. D. (2008). Dimensions of Human Behavior: The changing life course (3rd Ed.) Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publishing. McMillen C. J. (1992). Attachment Theory And Clinical Social Work. Clinical Social Work Journal, 20 (2), 205-218.