Do parents matter?

Parents make little difference to the way their children turn out, apart from contributing their genes, according to a new theory of child development. Judith Rich Harris, a New Jersey grandmother without a PhD or a professorial title, sets out her theory in The Nurture Assumption published next month (Bloomsbury, Pounds 17.99).

She says that children identify with - and learn from - other children rather than adults. Her theory, based on an examination of existing research, runs counter to a century of accepted wisdom, but has gained the interest of prominent academics.

Researchers, she says, have been unable to find a link between the social environments that parents create and children's characters. What looks like cause may really be just effect. Parents don't create nice children by treating them well; children are treated well because they are nice.

All this lets parents off the hook, but it also stops them taking credit for their child-rearing methods.

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