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The Question (ID Number 565)...
...and the response:It's always an irksome chore to defend statements I've never made. You say that I have "seriously overestimated the degree to which parental influence determines the kind of adult a child becomes," but in fact I've never said that parental influence determines the kind of adult a child becomes, because of course it doesn't. What I HAVE said is that "Small children absorb the ideas and attitudes of their parents"--a fact that no one disputes. As time goes on and children are exposed to "the larger culture" you mention, then the ideas and attitudes of this larger culture BEGIN to play a factor, usually peaking in influence during adolescence, when children are most apt to doubt and challenge the ideas and attitudes they absorbed during childhood. In other words (and I challenge you to find any sociologist or child psychologist who disagrees), you will find that the small children of strongly racist parents accept and embrace their parent's racism; but this doesn't mean they'll remain racists for the rest of their lives. As their contact with "the larger culture" increases, they may well reevaluate and reject their parents' attitudes. And of course the exact opposite can occur. The small children of devout Christians will be unquestioning Christians, but in later life, when they come in contact with unbelievers, their faith may waver and disappear.( This is precisely why Christian parents work so hard to protect their children from such contact.) You say that, like these Christian parents, you worry. I'm afraid that worry doesn't help. Adolescents WILL question what they learned in childhood--especially if it stops making sense to them. This is exactly why my books have played such an important role in the lives of so many adolescents. What they grew up hearing from parents and teachers no longer makes sense to them, and when they read Ishmael they say, "Yes! I KNEW there was something wrong with what I've been told. I KNEW it didn't really make sense!" If in fact I overestimated the degree to which parental influence determines the kind of adult a child becomes, then I would have given up all hope for the future and would never have written any of my books. My life's work is entirely predicated on the idea that parental influence does NOT determine (in any absolute, final way) the kind of adult a child becomes!
Related Q&A(s): 560
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