Wednesday, March 01, 2006


Lessons From Little Girls

During this past weekend I watched my daughter and her team play in a basketball tournament with tougher competition than they've ever faced before. I was concerned how they would react. Would they fold, would they hang tough, could they win at all?

The answer to all of the above turned out to be "Yes." They won one and lost three. But through the luck of a forfeit, they managed to finish second in the tournament. The tournament was for girls 10 and under but a team could have three "exemptions" which means they could have three eleven year olds on the team.

An 11 year old can be quite a bit larger than a 9 year old. My daughter's team is made up entirely of 9 and 10 year olds. Although my daughter is one of the youngest on the team, she is the tallest and plays center/forward. Slightly over 5 feet tall and about 90 pounds, she faced off with girls as much as 6 inches taller and perhaps 40 pounds heavier.

With an unexpected show of toughness and determination, my daughter refused to be intimidated. She registered more playing time than any other player on her team. She played every second of three games including one that went into overtime. She played three quarters of the other game. She was also among the leaders in scoring, rebounding and assists.

Needless to say, I am bursting with pride, primarily because of the mental toughness she displayed. It is often said that boys/men cannot adequately express their feelings because they taught not to cry. Although I've never told my children not to cry, my daughter refuses to cry on the basketball court or any where around it. A couple of times she took a hard lick but kept playing with little sign of anything being wrong. I'm not sure where or why she developed this philosophy but I do believe it is a good one for sports.

A couple of weeks ago, DrHelen had this post on nature vs. nurture and why do children turn out the way they do. I used to be strongly in the nurture camp but as I've grown older I've come to realize the power of nature. Without research I can trace back 5 generations before my daughter and find physical, athletic (and intelligent) people.

One source of odd pride in my family is that my great-grandfather had been a carnival muscle man. Both my parents played sports. My uncle played football at Iowa State. My youngest sister played basketball at Alabama Birmingham after a stellar high school career.

You could say there is a culture of sports and physical activity in my family. But I never pushed nor any more than mildy suggested my daughter might like playing basketball. About a year and a half ago, her best friend talked my daughter into playing in her team. I'll never forget what my daughter said when I picked her up after her first practice, "Daddy, I love basketball!" Her passion for the game continues.

I am fully aware that someday this may all change and that's OK. But it is fascinating to watch this sweet, lovable little girl, who also likes beauty pageants (Heather Renee French, Miss America 2000, let her try on her crown), run the basketball court, fight for rebounds, block shots and dive for loose balls. I am simply amazed at her heart, the effort she puts forth and usually she is smiling as she runs down the court. She truly enjoys the game.

My daughter wasn't the only one on her team to show this determination and heart, several did. Unfortunately, one, who is quite gifted on the court, fussed, pouted and cried at every perceived wrong which was quite disappointing. From what my daughter told me after the game, my daughter had lost quite a bit of respect for this girl because of this.

Despite the exception, it was inspirational to see these girls putting forth such a tremendous effort. I look forward to watching them for many years.

Yes, she has Daddy wrapped around her finger. And I have my own version of the perfect little girl. Oh, and did I mention she also is a Gifted and Talented student? :-)

Linked to from Hurricane Radio , I felt compelled to reply on to this. Not to argue with Dr. Helen (who probably has read 10x the books and 100x the articles that I have), but I really thought the book "The Nuture Assumption" by Judith Rich Harris was done, refuted, and put to bed.

In Spring 1999, I actually was permitted to review the book for course credit. The course I was enrolled in through the Child & Family Development program at UGA. I requested that instead of sitting in lectures in a class covering information I had covered many times over, I would instead take a chapter a week and review it thoroughly.

After finding the actual published experiments she cited in her conclusions, I did three things:
1) reviewed them completely and evaluated their findings comparing that with her usage of said findings,
2) searched for contrary experiments for contradictory arguments, and
3) read the book in context to see her end conclusions and evaluate those on the information she provides and through the research found.

The end result showed a tendancy for her to use sloppy extrapolations, gross generalizations, and selective use of publications to promote the thesis while ignoring contrary evidence. But I'm not the only one who found this. From Dr. Wilson's article (see "refuted" link above):

"In search for evidence for the nonfamily sources of human behavior, Harris draws exaggerated conclusions from the few studies she could find. Several scholars have said that a tendency to commit property crimes is under some genetic influence. (There is, of course, no "crime gene," but there does seem to be a tendency for adopted children to behave more like their biological parents, whom they never knew, than like their adoptive ones who actually raised them.) Consulting two well-known critics of this view, Michael Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi, Harris concludes that they showed that it was the neighborhood in which the children were raised that made them criminal. In fact, they showed no such thing; they only showed (or claimed they had shown) that early studies of genetic influences on criminality had not been replicated when the sample size was expanded. They offered no evidence that there was any neighborhood effect on crime."

Dr. Wilson's statements exhibit one of several places throughout the book that Mrs. Harris just butchers the research.

I cannot take away from the fact that, somehow, Mrs. Harris' book was a finalist for a Pulitzer, but I am surprised that anyone, especially a psychologist, would promote this type of work.
By the way, RIGHT ON to your girl!
I confess I haven't read any of the Harris stuff. When working in mental health, psychiatrists that I worked with often pointed out strong family connections in certain types of mental illness. Even with identical twins separated at birth. Bipolar Disorder is one these that I recall.

Otherwise, I am just amazed at how my kids continue family traits with such readiness. Perhaps genetics create a tendency and nurture provides the push.
Exactly. And if parents are as important (Harris' thesis), then how can one explain the family lines of politics (Kennedy's, Bush's, etc.), lines of sport (Bond's, Griffey's, Manning's, etc.), and lines of family-run businesses? If not genetically "programmed", then it has to be family (in particular parental) influence.

That aside, it's an interesting concept that may hold some weight in some circumstances, but it's not a major breakthrough or a complete theory.

And keep up the good parenting :-)
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