Nature versus Nurture

      14 Comments on Nature versus Nurture

Juste a mini post about something that was on my mind today:

I really don’t get parenting.

You all know some people that qualify as assholes. We’ve all met, at some point in our lives, brats that obviously need a little extra discipline. I’m pretty sure there’s a big correlation between being a bad kid and becoming a bad adult.

In my opinion, a “bad” kid is the kind of kid who openly disrespects authority figures, including their parents, for no real reason. The kind of kid who turns into a teen that drinks alcohol, smokes and does drugs very frequently. Having very bad grades and/or failing classes because he/she “doesn’t care” is also a red flag. I’m trying not to be a judgmental prick here, tell me if I’m failing at it. Obviously, opinions vary wildly about the definition of a good or bad kid, but the actual definition is irrelevant to the topic of this post, so replace it with whatever it is that you think makes a child naughty or nice.

I know some people who were disciplined a lot, including physical punishment, and ended up just fine. I know some people who barely ever received anything worse than a weird look from their parents, and also ended up just fine. I happen to also know some people in both those categories who turned out to be bad kids.

So what does it mean? Does parenting actually have no influence on how the kid turns out? That can’t be right. In that case, is it completely up to luck if your parenting style matches the kid’s nature and makes him into a decent human being?

Maybe some parenting styles are more likely to be successful, but none of them is good enough for every single child? Are there really some kids that are bad, and can’t be changed?

Actually, how do you even define who’s a bad kid? Obviously, most parents think that their kid turned out okay, so can you ever truly know if you’ve succeeded at parenting?

blind parents

I’m not a parent, so I can’t answer this, but if you’re reading this and you are one, you should be able to answer this question. You probably think your children turned out pretty well. You probably also think that this is thanks to your parenting style. While this may very well be true, I’m more interested in knowing how do you know that? What are your reasons to think that? When did you figure it out? If you’ve felt like your child was perfect ever since his birth, maybe that’s a little biased. But that alone doesn’t make it false.

  • I like to look at it 2 ways. First, what exact behavior (i.e. parenting/ child rearing) would cross the line into absolute damage/ permanent damage (beyond just physical). Secondly, what is the absolute minimum emotional need that ‘good parenting’ provides children and how or what could replace this need in the absence of ‘traditional parenting’.

    The answer to the first question is extreme isolation from human emotional connection. The answer to the second question would be a connected/ coherent emotional stability combined with providing for a consistent secure/ safe evironment.

  • Kingfisher12

    I read somewhere recently that part of the problem is our recent adoption of the word “parenting”, which seems to indicate that there is some sort of process that can be used to turn infants into adults. We talk less about ‘being a parent’.

    My belief is that success as a parent is less about the things a parent does, and more about the sort of person the parent is. If you, as a parent, want your child to grow up to be ‘good’, you have to be a person that they can emulate, and have a relationship with them such that they want to emulate you.

    Children pattern their behavior on what they see as acceptable, and to them ‘acceptable’ is defined as what the parent accepts. If they see other children behaving badly, and no-one correcting them, then of course it is acceptable. And if they see their parents behaving badly, then of course that behavior is acceptable, no matter how often the parent says “do as I say, not as I do”.

    • Good analysis KF, but omitting the tendency of many kids to rebel against parental authority at some point. I’d say both your point of kids-learning-behaviour-from-their-parents and my point of kids-rebelling-against-their-parents are parts of the bigger reality.

      • But why do kids rebel?

        Or rather why is rebel-ing a good thing?

        • Good questions, AG, I didn’t mean to suggest that kids rebelling was necessarily a good thing! It might be good, or bad, necessary or unnecessary, handled well or handled badly (at both kid and parent ends). As to the actual reasons why kids rebel – I’m not sure I know why, certainly not from any personal/expert experience of mine, but I would guess that there are many reasons, and one common one might be that as the kids are developing into their own young adulthood, they want to stress their growing independence from their parents, but may not have the skills to do it well:-) Also, if every kid simply took all their values (good, bad, optimistic, pessimistic) from their parents, and respected them all the time, it’d be a very dull world, more like North Korea than the West:-)

      • Kingfisher12

        I thing rebellion is a natural part of adolescence (and a natural part of toddlerhood for that matter – as I see in my 2-year old) as a young human being wants to test their boundaries. I think it’s mostly a matter of exploration.

        What matters is the bounds of that rebellion, and whether or not the prodigal feels comfortable returning home, as it were, if and when they get tired.

  • stew22

    We first need to define “bad” kid. I’d argue it varies with age to a degree that makes it an apples to oranges comparison. A bad 4 year old is likely just rowdy. A bad teenager gets in trouble, hurts people, or fails to move forward in life.

    I’d say parenting hardly affects the former and greatly affects the latter. But I think parenting AT the former age affects the kid in the latter age. If you’re kid is a troublesome toddler, being a dick to them or pumping them up with drugs will likely affect their future.

    As another thought, if I had to boil down the “goodness” of a kid into a single variable, I’d choose “ability to empathaize”.

    • Kaito Kid

      I tried my best to give a really open and globally agreed on definition of bad kid/teen, but I agree that it’s a really touchy subject. Some people may have a way bigger tolerance to drug use than others, for example.

      Isn’t there some disorder that makes you lack empathy and that is generally confused with autism? I’m pretty sure you can be a decent human being without it. Is there a difference between having empathy and faking it according to an outside observer?

  • Like you, I’m not a parent, so I have no personal anecdotes about how wonderful, or awful, my kids are:-)

    On the bigger questions you raise, I suspect that you’re right that the long-term influence of parenting is quite minor, I think we all know some parents who try very hard to be good parents and end up raising obnoxious little monsters:-), and vice versa. Was that the parents’ fault? would different parental tactics against the same kids have worked better? or worse? were the kids “inherently bad”? the problem is that every parent/child relationship is different, and you can’t run an “upbringing of child X under method Y” experiment again (unless in one of those simulations you love)!

    However, I think you’re focussing rather too much on rebellion and bad behaviour, that can be a phase that kids go through and emerge blinking on the other side a few years later, as perfectly decent young adults. If so, it would be a superficial marker, not a deep marker of “quality” of upbringing and the results.

    Now, there are important factors making bringing up kids much more difficult: most obviously, serious drugs are obviously a significant problem, and a new-ish large scale factor in our societies (Sherlock Holmes’ morphine habit to the contrary). If someone’s addicted and locked into a disfunctional life of crime to feed the habit, of course that’s a major obstacle to achieving anything good. That same child/young adult could have achieved much better outcomes had they not got addicted. Unemployment can be another similar problem facing young adults – I think most young adults learn a lot when they get their first job (I certainly did, rather a long time ago now:-)).

    One other point: I think it’s important to take “the long view”, otherwise we can’t seriously investigate what’s changed recently. It’s undoubtedly true that every generation of kids rebel against their parents in some form, earning the disapproval of their parents in the process. But I suggest that – in each generation – most of those kids usually grow up to be solid citizens, and when they in turn have their own kids, the exact same thing happens again. We may think this is a new phenomenon but it isn’t! As proof, there are examples of stern Victorian fathers criticising their “young rips” of sons, for gambling, swearing, behaving badly and being disrespectful to their elders. Then there are almost identical stern Edwardian fathers doing just the same 30 years later. The thing is: the stern Edwardian fathers **are the same people** as the “young rips” the Victorian fathers were criticising!

    I suspect this is normal cyclic behaviour between each generation and their successors – but of course each generation grows up in a different time, culture and background etc, so the rebellion takes a different form each time.

    • Kaito Kid

      I tried my best to exagerate the “bad” kid/teen in order to stay out of the “just a phase” option, but I agree that it’s very hard to draw the line on touchy subjects like those. I had a lot of trouble trying to find a way to put my thoughts into words without sounding like an arrogant prick who belittle others. I’m still not sure if I succeeded.

      As for the cycle thing, again yes, the rebellious phase is obviously a recurring thing. I think there is a huge difference between rebelling by coming home a little after curfew, going to a party with friends and criticizing your parents, versus rebelling by getting in a street gang, comitting crimes and abusing drugs.

      • I didn’t think you sounded at all arrogant, Kaito, and you asked an important question. But perhaps one that’s so open-ended that it’s hard to answer:-) After all, to misquote, “no kid is an island”, and no parent either.

    • Kingfisher12

      I disagree somewhat. While I think the influence of parents towards excellence is muted over time, I think the influence of parents (or lack thereof) can cause lasting damage that manifests in psychological and behavioral issues.

      It has long been theorized that the emotional bond a child has with their parents sets the prototype of all emotional relationships that the person will ever have. If that initial bond is abusive, or cold, or lacking in trust, then all future emotional relationships will exhibit those qualities to some degree, and it is much more likely for people with bad relationships with their parents to be misanthropic generally.

      • Perfectly fair point, KF, I completely agree that a good child-parent bond is a good start. If the aim is to produce “good kids” – or rather “good young adults” – then very likely a good bond is a necessary precondition, but I don’t think it’s sufficient. There are many other factors – both on the parental side and the child side. Among my friends, I’ve seen people trying really hard to be good parents, supportive, loving, involved with their kids as they grow, ending up with unpleasant exploitative “young adults” who sponge off their parents for decades afterwards. Equally, I’ve seen people being quite relaxed about parenting, not always taking very much care of the kids short term needs, but perhaps inculcating a greater spirit of independence and self-reliance in the kids, and those kids have turned out really well. But those are just cases I’ve happened to seen, I’m not trying to draw big “applies to everyone” principles, for many reasons – especially that I suspect the same “good parents” in the same social situation, with the same resources, but with a different child might have struggled and failed to produce the “good kid” result. So the character of the kids matters too – whether you think that’s intrinsic or learned from early years.

        • Kingfisher12

          Yes, necessary but not sufficient it a good way to put it.

          A ‘good’ parent will not always result in their children growing up to be ‘good’, but I think it’s got the highest chances of anything. Individuals, families, and societies are all complex systems, so there are no certainties, but there are patterns that can be followed.

          I specialized in fluid dynamics in university, a fascinating everyday complex system. Even though the trajectory of each molecule in the fluid is governed by random motion, all of the particles working together gives a semblance of order that can be directed. A strong laminar flow will tend to stabilize a turbulent one. A good parent is like a strong, steady stream. It won’t always stabilize the flows around it, but it’s the best way we know of.