Post No.: 0370
A child can ‘bring his/her parents up’ too, as it were i.e. parents respond to their children’s natural genetic inclinations too. For example, if a child likes being active then his/her parents will likely buy him/her sporting gifts and take him/her on regular active experiences. We selectively gravitate towards certain elements in the environment due to our innate genetic inclinations, not just accept whatever elements we’re given, and then this can be reinforced by others, such as by our parents constantly getting us toy trains if we like mechanical toys, or books if we like books. This generates a rolling feedback effect. (However, it must be said that this is much harder for a child who’s raised in a poor household with few options to explore his/her natural interests and/or who has indifferent/unsupportive parents e.g. how is a child to find out whether he/she likes cycling if he/she doesn’t get the chance to ride a bicycle?)
So not only do the behaviours of parents somewhat affect their children’s behaviours but the behaviours of children affect the parenting they receive too (e.g. an innately calm child will likely be treated calmly by his/her parents, and an innately loud child will likely be treated loudly by his/her parents). It could be argued, however, that since causes must logically precede effects then the parents and their behaviours existed before the child was even born, and so the parents’ initial parenting is more key (including setting the prenatal conditions). Between the parents and a child, it’s the parents, not the child, who triggered the first cause. Biological parents obviously provided the genetics too.
Whatever the case, it kicks off a continuous bi-directional feedback loop of causes and effects, of behaviours and responses, which might reinforce, for example, a lot of exasperation and shouting in the family because the child is exasperated and shouts because the parent is exasperated and shouts, and the parent is exasperated and shouts because the child is exasperated and shouts(!) But I guess in such cases it’s the parents who must be ‘the bigger people’ and lead by better example. Woof!
A certain style of parenting will affect children with different temperaments in different ways, thus there isn’t one optimal parenting style that’ll work for all children. The result is that a consistent parenting approach can make children in the same family different rather than alike, even if they receive exactly the same treatment. ‘Multifinality’ is when the same input can produce different outcomes, whereas ‘equifinality’ is when different inputs can produce the same outcome.
Good parenting is therefore at least moderately adaptive, and there’s no exact ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to achieve desired child-raising outcomes. This doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t be trying their best at all times though (e.g. a method of reward such as more reading time together may work for one child and a different method of reward such as more active play outside may work better for another – but it doesn’t mean never rewarding your child for desirable behaviours at all!)
Parenting is an environmental influence on a child. The finding of minimal shared environmental influences on most psychological traits calls into question the importance of parenting on a child’s personality though – the general personality and parenting style of parents does not appear to be the most important environmental influence on shaping a child’s personality. (Please read Post No.: 0362 for what shared and non-shared environmental influences mean.) So, if you’re a parent, then you can perhaps try to encourage your shy child to be more outgoing, or your boisterous child to tone down a bit, for instance, but you’re not likely going to make massive changes to their basic personality composition. It must however be noted that most of this evidence is merely correlational. (It could also be the case that your offspring, when they reach adulthood, could turn out ‘worse’ if you don’t parent them as well as you could too?!) Moreover, having a certain personality isn’t usually a problem but having certain values and attitudes are, and these have been proven to be malleable via parenting.
There are still non-shared environmental influences from parents too (e.g. differential parental treatments), which play a major role in a child’s development. And note that if a parent raises two children in exactly the same way and same place yet these two children react in different ways then this would actually be classed as a non-shared environmental effect rather than a shared environmental effect; and it’s arguably impossible to treat even twins exactly identically, never mind siblings of different ages identically, too. Non-shared environmental influences can sometimes be harder to predict and/or control though (e.g. one child experiences a traumatising accident but not another, or they hang around different peer groups because they’re in different school years).
Some research suggests that teachers and peers play a greater role than parents in shaping behaviours outside of the home – children learn at home how to behave at home (that’s where parents definitely have the power e.g. over mealtimes and the homework routine) but they learn outside of the home how to behave outside of the home. Parents still matter greatly concerning the opportunities they provide their children though and this can itself make or break life-changing events. Parents do have a major responsibility in choosing which schools their children go to, and they should take an active interest in school matters and matters outside of the home too.
Prenatal and perinatal environmental effects can be huge – like any influence the earlier it occurs – so don’t smoke when pregnant, for example, as this can have long-range negative effects on a baby. Both poor nutrition and stress early in life are associated with mental and physical problems later in life. Heritability or genetic influences appear to actually increase with age with some traits (e.g. general cognitive ability, social attitudes) but opportunities may already be gained or missed, or paths opened or closed, by the time a child reaches adulthood and flies the fluffy nest (e.g. via one’s educational attainment or criminal record), so although some upbringing effects might decrease over time, the effects of upbringing can still last a lifetime and in a significant way for a person.
The bottom line is that, whether shared or non-shared, the environment still overall accounts for ~50% of the influences and outcomes of a child. And even if parenting doesn’t prove to have as large an influence as genetics in some situations – the choice to have been born in the first place and the genes a child inherits are ultimately nonetheless down to the parents, hence when some parents say, “You’re older now, you can choose whatever you want” – well not in the strictest sense of true freedom of choice because a child’s choices as an adult will be shaped by things he/she didn’t choose when born or young, be that genetic or environmental; thus nothing ever eliminates the responsibilities of parents whatsoever.
So an extreme but logically-supported perspective is that – if everyone should be morally responsible for their own choices – then parents ultimately hold responsibility for taking the pleasure of having sex to procreate a child (or choosing artificial birth methods if these are used). All a child’s faults, if a child is accused of having faults, can therefore ultimately be blamed on the parents. Between parents and their children, parents cannot get self-righteous against their children (even though it wouldn’t be nice if children tried to get self-righteous against their parents either!) And it therefore wouldn’t be right if you as a parent punished them for your own choices.
Hence if you don’t like your own child’s innate propensities or personality, and thus their genetics, then you’re still logically ultimately responsible for that. Even though you couldn’t precisely select which combination of your and your spouse’s genes your child would inherit – you and your spouse ultimately were the ones to choose to roll this dice and have a child.
And along with the genes parents pass onto their children, even the upbringing environment can be argued to be down to the parents. Either parents directly brought their children up that way (naïvely or not, and naivety would still arguably be the parents’ liability if it resulted from an apathy towards learning about how upbringing affects a child in the long-term, but maybe parents can be otherwise forgiven if they tried their best) or they failed to protect their own children from undesirable influences (but again parents could be otherwise forgiven if they don’t/didn’t have the means to e.g. live in a better neighbourhood, but tried their best).
There is no other category of influence from an evidence-based/empirical basis apart from genes and environment – they both together explain 100% of behaviour. There is no immaterial and independent ‘soul’ inside each of us that transcends the physical causes and physical effects in this physical universe that can strictly freely make whatever choice it wants if only it wanted to i.e. we can never escape our particular genes and environment, which we didn’t choose, didn’t earn and therefore didn’t morally deserve, from both a scientific evidence and philosophic logic perspective.
Besides, by applying simple logic again – if immaterial and independent souls did exist then no one chose, earned or morally deserved their own (‘good’ or ‘evil’) soul either, hence it’s once more down to luck and not free choices. Or if all souls were created truly equally then they’d become a cancelled-out factor and won’t have any power to explain any differences between different people and their different outcomes.
Maybe we’ve now diverged into philosophy, but it’s the same world that’s being examined even though it’s through a different subject or lens. It’s the beneficial effect of a multidisciplinary education! If multiple different claims from multiple different sources are all considered true then they must somehow all fit together because we’re talking about the same world. Regardless, one cannot dispute the facts unless one abandons science and starts or continues to believe in things that are purely faith-based and aren’t empirically provable or proved. (There has never been any unambiguous evidence of immaterial souls – and in fact, more and more modern research and evidence shows that there’s no need for such a thing to explain anyone’s behaviours.)
Of course, parents could then argue that they were themselves shaped by things they didn’t choose, and in turn their parents and grandparents too, and so forth, which further suggests that freedom is a massive illusion right from the very birth of this universe(!) Wider society and culture plays a big role too. But armed with this contemporary understanding of life – this new environmental influence on your life no less if it’s new to you – one can perhaps gain some ‘sense’ of control and ability to steer the future path, should one choose to have a child. After all, knowledge is power.
This isn’t to make parents ever feel bad if they think they have misbehaving children, or for having children full-stop. Even though parents should never shirk their own responsibilities, children will eventually be treated as free and self-governing in a legal sense. All we can do is try our best and if that’s not enough then don’t stress over it. Just unconditionally accept them as they are, and you as you are. Be responsible, get educated and prepared, and your best will likely be good enough. Most kids love their parents despite having no say in whether to exist or not, no say in what upbringing environment they experience, and no say in which parents they get.
Woof. If you think that, between parents and their children, it’s helpful to understand why parents shouldn’t ever get too angry with their own children for their own children’s misbehaviours, or alternatively you think that this perspective isn’t helpful for raising well-behaved children, then please share your thoughts via the Twitter comment button below.