Can parents score few points for nurture?
It’s been a while since I have written my last article so I thought I should secure my inner peace by making a public vow: No matter how busy life gets I shall not give up writing on this blog! There, I said it so I hope this will, if not motivate me, then keep gentle pressure on me not to drop the ball on writing, unlike some New Year’s resolutions from the past involving such mundane issues like diet, exercise and similar 😉
While I was busy playing the game of “real” life, I still kept some of my interests, like reading, afloat. Being busy kept my mind active even when going to bed, so I had opportunity to think about few things that have bothered me and I want to write here about one in particular.
Very recently — just as I was conceiving the idea of this and the articles to follow — a friend of mine used the words “to encourage a different way of thinking” about my reaction with my two daughters when they got hurt in some way. This helped me frame the premise I want to elaborate on:
Could parents act in a way that opens the kids minds to alternative perspectives and encourages them to approach the problems in their lives in different ways from the “accepted” wisdom in their environment, e.g. their peer group?
Furthermore, could this, if applied consistently through the age the kids are growing up, have a lasting impact and allow the parents to grab few percent from the influence of the peer group in the tug of war for shaping their kids behavior?
Being a parent myself — and one which can often be stubborn about many things I must admit 🙂 – it is hard to deal with the finding that the parents’ behavior at home has close to zero influence on how their kids turn out, or to quote Pinker “the biggest influence that parents have on their children is at the moment of conception”.
I admitted in this blog that I accept the evidence that has so thoroughly been presented by Harris in her book The Nurture Assumption. As a response, I started thinking about the potential mechanism that could be responsible for shaping ones personality, using Harris’s suggestions in No Two Alike in my nature vs. nurture articles.
What left me restless was the fact that though we can’t directly influence how our kids turn out to be when they grow up, we can still have a significant impact through some of the life choices we make for ourselves and for them — from neighborhood to live in, to school to attend, to activities to sign them up for, to the amount of TV or computer game hours we allow them, etc.
Granted, those choices are not made in isolation and there exists a complex interplay between the kids’ genes influencing certain behavior and that behavior influencing our mental image (model) for our kids and that model and assumptions ultimately influencing the decisions impacting them. This complexity can probably be blamed for some (even if that is the majority) of those choices, but it can surely not be responsible for all of them, right? Which may leave some room for careful thinking on the parents’ side when making those decisions?!
Actually, even if the genes do play a significant role in our decision-making process involving our kids, I do believe that it is possible to turn the tables and take advantage of that fact by catering to the genes, i.e. trying to consciously adjust our behavior and decisions based on what we suspect our kids may be predisposed to!
Without going into a debate at this point why the change of heart regarding the nature vs. nurture game given that I accepted the measured outcome by numerous studies already, I’d like to list the areas I think we, the parents, can focus our energy to try to make a difference and salvage some of the honour the group socialization have stolen from us — not for the sake of our pride, but for the sake of our kids’ future!
Bestow your kids with loads of KNOWLEDGE — I believe that knowledge is one thing that group socialization can’t drive on a broad scale (though it can hinder it significantly!) and knowledge may be able to influence your kids’ behaviour and choices they make in life.
Open the world to your kids by providing them with as many EXPERIENCES as possible — I think one way to beat the group socialization force is to prevent one faction from taking over by providing your kids with a “poly-group” environment, an environment where they can explore the world around them, try many things for themselves, and crucially, meet a lot of other people (both kids and adults) that may impact the way they view themselves through their learning how others see them.
A corollary to the above is: experience the world with them — we teach managers and leaders in the business world to “lead by example” but very often neglect to do so with our kids! After all, they might (it’s a slim chance, but still not equal to zero) be able to identify with YOU!
Last but not least, give them all the LOVE you can — it should be obvious, but in our attempt to turn our kids into well-behaved members of the community and disciplined pupils at school, we may forget that no matter what they turn out to be they share many years with us and we might as well ensure they carry great memories with them when they grow up and look back on the time they were kids.
The above three actions are what I believe to be the parental toolkit to beat the noise and the influence from the environment outside the home and I’d like to explore them in a bit more details in future articles. I hope you’ll find my arguments compelling enough to at least think about them 🙂