Part 4: Is this really my child?

If you’ve ever had an active interest in psychology than you are bound to have heard of the nature/nurture debate. It involves the degree to which the environment or biology (i.e. genes) determine our actions and our behaviour. There is no clear-cut answer but it has become widely accepted that both play a role in an individual’s life.

Some researchers in behaviour genetics claim that the more we learn about genetics, the more we recognise the importance of the environment. Let us look at some of the factors which are or are not inherited. If you are hopeless at figuring out a map then it’s likely your child will be the same since spatial skills seem to be highly hereditary. If you have trouble writing a message on a post it note, don’t expect to give birth to Shakespeare since verbal skills are also inherited (you could always hope for a talented ancestor.) Academic skills are also related to genes so this might be a good time to hide those report cards. Creativity, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be as dependent on the parents’ ability. Oddly enough some attitudes also seem to have a genetic component such as traditionalism which includes a tendency to follow rules and self-discipline.

On a more serious note, affective disorders such as depression (especially bipolar or manic depression) are strongly genetically determined. In studies with twins, researchers found that if one twin was diagnosed with depression then there is a 66% chance that the other twin will show similar symptoms. Another genetic risk comes from alcoholic relatives. If an individual has a first-degree relative who is an alcoholic, it is the strongest single predictor of whether or not the individual will develop it. The average man has a 5% chance of becoming an alcoholic whereas a man with a male alcoholic relative has a 25% chance of developing it. Women with an alcoholic relative have a tendency to develop depression.

It is important to be aware of the genetic factors that are the basis of personality development. This does not mean that you should leave your child to do as s/he pleases and blame her/his actions on genes. As I have mentioned the environment plays an essential role in junior’s development. It can, to a certain extent, strengthen or weaken a particular trait. It is also important to realise that the environment includes you as a parent so your actions will directly affect your child. Development is the result of a series of exchanges (actions and reactions) between the child and the environment (which includes nutrition, living conditions, family, society, etc).

In short not only does the environment you provide and the actions you take make the child react in a certain way but the opposite is equally true – i.e. your child determines your actions to a certain extent. There is no formula that provides the perfect child but it is important for you as a parent to be aware of your effect on the child, and his effect on you to get the best possible results.

Photo by Alexander Grey:

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