“Nature, we are starting to realize, is every bit as important as nurture. Genetic influences, brain chemistry, and neurological development contribute strongly to who we are as children and what we become as adults.” -Stanley Turecki, M.D.
Sue and Alan Richardson are like so many other distressed parents who reach out to our counseling clinic. They have three kids. Two have been launched successfully, and they have warm relationships and good communication. Sue and Alan are devastated because one of their kids, now 19, is such a problem. Samantha struggled with depression beginning in junior high, rages at them on occasion, tried to make it at college but couldn’t stand the pressure, and has bounced back home again. What went wrong? They parented all three kids similarly but Samantha was always more difficult and highly sensitive.
Stopping the Blame Game
Parents often get blamed or blame themselves for any problem that shows up in their children. We now know that every baby is born with certain innate inherited characteristics or temperament. Temperament is, by definition, the part of a child’s personality that is not caused by good or bad parenting. Built-in traits will affect each child’s style of interacting with people, places and things throughout their lifetime. The research validates what many parents knew intuitively all along. Some babies are easy, and some are more challenging. Because it is almost taboo to say something negative about one child or to compare your kids, many parents don’t get the support that they need when struggling with a more difficult child.
The debate about just how much of our behavior and personality is genetic vs. environmental, or nature vs. nurture, has raged on for the last hundred years. Twenty or thirty years ago, in an ongoing effort to understand why people behave in certain ways, both good and bad, researchers focused more on the nurture side, examining things like the family environment or types of parenting that were correlated with problems or resiliency in children. In the past ten …