HOW MUCH DO PARENTS MATTER?

About a year ago, I wrote a note as an advice on How to raise your daughter
, which received numerous hateful comments, and although this one is less graphic, it is equally controversial. It delves into the question “Do parents matter”?

I know plenty of kids who drop out of high schools, do drugs and steal shit, went to jail, and lie to their parents despite being raised in a educated, straight-edged, ultra conservative, strict, authoritative and religious household. In fact, I personally know quite a few local Asian pastors who force their teenage kids to read the bible everyday and pray before they eat and piss. But their daughters and sons turn out to be huge sluts and pimps. On the other hand, I also witnessed a lot of parents, who give their children freedom, are much less linear and forgiven. These kids never turned out to be thugs or criminals and attend good schools, are successful etc.

Why is it that so many parents have no clue whatsoever about what their kids are doing behind their back? Why don’t children turn out to be the way their parents would have liked? How much do parents influence their children? How much of how we turn out is shaped by how our parents treated us? Do parents even matter?

The way I see it, there is no secret formula for raising a successful, creative, intelligent, and happy child. As much as parents would like to think that their children are blank slates that they can shape into anything they wish them to become, and that the fates of their kid are entirely in their hands, a good amount of research psychology and neuroscience seems to suggest that the effects parents have their children’s behavior and how they grow up be is way overrated. How many kids do you know that really want to grow up to be like their parents?

It’s common sense that human behaviors are partly heritable, and partly learned. But what most people never take into account while conducting studies that show the correlation between the behaviors of parents and their children is heredity and other many other factors and variables.

Psychologists gathered data and observed the behaviors, cognitive capacities, attitudes, and living standards of sets of identical twins that are raised apart in different families, and adopted siblings who grew up under the same roof. The result? Identical twins raised apart under different parents were almost identical in every observable aspect, including details and quirks regarding taste of food, music, numbers of times they’ve been engaged, how they wear their ties, etc. On the other hand, adopted siblings who were raised by the same parents under the same home are almost no more similar than two random people selected from the street at random. What about blood-related siblings who lived under the same roof and had similar upbringings as children? Findings show that whether or not they are separated by birth or raised together, they are equally similar under both circumstances.

The empirical evidence that show us that adoptive siblings who are raised together are almost always nothing alike, identical twins raised apart are as similar as any two people can be, and that biological siblings are as similar when raised apart as when they are raised together might tell us that the normal assumption of “parenting is everything” is flat out wrong. The effect of parenting and the way a child is brought up by their parents plays less of a role than genetic heritability, and that a child’s fate is not exclusively in the hands of their mothers and fathers. In other words, how a child turn out to be has more to do with the genes that are passed on to them from their parents than whether or not their parents spanked them, molested them, read to them.

But why do so many parents believe that they have all the power to mold their children like clay?

Well, most parents assume that there is a direct causal correlation between the parent’s treatment and practices and the behavior, beliefs, and actions, and other outcomes of a child and conclude that they are responsible for the differences.

For instance, if you spank a child she will turn out violent. If you talk to your kids a lot they will turn out to be articulate. And if you put books around the house your children are more likely to be intelligent.

But what most people overlook and fail to consider is the fact that parents also pass on their genes to their children. So, it may be that the child turns out to be more violent and intelligent because they already possess the genes that their parents had passed on to them upon conception. So even if the child’s violent parents passed away and never got to spank him, he will probably still turn out to be inclined to violence.

Another factor that people don’t usually think about is the reversal correlation between a child and parents: How the child affects the parents. Parents might be more likely to reinforce violence on a child who naturally behaves violently in the first place. Sweet and funny children are more likely to receive hugs and kisses from their parents, and so on.

Also, parents assume they have a huge impact on their children’s behaviors because they only witness their behaviors when they are at home. Just because how your kids behave at home doesn’t mean that’s the way they behave outside of their homes. Many children spend more time with their peer groups outside of their parent’s watchful eyes, and behave vastly different in front of their friends than their parents. And from what I know, it’s a lot more important to be accepted by your friends and the opposite sex than your parents.

I’m not saying that everything has to do with genes, because the environment plays the other half of the game. But just because “environment” is equally important, it doesn’t mean that parental upbringing is all that makes up a child’s “environment”. If it’s not the genes, it must be how our parents treated us, right? Not exactly.

Studies on blood-related siblings show that whether or not they are separated by birth or raised together, they are equally similar under both circumstances. This tells me that experiences shared by biological siblings who were raised by the same parents, under the same household have little correlation on the kind of adults they grow up to be.

If you look around, you will see that children in the same family are often times very different from one another. So what accounts for the differences (or the similarities) between two siblings who were raised by the same parents, and who share 50 percent of each other’s genes?

The other aspects of the “environment”, which may include:

Random events and chance: unique experiences one goes through in life such as getting hit by a car, falling in love with a certain types of women, stepping on a mine, losing an arm, catching a really bad cold, and everything else that happens to one sibling but no the other that leads one sibling down to a slightly different life path.

The influence of friends and relatives: Peer group has a greater effect on a child than parent do. Most children spend more times interacting with their friends in and outside of school than their parents at home, and are more likely to want to relate to, be accepted by, and become more like their friends than their parents. Not many children are truly aspired to be like their parents). Almost anybody can agree that whether children and adolescents commit acts of rebellions such as run-in with the law, having unprotected sex, smoking, and doing drugs depends almost solely on peer pressure than on how parents treat them or what parents do.

The placement of fetuses in the womb: The small differences in positions that the fetus is placed inside his or her mother’s womb can have an affect on the initial wiring of their brains (which could lead a fetus to a slightly different path of development through out life than the other siblings who were positioned differently inside the same womb).

Another way to make this point is to examine the development of language in children. “Hardcore parenting” is a modern phenomenon. Through out most of human history and in traditional cultures, parents don’t pay much attention to their children and don’t intentionally teach them to speak. These children were dumped in the “sand box” to mingle with other children whose parents were too busy hunting and gathering or bearing other children. They pick up language, accents, and other communication/social tactics from their peers.

Immigrated children like myself and many of my classmates from ESOL back in middle school. Even if their parents never acquired the culture, language, or life values of the new country, the kids seem to have no trouble adapting and becoming completely fluent in the language, and become fully competent in every aspect of their adaptive environment. That is given the fact that these children adapt to their peer groups and immerse themselves with experiences within that environment.

Children aren’t born blank slates. Parents don’t shape their children, children shape themselves.

Most parents attribute far too much to parental influence and family upbringing while assessing human behaviors. At the end, we can’t really know whether the correlation between parental upbringing and behaviors of children turns out to the effects of peer group, chance, the affects parents have on their children, the affects children have on their parents, the way shared genes affects both, or a mixture of everything. But overall, I think parents take too much credits and blame on the effects they have on their children.

Parents matter, but only up to a certain point. Parents give birth and nurture children, and negation and abuse from parents can certainly cause serious harm to children. Parents have the power to select the environment for their children, which leads to the type of neighborhood and friends they grow up with. Parents also supply children with skills by letting them take art classes, learn an instrument, or join sports teams. What is less relevant is the behavior of the parents and their parenting philosophy, which do not seem to play a major role in molding their children’s behaviors as they grow up.

I am not making a point for abusing your future kids (although I would very much love to do so). Just because parents don’t have as much power as they believe they have in shaping their kids, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t respect them enough not to beat them up. Despite the fact that you might not have any say on how they grow up to be in the future, what parents do to their children can have a big impact on their present happiness. And nobody who forms a bond with a friend or a lover knows that any attempts to change their overall personality are useless, but we still treat them with respect and care.

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