Washington: Ever wondered why a child grows up to become a lawyer, a politician, a professional athlete, an environmentalist or a churchgoer? Well, some researchers say that it’s determined by our inherited genes, but others say the driving force is our upbringing and the nurturing we get from our parents.
However, a new child-development theory has bridged the nature vs. nurture models, saying parental guidance based on a child’s strengths shapes how the child turns out.
“This model helps to resolve the nature-nurture debate. Effective parents are taking nature into account in their nurturing. It’s a slightly different twist,” said psychologist George W. Holden at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
Child development researchers have largely ignored the importance of parental ‘guidance’, he said.
In his model, effective parents observe, recognize and assess their child’s individual genetic characteristics, then cultivate their child’s strengths.
“It’s been said that parents are the ‘architect’ or the ‘conductor’ of a child’s development. There are lots of different synonyms, but the terms don’t capture the essence that parents are trying to ‘guide’,” said Holden.
“Some parents have more refined goals - like wanting their child to be an athlete or to have a particular career. Some have more general goals - such as not wanting their child to become a criminal. But all are positive goals,” he added.
In the past decades, researchers had studied many aspects of parenting that Holden described as ‘unidimensional’ and easier to quantify than guidance. Examples include: how parents reinforce their children’s behaviour, punish their children or show them love and warmth.
Only in the last decade have researchers studied the role parents play in helping or hindering their child’s progress toward - or abandonment of - a particular course of development, he said.
“It’s not an easy set of behaviours to observe and quantify because it``s more complex in that it relates to parental goals that they have for their children,” said Holden.
“It’s also multi-faceted. It’s not a simple unitary behaviour that can be easily and reliably counted up. So there are methodological reasons it hasn’t been studied, and there are also biases and theoretical orientations that have neglected this,” he added.
Sophisticated statistical procedures now allow new research techniques such as growth-curve modeling and group-based trajectory analysis.
Other child development experts have ventured into the interaction between child and parent trajectories, said Holden.
He hopes many more will join in advancing the concept, which he considers critical to understanding child development.
“I’m certainly not the first to think of this, but I’ve framed it a little differently and I think a little more comprehensively than it’s been discussed before,” said Holden.
“I’m sure there are things I haven’t thought of, so hopefully this will generate discussion, research and modification. And I hope it will trickle down to parents so they can see the critical role they can play in helping their children develop in positive ways,” he added.
The study is published in the current issue of the journal Child Development Perspectives.