Parenting, Heredity, Environment… All Just Half the Battle
What’s the biggest influence on our attitudes, personalities, and behavior patterns as we grow from childhood to adulthood?
Most of us would probably say parenting, but after some digging I’ve found that many forces shape our growing lives… and our parents might play a surprisingly small role.
Here’s a simple chart that shows some of the main influences on us growing up. These are just ballpark percentages. They’re not based on hard data from any particular study. I created them with artistic license and gut feeling after reading a lot of brilliant articles on line (more than a dozen links below)… while trying to get an objective view of those forces that shape our attitudes, intelligence, personality, and beliefs… especially during our impressionable years.
You’ll notice that the biggest segment, what some experts say is about half the picture, remains a mystery. My aim, by the end of the article, is to remove most of that mystery and replace it with forces that most experts overlook as they study the shaping of human personality and attitude.
Successful people in the spotlight usually thank their moms and dads for their success.
Parenting experts certainly give the impression that our folks are the be-all and end-all in shaping who we’ve become. They talk of several distinct styles that parents employ, which help shape their kids’ attitudes. Here are those styles, along with some common terms we often use to describe parents who fall into those brackets.
Four parenting styles that help to shape kids as they grow: (Read more about the four styles… )
- Authoritarian parenting tends to make children obedient and proficient in school, but anxious, withdrawn and unhappy in social relationships. They don’t handle frustration well, and they lack self-esteem. In the USA this kind of parenting is sometimes called “tough love” (though the emphasis is on tough, not on love). In China it’s often called “tiger parenting.” (Read more about the pitfalls of tough love… and tiger parenting… )
- Authoritative parenting helps children to understand the reasons why they’re expected to behave certain ways. These children tend to be happier and more self-confident and capable when facing challenges. They have well-developed social skills and control their emotions appropriately. (Read more about balanced, assertive parenting in relation to the other forms… )
- Permissive parenting causes children to be generally unhappy and to have troubles controlling their emotions, even though they often have high self-esteem. They sometimes have trouble with the law and perform poorly in school. They get frustrated when facing challenges and tend to give up easily. (Read a more upbeat, thoughtful study on permissive parenting… )
- Uninvolved parenting produces the worst results. Children of indifferent parents rank lowest in self-control, self-esteem, competency, and other observable behaviors… even though many of them learn adult parenting skills very early in life. They are the most likely to show delinquent behavior in adolescence. (Read more about uninvolved parenting… )
It’s easy for parents to take findings like these too much to heart. Especially if their young children or grown children are having problems, it’s easy for parents to blame themselves.
Fortunately, more comprehensive studies that consider environment, genetics, and other factors lift the burden from parents’ shoulders.
Turns out, their parenting didn’t have all that much to do with it.
Imagine a river that has a factory dumping chemical wastes into the water. Fish upstream of the factory are healthy and normal, while fish swimming downstream are exposed perpetually to the chemicals.
Downstream, the fish hatch, live, and die in a toxic environment. Toxic living is all they know. They have cancer and other diseases, and if we could psychoanalyze them we’d probably find them stressed, depressed and frustrated.
Like a polluted stream, human environments can be subject to all sorts of toxins… not just chemical toxins, but social and spiritual ones… so that kids born and raised in them become innocent, unsuspecting victims.
Environmental influences on kids:
- Overpopulation and its resulting famine and disease. Forget about struggling through adolescence to find romance, prosperity, and success. Kids born into overpopulation hardly get a chance to survive childhood.
- Poverty in urban communities of unattached, testosterone-driven men. Here, kids live in broken homes. Their dads, uncles, and other male role models include drug dealers and pimps who are strong and ruthless enough to squeeze wealth from a bleak environment… by turning their women into addicts and whores… and moms.
- Prevalence of alcohol and drug use, foul language, promiscuous behavior, and violence… and popular media that glorify them. Kids growing up under these conditions (as in western society today) lose touch with respect, trust, good will, and other qualities that keep society stable. Their lives throughout adolescence and into adulthood can easily veer off-course into addiction, crime, neurosis, and general unhappiness.
- A nomadic (for example, military) childhood. Relocating from city to city, kids have to adjust to new peer groups wherever they move, always starting at the bottom of the pecking order.
These are just a few of the environmental factors that can influence kids more profoundly than their parents do.
(See a concise list of environmental influences that can affect kids… and an article about media influences in particular… )
Identical twins, separated at birth and placed in very different families in very different cultures, grow up to be alike in many ways, suggesting that parenting and environment are sometimes less important than the genes we inherit from our parents.
Studies have also found that children can grow up essentially the same regardless of whether they go to daycare or not… whether they are “only-children” or have brothers and sisters… whether they’re circumcised or not… whether their mothers work or stay at home… whether their parents have a conventional or an open marriage… whether their conceptions were planned or accidental… and whether their parents are of opposite sex or same sex.
Geneticists have isolated individual characteristics that are not shaped in any significant way by parenting styles nor family make-up nor any other known environmental conditions. They are largely (but not entirely) genetic… inheritable from the family line.
Genetically acquired qualities of kids can include:
- general intelligence,
- openness to experience,
… and maybe even…
- susceptibility to nicotine, alcohol, and other addictive substances,
- musical and artistic talents,
- athletic agility, and
- attractiveness and charisma.
Heredity can play a big role in these human qualities… but there seems to be something even bigger at work behind the scenes.
Think about your own siblings and siblings in other families. How similar or different are they. While the qualities listed above are largely inherited, they’re not often distributed evenly among siblings. There’s something else at work here.
While these qualities are somewhat inheritable, studies have found that about half of the differences in personality, intelligence, and behavior come from something beyond genetics… something in the environment that the experts cannot figure out.
Whatever that mysterious influence is, it is not shared by siblings.
(Read more about genetic influences on kids growing up… )
So, of all the many complex forces that influence kids growing up, what’s the big 40 to 50 percent that the experts can’t get a handle on?
Obviously (to me), it’s spirit… a subject that’s preposterously taboo among social scientists and other behavioral researchers.
Spiritual influences on kids:
- Souls reincarnate, bringing the personalities, dispositions, and artistic inclinations from their previous lives into their new lives. Brilliant souls who die often reincarnate as child prodigies. Murderers and other violent criminals who die often reincarnate quickly… whether determined to make amends in a new lifetime, or (more likely) resigned to resume the violence once again as they grow into adulthood. (See exactly how reincarnation takes place for some people on the other side… )
- Reincarnating souls also bring their karmic assets and liabilities from previous lives. If they neglected their soul purpose in the previous lifetime, they may try again in this lifetime. If they lived a life of poverty in one lifetime, and if they were especially kind and generous with what little they had, wealth might come easily to them in the next. (More about karma from an ethereal view… )
- Ethereal beings (angels) sometimes choose to incarnate as a learning experience for themselves and for other ethereal beings close to them. These angel-incarnate children are sensitive and wise beyond their years… and they often choose to die at a young age rather than prolong the noble-savage rigors of terrestrial living. (Read more about ethereal beings incarnating as brilliant children… )
- People who spend a lifetime excessively attached to worldly thinking and worldly things will often remain stuck near the Earth after they die. Instead of detaching from the Earth and moving to finer realms of spirit, they remain in a dense spirit body and move in and out of our world as “ghosts.” They’re often troubled and confused, and they often latch on to carnal bodies, especially of children. Their confused thoughts and unnatural compulsions boil over into the minds of their host children… confusing and perhaps shaping the kids’ thoughts, words, and actions. (Read more about spirit attachments… )
The best way to minimize the presence and impact of troubled spirits in kids’ lives is to keep children immersed in love, moral teachings, and other noble human behavior… at home, in school, and in society. That way they resonate with and attract finer spiritual beings. It’s a simple rule, and it’s been the teaching of every great religion and spiritual tradition throughout human history. Any form of abuse or treatment that instills fear, guilt and shame in children begins to open doors to the darker realms of spirit.
The more we learn about spirit, the more we begin to see the profound influence which invisible beings inhabiting the various spiritual realms can have on our lives. (More about the spirit realms… )
Spirit is the missing link in modern understanding of the influences that affect kids as they grow into adulthood.
My afterlife research over the past 25 year has convinced me that spiritual influences can have a more profound effect on children’s personalities, talents, thoughts, words, and actions, than do the influences of their parents, teachers, environment, and genetics.
A great summary and treatment of these considerations….thank you Mark.
I am in complete agreement about the influence of the spiritual forces and karmic tendencies; something I call the “spiritual exposome.”
The world has taken on so many sectarian viewpoints on matters spiritual that we may have to put up with such inhibitory polarized insecurity for more time. It seems like we need alot of help here.
Then perhaps we can embrace this 40% (or so) influence as the biggest aspect of our true Identity.
Hi John. Spiritual exposome is a great term. I’d never heard of the term exposome before this, but a quick search online suggests (if I understand correctly) that it refers to everything around us and within us that affects us… for better or worse. Seems to capture the essence of the article I was trying to write.
Mark, and All,
Yes, the term exposome is a good one, and currently is being applied in consideration of all of the pre-birth, intrauterine, and post birth tangibles and intangibles which are passed from parents to offspring…or, it is all of the influences our parents were under prior to our conception, and beyond that event. It’s about time to get these concepts developed and mixed into social consciousness. Your posting here on both of your sites is a really good treatment of exposomal considerations.
The term encompasses epigenetics. I simply expanded it into my own lexicon to embrace the spiritual influences, which I believe are the most important.
There is a long term study going on in 6 European countries now to lend more elucidation to the exposome concept. This is known as the HELIX project.
Keep up the great research and writing Mark….and just remember that old paraprosdokian saying, “To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal ideas from many is research.”
I think the correct way to consider this fun paraprosdokian is simply to use the term “borrow ideas,” and not to think we are “stealing ideas.” After all, as they say, there is nothing new under the Sun.
I think you are helping to heal the world, as you always wanted to do.
My momma’ told me never to steal… or was it my dad? Or a schoolteacher? Or a Sunday school teacher? Or did I read it somewhere?… or did it bubble up as a moral truth from my soul to my conscious mind?…
Goes to show, trying to write an article on exposome from personal experience is DAUNTING!
So, yes, I had to do ‘objective research.’ 🙂 … which is really a joy these days, with the wwweb’s instant access to a zillion brilliant articles and books, and with the ability to spread hyperlinks throughout my articles… instead of using the old-fashioned, exhaustive bibliographies at the end of the articles (which are usually padded with articles and books the author never read… and which consist of a long list that no one ever reads anyway… ~)
Gotta’ say, ’tis a joy (as well as an honor and privilege!) to be a writer in this day and age!… not to mention being counted among your many friends.
Your research and writing are great, and important.