A Family Affair

Age-old nature-vs-nurture debate gets a make-over in child psychology

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Some researchers say we grow up to become doctors and lawyers or convenience store clerks and fry cooks because of our genes.

Other researchers maintain it is the way children are raised that determine these outcomes. It's the same old nature-versus-nurture argument that has plagued science for decades. But now, a new child-development theory bridges those two models, according to psychologist George W. Holden at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Holden says a child's success as anything from a professional athlete to employee of the month at a big box retailer can be determined in large part by the day-to-day decisions made by the parents who guide their children's growth.

"This model helps to resolve the nature-nurture debate," Holden said. "Effective parents are taking nature into account in their nurturing. It's a slightly different twist."

Effective parents observe, recognize and assess their child's individual genetic characteristics, then cultivate their child's strengths, according to Holden's model.

It has only been in the last decade that researchers have looked at the role parents play in helping or hindering their child's progress toward or abandonment of specific development courses. Holden attributes this dearth of analysis to methodological reasons.

"It's not an easy set of behaviors to observe and quantify because it's more complex in that it relates to parental goals that they have for their children," he said. "It's not a simple unitary behavior that can be easily and reliably counted up."

Holden's approach includes four prongs that includes complex, detailed analysis of: trajectories that parents initiate; parents' encouragement and praise; parents' restriction of their children's trajectories; and parents' reaction to child-initiated trajectories.

Holden adds other factors that also can influence children's trajectories include: family culture, income, and resources in addition to the quality of the parent-child relationship.

"What this model of parenting helps to point out is that effective parenting involves guiding children in such a way as to ensure that they are developing along positive trajectories," Holden said.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 2, 2010
Last Updated:
December 3, 2010