In the field of psychology, scholars have debated the issue of nature versus nature for decades, only arriving at one reasonable conclusion: Both genes and the environment are important in shaping a person’s behavior. Children are not spared from these and are arguably more susceptible to environmental influences. From how the family is structured to how the culture is structured, nearly every facet of life teaches children lessons in how to adapt to the world.
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The Parents are the Environment
From birth, how parents interact with each other establishes the family environment. The parental relationship can have lasting effects on children, according to a 1993 "Journal of Family Psychology" study examining whether effects of parental divorce are evident in young adulthood. In psychologists’ research, led by Dr. Nicholas Zill, scholars find that problematic relationships between parents often lead to problems in a child’s school and social life, leading to behaviors such as avoiding school. One possible reason for this is that parents respond to negative relationships by acting negatively toward their children, devoting less mental energy to their children and avoiding time with the family. Thus, it is important for parents to consider their actions before displaying those actions in front of their children.
A Brain without Reigns
Genes, proteins and time control the development of a child’s brain. But while the environment has little control over these biological processes, it does shape how children use their new mental abilities. A child tossed into a social environment, for example, likely experiences many new situations, leading to a myriad of new feelings. How a child copes with these feelings depends on what he’s taught. A reign-less child with no semblance of how to understand, control or regulate her emotions might, for instance, respond to teasing by hitting the instigators. It is the parents, teachers and other adult role models -- not the naturally developing brain -- who teach children how to control the responses to strong emotions, according to psychologist and author of “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child,” John Gottman. How you teach your child to respond to her feelings can make or break her social life.
Your Kid Ain’t Xiao Shun
A child’s brain is wired to learn language quickly and fluently, regardless of where he is born. But the fact remains: Children from two different parts of the world speak differently. While practically common sense, this fact has wide-reaching consequences. The language of an environment is deeply rooted to its culture. Hence, children growing up learning a specific language will also learn the concepts important in that language’s culture. For example, according to the Chinese parenting book “Kan Wai Guo Fu Mu Ren Jia Ru He Jiao Chu Hao Hai Zi” by parenting scholar Yen-Mei Yang, a child growing up in Hong Kong probably understands the concept of “xiao shun,” a concept that has no direct equivalent in the western world. But it is this concept of “xiao shun” that drives children to be more filial to their parents, even to the point of planning to be the primary financial caretaker of their parents in old age. Even the types of vocabularies children possess can vary due to cultural differences, with Asian children tending to learn more verbs and American children tending to learn more nouns, which can affect the way a child sees the world.
Don’t Assert Yourself, Unless You’re American
The culture in which a child grows up affects more than the language she speaks. A child’s social environment, for example, is comprised of different types of people. A child growing up in Japan will be corrected on certain behaviors that are seen as immoral or impolite in Japanese culture, such as contradicting superiors or speaking out of turn, according to the psychologist and author of the book “Language Development,” Erika Hoff. American children are more likely to be reprimanded for racist remarks or for being too passive. These negative social comments -- and their counterpart: reinforcing positive comments -- can help mold a child into acting in certain ways while avoiding other types of behavior.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child; John Gottman
- Journal of Family Psychology: Long-Term Effects of Parental Divorce on Parent-Child Relationships
- Kan Wai Guo Fu Mu Ren Jia Ru He Jiao Chu Hao Hai Zi; Yen-Mei Yang
- Language Development; Erika Hoff
- Nebraska Center for Research on Children, Youth, Families and Schools: Parental Engagement and School Readiness
- RTI International: Factors in Child Development
- Child Study Center: Divorce and Children