nature vs. nurture

Nature vs. Nurture, and Your Role as a Parent

The age-old debate…

For centuries, experts have debated the relative weight of nature versus nurture (or environment versus genetics) on the development of children, and to this day, no one knows the exact ratio. While environment definitely matters, there are limits to how much parents can manipulate a child’s choices regarding behavior, drive and achievement.  While parents can create a stimulating and affirming home for their child, we cannot directly control the moods or intellectual abilities of our children – but we can influence these things.

We can manipulate the structure of the environment, our part in the relationship with the child, and the quality of our parenting. While this is very powerful, it does not dictate the child’s destiny. Parents often report to me that they just want their child to be happy, successful, or in a manner of speaking, “less odd.” This is when I go back to the idea that parents do not have the power to change the essential being of their child. But parents do have an important role in helping children fulfill their potential by helping them learn self-control and positive self-regard. The goal is for children to learn to become navigators of their own developmental journey. With this in mind, I have outlined some important aspects of parenting that are most impactful.

Finally, acceptance of your child is a gift. This does not mean tolerating bad behavior, but we may need to adjust expectations. Learn who your child is and set up the environment to promote her success. Accept that if your kid is quirky, spirited, or gloomy, you may need to embrace it and work with it. Parents do have a role in helping children become themselves– but it is indirect. We can create an experience that helps our children choose to be their best selves.


Pat Blackwell, Ph.D., is a developmental psychologist in practice at Pelts Kirkhart & Associates. 504.581.3933.

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