Why parenting can never have a rule book

September 3, 2013

Any parent will tell you that there is no simple recipe for raising a child. Being a parent means getting hefty doses of advice – often unsolicited – from others. But such advice often fails to consider a critical factor: the child. A new review of dozens of studies involving more than 14,600 pairs of twins shows that children's genetics significantly affect how they are parented.

"There is a lot of pressure on parents these days to produce that excel in everything, socially and academically," says Reut Avinun of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. "Since children are not born tabula rasa, I felt it was important to explore their side of the story, to show how they can affect their environment, and specifically parental behavior." Most studies of parenting look at only the reverse, how parents affect their children's experiences.

To explore the flip side, Avinun and Ariel Knafo looked to twins. They reasoned that if parents treat identical twins, who share 100 percent of their genes, more similarly than non-, who share on average 50 percent of their genes, then it suggests that the child's shape parenting.

Indeed, across 32 studies of twins, they found that children's genetically-influenced characteristics do affect parental behavior. As published in Personality and Social Psychology Review, they estimated that 23 percent of differences in parenting is due to a child's genetics. The genotype-related differences are ways that the children evoke different responses from their environment. For example, a child that is antisocial is more likely to elicit harsh discipline from parents than a more social child.

In one recent study, Knafo's research group found that boys with less self-control are more likely to experience lower levels of positive . For boys, but not for girls, a particular genotype – a polymorphic region in the gene that codes for the – predicted mothers' levels of and the boys' level of self-control. "In other words, boys' genetically influenced level of self-control affected the behavior of their mothers toward them," Avinun says.

Avinun and Knafo also found that children's shared environment – socioeconomics, cultural exposure, etc. – accounts for 43 percent of parenting differences. And the non-shared environment – different schools, friends, etc. – accounts for 34 percent of the differences. Importantly, the study's findings support the idea that parenting does not necessarily affect children in the same family similarly.

Several factors affect the extent to which genetics influence parenting. Avinun and Knafo found, for example, that age was important, supporting the argument that the child's influence on parenting increases with age. "As children become increasingly autonomous, their genetic tendencies are more likely to be able to affect their behavior, which in turn influences parental behavior," Avinun says.

The research in total, Avinun says, "means that parenting should not be viewed solely as a characteristic of the parent, but as something that results from both parental and child attributes." Therefore, any interventions or treatments to help parenting should consider both the parents and children, and could vary even within a family.

"The discussion of 'nature vs. nurture' has transformed into 'nature and nurture.' We now understand that most characteristics are determined by the interplay between genetic and environmental influences," Avinun says.

Because children are born differently, there never can be a general rule book for raising children, she explains. "There isn't one style of ideal parenting. Each child requires a different environment to excel. So parents should not invest a lot of effort in trying to treat their children similarly, but instead, be aware of the variation in their children's attributes and nurture them accordingly."

Explore further: Parent induces guilt, child shows distress

More information: The study, "Parenting as a Reaction Evoked by Children's Genotype: A Meta-Analysis of Children-as-Twins Studies" by Reut Avinun and Ariel Knafo, was published online on August 12, 2013, and is forthcoming in print in November 2013 in Personality and Social Psychology Review: psr.sagepub.com/content/early/ … 68313498308.abstract

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7 comments

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freethinking
1.8 / 5 (10) Sep 03, 2013
Which is why we need to keep government out of the family and how the family raises children.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.8 / 5 (5) Sep 03, 2013
Which is why we need to keep religion out of the family and how the family raises children.

Learning bible verse by rote is a horrible way of becoming familiar with reality. The stuff is gibberish to grade schoolers. Just as it is to adults.
obama_socks
1 / 5 (6) Sep 04, 2013
Theghostofotto1923 never had children and apparently hates them. He hates women also.

http://medicalxpr...tar.html
(Blotto's opinion of "womanly smells" is that women stink like fish. Do you remember what you said, Blotto?)

QuoteReport
TheGhostofOtto1923
•
1.6 / 5 (7)
May 08, 2013
Do women find men with fishing poles more attractive? Doubtful..
If they are hungry yes. Fish is only a metaphor for womanly smells you know.

(Apparently, Blotto's mama didn't remember to wash her crotch first.)
freethinking
1 / 5 (6) Sep 04, 2013
Actually Otto, Children understand the bible better than adults. They have no preconceived notions, they don't make the bible into something they want. The best interpreters of the bible I think at 10-12 year olds. They are old enough to understand allegory (which Otto has problems with) and not old enough to want to make the bible to agree with their ideas.

BTW Otto, how much would children learn of love if children read the Humanist Manifesto?
Captain Stumpy
1 / 5 (5) Sep 07, 2013
personally, I think children should be taught to read everything they can get their hands on, while being taught the scientific method, so that they can read, see, learn and research the world around them and make informed decisions based upon something more tangible than some repressive dogma.
children need continuity, structure, discipline and consistency. they should be taught to be self reliant and their OWN person, and not some weak minded parrot, like you find so often in so many schools today.
AND I think the government should STAY the HECK OUT of it...
but this is my opinion.
Captain Stumpy
1 / 5 (5) Sep 07, 2013
AND I think the government should STAY the HECK OUT of it...
obama_socks
1 / 5 (6) Sep 09, 2013
They won't. Not if the Progressives remain in charge. Vote them out. Vote Conservatives in for saner and smaller but efficient government.

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