|Children, Adolescents, Family|
Nature and Nurture
The relative contributions of nature and nurture are never clear neither to parents nor to experts who study child development. There is a tendency in academic circles to exaggerate the importance of nurture and to ignore biological determinants that can be all powerful. The nurture bias is shared by educators and many parents. They exaggerate the importance of their own actions in a typical human narcissistic manner. Without remarkable, innate biological tendencies and abilities, no children would grow into effective adults and no students would graduate from schools. At the same, without good-natured, intelligent, resourceful parents and teachers, even gifted youngsters would fail to achieve skillful means and high attainment.
Biological determinants continue to play a dominant role in the first year of life. The infant needs affection, constant supervision, breast milk and opportunity to practice brain programs as they come on line. An affectionate, attentive, even-tempered mother who carries the child with her, breast feeds her infant, speaks to the child constantly, sings to the child, and plays little games in response to the infant’s emerging abilities offers the optimal environment for infant development. Since all subsequent learning is built on the foundation of brain function laid down in the first few years, deficiencies at this time will have a life-long impact and may be irreparable. An absent mother is not a good mother. An anxious, inconsistent, unstable mother who cannot breast feed her baby, is not attentive and affectionate and often gets angry when the child is not doing well will produce scrambled eggs in her baby’s brain and the developmental confusion cannot be fixed at a later date. The belief that trouble in childhood can be remembered and the damaged adult can be redeemed by expression and catharsis of childhood abuse is wrong on all counts. Another wrong assumption is that early problems are small problems because they occur to small humans with small concerns and can be fixed later by big people with big ideas, big reputations and big fees. Not true.
A child is born with a set of antecedent conditions and innate tendencies that will help to determine the experience, identity and behavior of the child. We now attribute more than half of the child’s potential development to his or her genes and the innate tendencies that are grown into brain structure and function from the time of conception. Another large chunk comes from the physical environment in which a child develops. You might guess that parents and family contribute a small but stage-critical amount to karma as do schools, peer groups and the cultural environment of the child.
The deep lineage for every human is lies in the interaction of many layers of biological determinants. The culture of parents, schools and community impose a second lineage on a child that sets limits on the form and content of learning. It should be obvious that if you never study physics, you will never become a great physicist even if you were born a genius. It should be equally obvious that despite years of physics study with the best teachers, if you were not born with a high IQ and special attitudes for physics, diligent study will not turn you into a great physicist.
Babies repeat to some extent our evolutionary path. They are not little adults, nor are they modern beings. They are ancient beings who are not ready for modern human life for 20 or more years. Parents and other adults have to show these ancient little beings what we are doing these days, but before they update their children, they have to allow them to develop the basic skills and tendencies built into their brains. To become a smart and nice citizen of planet earth the new infant must start learning to transcend old negative programs and parents lead the way by displaying the attitudes and behaviors that they want their children to manifest. It doesn't matter what you tell a child, they are going to copy what you do.
Whatever we value about civilized human existence - culture, knowledge, social justice, respect for human rights and dignity must be learned anew and stored as modifications of each new child's neocortex. Without a normal neocortex that functions well day after day, a child cannot store the modifications that allow him or her to participate in a meaningful culture, with knowledge skills and, respect for human rights and dignity.
At the same time, the features, of civilized human existence that we most regret are learned anew and practiced by each child. The current tendency for large aggregations of humans is to reply on external rules with punishment, strict hierarchies (mostly patriarchal), militarism, and intimidating religious beliefs. Children have to learn the rules, copy attitudes and beliefs and are controlled by adult members of the local culture. Adults who enforce rules often realize that thorough training and indoctrination of young children is most effective and that older children and adults are more resistant to strict control. The use of propaganda and rote training in strict schools can create, in the most part, compliant children who will act in the interests of the group rather than purse self-interest or creative, intellectual work. Children with low IQ’s benefit the most from rote training and highly structured schools. Children with high IQs are oppressed in these schools and their development is constrained.
Human babies imitate or copy behaviors they see and hear. They fill in the data fields in the application programs that are built in. Babies and young children create copies of the behaviors they experience and mold their own behavior accordingly. Children expand this mimetic and modeling ability into communication skills using body and spoken language. This mimetic basis of learning is one the most important feature of the human brain. Language development, mobility, dexterity, self-realization, recognition of others as sentient beings and basic socialization are established in years two and three. These critical epochs of brain development can be compromised by illness, malnutrition, infectious disease, neglect, bad parenting and social isolation. Bad parents teach their child to hate others and punish them with threats, name-calling, shouting, threatening, slaps, kicks and imprisonment.
Persona Digital Books