Don’t Rely On DNA

“This Be the Verse” by Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.  
   They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,  

Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

Did you know that only between 1 to 5% of individual differences between siblings can be explained by DNA?  Which means that if it’s not DNA that is causing these differences then what is affecting such differences in human development and behaviour?  Can parents simply rely on DNA or do they need to look further in nurturing the young lives in their care?  And what implication does this have for parenting our children and in particular helping them achieve positive outcomes in life?

A great many studies in recent years have found that environmental factors have a huge impact on the development of children.  The journey from genome to phenotype is not down to a straight forward correlation but more so a complex interactive process that sees the environment  (internal and external) modulating the genes as mediated by the nervous system, nurturing the behavioural outcomes of the child.

Studies that have taken rat babies from “bad” mothers and placed them with “good” mothers have shown this succinctly where results have shown that these babies have themselves become “good” parents and conversely where rat babies taken from “good” mothers and placed with “bad” mothers have turned out to be “bad” mothers.  Other studies that have taken, the baby mice of “good” mothers and placed them in an “open field” enclosure have seen results where these young mice are content to explore and stay out in the open space rather than coward towards the edges of their enclosure as is the case of their counterpart mice of “bad” mothers.  Other studies have taken premature babies and seen that those who receive kangaroo care are more likely to develop a higher IQ than those who do not.

In each of these cases the environmental factors affecting each of these individuals has adjusted their behaviours.  And so a picture emerges, as is supported by the human genome project, that the environment indeed affects development over a simple influence of genetic make up.  Resultantly, extrapolating this to the child means that parenting choices have clear implications for children’s development and wellbeing.  Even in the cases of children with autism, improvements have been observed with early intervention strategies and environmental change in some cases.  The style of parenting or approach to a child, therefore, is absolutely critical.

But what do parents need to do to help nurture this process?  Environmental factors can come from internal and external factors but in the case of parenting, it is essential to realize the contribution that “good” parenting has on a child’s development and outplaying behaviour.  Amongst a plethora of inputs, parents need to encourage self-motivation in their children.   Encouraging play and imagination in the early years is crucial to a child’s development.  Up to the age of about 6 years old children need play over a structured regimented learning.  They need to be encouraged to foster an interest in what they do, and by finding that interest or passion they will then work hard at whatever it is that commands their interest.

Parents also need to demonstrate unconditional love, not love that is conditional on performance. There seems to be such a push towards performance nowadays that makes it all too easy to forge early and flawed associations and correlations between love and high achievement. In the main, it has been found that “leaders” are four times more likely to exhibit narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism in their pursuit of successful office politics.  Whilst the drive towards achieving potential is important, it needs to be censored so that children grow up with good and positive emotional intelligence so that can attain a degree of self-actualization in a positive way. Parents therefore conditioning their love on performance, then, should be cautioned to consider demonstrating unconditional love to their children.  In his book “Love Bombing: Reset Your Child’s Emotional Thermostat”, Oliver James’s suggests that a special zone is created between parent and child where they are offered unlimited love and control.  He calls this “Love Bombing” as differentiated from “quality time” where a special emotional zone is created to transform the child and the parent’s relationship with them for the better.

In each of these ways, encouraging self-motivation and demonstrating unconditional love, parents can play a huge role in creating a positive environment that impacts on their child for the better good.  Children who are so nurtured by their children grow up to live in the present, be able to embrace a fluid two-way transmission of communication, have insight and playfulness as well as vivacity over hyperactivity and an authenticity in their approach to life.

In conclusion, therefore, it’s not enough to purely rely on DNA for genes are not everything and as such parenting plays a huge role in adjusting the environment that will nurture nature’s hand in adjusting a child’s “electrochemical” thermostat so that they develop into all rounded, content and secure children who exhibit higher emotional intelligence and it is that which will provide their springboard to a more successful and happier future.

Further Reading:

“Love Bombing:  Reset Your Child’s Emotional Thermostat” by Oliver James

Nature via Nurture: Genes, experience and what makes us human

Love Bombing – A Guest Blog by Oliver James

Don't Rely on DNA


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