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Parents can make the difference
Scripps Howard News Service


June 17, 2005

Adam Smith, an Oxford philosopher, writes in his book "Unequal Chances":

"What one's parents are like is entirely a matter of luck. What one's children are like is not."

There's been a long-running argument among scientists, philosophers, psychologists and others about whether children are more impacted by nature or nurture. Smith seems to side with nurture. Parents have a definite impact upon their children genetically, but a child's fate is usually tied to his parents' successes or failures.

The rich parent can offer his child opportunities that poorer parents can't. Therefore, a child of rich parents has a better chance for success using his parents' connections and resources. However, even when parents are not wealthy, the child who has parents willing to work and sacrifice for his future is the lucky one. Parents make a difference.

Once we reach a rational adulthood, we know what that difference could have been.

For instance, the parent who pushes his teenager to keep studying and doing well in school is ensuring his child's ability to get into a good college, a step toward financial prosperity. The parent who is lax or uninvolved in his child's schooling is indeed keeping his child from a successful adulthood.

The on-the-job training that all of us must go through when we bring a child into the world is not the best way to learn how to be a parent. A new parent needs help. That's where the grandparents' role of wise mentoring is important. However, parents are not always grateful for grandparents whose unsought help might be intimidating.

Raising children is hard work and new parents make mistakes. Constructive criticism even gently given could be viewed as interfering and antagonistic. Thank goodness children are resilient and a parent has time to correct her mistakes and learn from them without destroying her child.

One of the most important facts about new babies' brains is that they are sponges. Infants are absorbing information about their new environment from the first moment after birth. That's why a day's outing pushing a baby carriage should be a must. And when a baby begins to walk and is able to explore even more of his world, he should be encouraged to do so and not overprotected.

An innate drive in all of us is the desire to be autonomous. We need to be independent. For a toddler, that means learning to walk and talk as soon as physically possible. That's why parents should be talking to their babies from day one. That's how babies learn their language skills.

Independence and autonomy are our goals. That's why Granddad wants to keep driving his car even though he is not as physically alert as he once was. Giving up driving means losing autonomy, independence. It means going back to babyhood in our minds. We start out fighting to be our own person and we keep up the battle as long as we are able.

"I didn't ask to be born!" How many of us made this statement as teenagers? How many of us have heard that one from our children at one time or another? "If only" is wishful thinking that we indulge in from time to time when life gets depressing or something we hoped for doesn't happen. The pity of life is that every child doesn't have the parent she needs to grow up to be a healthy, happy fulfilled adult.

Life doesn't always do right by us. Nature can play its dirty tricks and make our genes faulty. But nurturing parents can conquer a genetic predisposition. Whereas an unnurtured child, with uncaring or unloving parents, doesn't have a chance, even he inherits great genes. But even then, there's the wild card called intelligence that has a life of its own. So the argument goes on.


Write Barbara Bova at the Naples Daily News, Features Department,
1075 Central Ave., Naples, Fl 34102 or e-mail babova(at)

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