Monday, June 8, 2009

Nature vs Nurture

How much of our children's personality, intelligence, and mental health is genetic and how much is environmental? With our kids it is tough to say because most of them had an abusive or neglectful environment in the beginning. Some lived in it for several years. But the real question for us is "Can living in our homes change the outlook for their lives?" Really big question. Sometimes a haunting question. My kids are 14 and Bear will be 17 in about 3 weeks. And then here is Fish who lived in this same world, same genetics who is excelling at many things. Let's look at these 3 things, personality, intelligence and mental health one at a time.

Personality: We all have a basic make up of personality. I have taken the Meyer's Briggs personality test and am an introvert, intuitive, feeling, and perceptive. We could talk about personality and parenting for a week! The question today is "Is our personality genetic or environmental?" What do you think?

Intelligence: We have 5 children and run the gamut of ability in school. But what about our children's intelligence. Is it all genetic or has the environment played into it? Can we make a difference?

Mental Health: We have 3 children adopted from the foster care system. Two of them have some mental health issues. RAD is one of the issues but there are other problems as well. Are their mental health issues genetic or environmental? RAD would be environmental because it is caused by separation from mother during the first 3 years of life...but what about the others?



Christine said...

This has all been very interesting for me. We have very active communication with one birth mother of our children. While we only have visits about twice a year, the similarities in personality between our daughter, her birth mother and brother, are amazing. They share gifts, talents and even sleeping habits!

At the same time, some things are very different.

I have two more children coming from the same country, the same history. One has full-blown RAD. The other struggles with attachment, but manifests more anger. The RADling has a very high intelligence, reads way above grade level, almost a photographic memory. The other child, whose attachment is doing better, struggles immensely with thinking and speaking clearly when he is stressed. His language and cognitive abilities are the first thing to go in an anxious situation. His sister actually becomes more fine-tuned.

I've hit a point where I believe it is just very, very complex and organic (everything around them mixed with their individual biology). I think we do make a difference, but I think there are a gazillion factors which determine what "normal" will be for each of our children. We help them get there.

Maybe someone will find a magical formula one day. I doubt it. So, I just keep doing what I'm doing and celebrate how far they have come. I don't think we'll ever nail this quandary.

Kerrie said...

I was reading about brain development in abused and neglected kids (darned if I remember where!). The author's theory was that nurture actually creates nature--the way a child is raised and the physical and emotional experiences she has physically change the brain. I push that one back into my mind whenever I notice dangerous similarities between my girls and their mother.

Tami Boesiger said...

I've been wondering about this very thing as kids graduate from high school and I see a pattern that smart, professional people seem to breed smart people. I've been wondering if it is genetic or if accomplished people know how to push their children more to excel. I'm thinking it's a combination of the two, both genetic AND environmental.

Have you studied Gardner's multiple intelligences? He theorized that intelligence can and should be measured by more than one barometer. Here's a link with a quick synopsis if you're interested.

Interesting discussion, Brenda.

Anonymous said...

Well, since my 26 yr old is making bad choices and living on the streets and was adopted at 2 wks old and nurtured in a happy home with two stable parents, I have to go with nature. I'm hoping that our nurture pulls him out of this but I'm not holding my breath.
Linda N

Brenda said...

I do believe that genetics plays a very large part in personality, intelligence and mental health. I do believe that we as adoptive parents can make a difference by providing a nurturing, stimulating, loving and supportive environment. Even our kids who have mental disorders are still benefiting, I think. They may not live "normally". But THEIR normal will be better than it would have been without the homes we have provided.

Linda N ~ I am so sorry to hear that your son is having a hard time. I hope this doesn't last long and that he comes back to you soon. ((((((((((hugs)))))))))))

Anonymous said...

Maybe nurture is helping him because he checked himself into the psych hospital last night. Big, big move for him given all his anxiety. Please keep us in your prayers.
Linda N