To nature or nurture your child

Nature refers to inherited (genetic) characteristics and tendencies that influence a wide range of a child’s developmental issues ranging from intelligence to disease immunity.

Nurture on the other hand comprises another set of wide ranging care-related interventions – any form of positive care/support that can be given in this instance to a child – education, love, shelter, food, health, mention it.

There is an ongoing debate on the roles nature and nurture play on child development. One school of thought believes that the development of a child is mainly a genetically-based process of maturation, with learning (nurturing) playing no more than a supportive role. The other school of though argues that learning determines the entire course of a child’s future.

I find it rather surprising that ‘nurtured’ people are engaging in such arguments! When one reads the arguments for and against nature/nurture, it becomes evident that the definitions have been ‘diluted’ and narrowed down along education lines, i.e. genetic intelligence versus intelligence acquired through targeted formal education.

We all have our distinct life experiences from which we can draw a wealth of evidence which we can use to prove beyond reasonable doubt that any child’s future is determined by a wide ranging set of environmental factors – i.e. a mix of social, cultural, economic, political, geographical and genetic factors all playing a role to form a synergy. Any change in the mix of these factors leads to a different outcome.

Children with excellent intelligence genetic footprints, but very poor genetic immunity systems almost have no future if they are born in poor environments – i.e. economically poor parents, politically unstable and economically poor countries, regions (e.g. along the equator) which are susceptible to many life threatening diseases. Most children in this category die before the age of 5 yrs in the least developed countries.

Similar children however, potentially have excellent futures if the above environmental factors are reversed.

Academics who focus on education nurturing as the determinant of an individual’s future could learn from a simple real life example drawn from the Northern Hemisphere.

Take two children. The first child has an excellent genetic footprint, but comes from a very poor family. The poor child lives and interacts with a community where there is abundant poverty, drug abuse, unemployment etc. His/her potential role models are drug dealers who have made quick-riches and drive the kind of cars he/she admires. He/she lives in a building with inadequate heating, has very little food, and attends school without having breakfast. The only decent meal he/she eats is the free lunch provided at school.

The second child has a below average genetic footprint but comes from a rich family. He/she lives and interacts with the affluent class. His/her potential role models are Senior Executives. He/she lives comfortably, food isn’t an issue, and goes to school loaded with his/her choice of breakfast.

Subject these two children to identical education nurturing by letting them attend the same class. The likelihood of the child from a poor environment loosing concentration is high. In this instance, the negative influences of other nurturing factors (i.e. food, shelter, community) outweigh the positive impact of education nurturing. Yet there is a lot more to it in real life including factors such as prejudice by the teachers, and classmates, which could reduce confidence and self-esteem and negate further the impact of education nurturing.

Nature and nurture cannot be discussed in isolation because they co-exist. One would have to conduct a scientific experiment (which would in any event be unethical) to come up with robust results.

Testing the impact of nature individually, would involve completely separating/isolating the specimen children from all forms of living animals, particularly people at birth – with no interaction whatsoever.

Testing for the influence of nurturing on the other hand would involve subjecting a significant sample of children drawn randomly from the world population to identical environmental factors from birth to a specified time when they are ready to join the labour market.

Nature is a primary factor. It is embedded in children. It is a physical component of any child. It automatically exists. Nurturing is a secondary factor. It comes from secondary sources. Therefore, nurturing enhances nature, but nature has no direct impact on nurture.

Because nature automatically exists, we only need to recognise it. There is really almost no need to discuss it. That is why we need to focus on nurturing.

It is therefore more a question of what levels/degrees of nurturing should be administered at the children’s different levels of development.

There is a basic standard of nurturing that each individual is expected to have – food, clothing and shelter. However, this basic standard varies across the different social classes, and across the different levels of economic development. There is even an intra-social class variation, and intra-level of economic development variation.

The real differentiation comes into play outside the basic necessities, education and health being some of the major players.

Education nurturing is an integral part of any child’s development process, which enhances the child’s capabilities to develop further. It comes in two ways, formal and informal.

Formal education is the process of training and developing people in knowledge, skills, mind, and character in a structured and certified program. Informal education happens in unstructured non-certified programs outside formal learning, including at home.

People of my generation (or thereabouts) from unprivileged backgrounds will remember and concur with the following experiences. The primary routine was more of ‘eateth’ where ‘soweth’ – in the sense that one only benefited from the lessons they attended. If they were absent for whatever reason, there was never an opportunity for the teachers to revisit what they missed.

On a typical day, one attended class, and went and played during short and lunch breaks. The word homework didn’t exist. All work was done within the specified subject class time.

One week to the end of term, we would be reminded of the pending tests. There was no preparation for the test. We presented ourselves and answered the questions using natural memory abilities. If a question came from a lesson on the day one was absent, too bad – the recording in one’s memory was zero, and therefore the chances of answering it bordered zero.

Put in short, our primary education was based almost purely on our natural capabilities to listen, understand, absorb and remember what we were taught – without any provision for revision. But we have to recognise that these capabilities were enhanced by the different attributes of nurturing we received.

Things have changed. Many children now attend pre-school. This is however mostly attributed to the changes in the social-economic circumstance of many families. Home work, revision, coaching – in other words targeted education nurturing is common place, in some instances starting from pre-school.

Everyone wants their child to succeed in life. That is why formal and informal education are equally important. Formal education nurturing mostly focuses on the core academic subjects. However, a greater proportion of inter-personal skills (skills which facilitate interaction and verbal/non-verbal communication with others, confidence, ability to listen and understand, problem solving, decision making etc) which are also regarded highly at workplaces are mostly enhanced through informal education nurturing.

Education nurturing needs to balance inter-personal skills with core academics. Children who spend much time on home work, computer, television and coaching do so at the expense of their inter-personal skills. Academic focus turns many children into academics designed to achieve excellence in answering questions. These children achieve academic excellence but a significant number under-performs in inter-personal skills.

Overall, nurturing shouldn’t focus on only education. It involves love, health care, good nutrition, and all sorts of inter-related support activities. These aspects of nurturing interact to form a synergy which in turn enhances the natural genetic footprint.

Nurture you children to the best of your ability, within your means from their conception in all the fields that can enhance their development, without specific emphasis on education alone. That is the best you can do for them.

Forget what the academics say – they are merely trying to use their nurtured-self to earn a living!


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