Nature vs Nurture: does parenting matter?

Last week I attended a debate between Robert Plomin, author of Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are and Ann Pleshette Murphy, author of The Secret of Play: How to Raise Smart, Healthy, Caring Kids from Birth to Age 12 organised by Intelligence Squared.

It was an evening of revisiting the old questions: how much does parenting matter; should we relax and not put too much pressure on ourselves as children are individuals born with their own blueprint and to what degree can we change the outcome?

Of course, a person’s life is a combination of nature and nurture (which includes family as well as peers). As parents, we are unlikely to succeed moulding our children into somebody, he/she is not. Our job should be to provide a maximum support and nurture for the spark inside our children. We should not be trying to mould our children into our vision for their future.  We have to be able to see what our children are and help them to reach their dreams and potential.

The day after the debate, I met Gavin, who volunteers in St John’s Wood library to read to young children. He believes in the importance of reading aloud and he wanted to see if we can organise a reading club together.  You can imagine my thrill (see my blog on importance of reading aloud here). 

Half way through the conversation, Gavin shared his story of parenting experience. There were no expensive tutors and activities and his sob went to a local state school. However, Gavin was able to spend a lot of time dedicated to bringing up his now 16 years old son.  He and his wife shared with their boy their love for learning, art, science and what London can offer.

Looking forward a few years, Gavin’s son is a stellar student on a bursary at UCS, a recipient of a prestigious Arkwright engineering scholarship, finalist of Vex World Robotics competition in the USA, a runner up out of 2000 teams in Alan Turing cryptography competition and the winner of  the Oxford Bebras logic & computing competition.  In addition to all of it, the boy is self-taught piano and guitar player who loves music.

Is it nature or nurture? Gavin’s son was obviously an extremely bright child.  However, he was also very lucky to have parents who recognised his individual needs and guided and supported his intelligence and curiosity.  That enabled the boy to have the confidence and self-belief to realise his potential and grow into a generous and empathetic individual.

It makes me even more convinced that the time we dedicate to our children’s development matters. It is not about hovering over them, it is about reading together, talking, going to see exhibitions, museums, attending talks & theatre plays to understand and nurture each child’s personality, talents and dreams – generally, engaging with your children’s life and recognising them as people in their own right.

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