Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)
On my web site (www.rosemond.com) a debate recently simmered, and occasionally raged, over the notion that some parents are just downright lucky-meaning chance, and chance alone, determines whether one is blessed with an "easy" child or cursed with a difficult one. This parenting slot machine supposedly pays some parents and cheats others. It's interesting to note that with few exceptions, parents whose children are well-behaved tend to put no stock in this theory. They believe their children are well-behaved because they discipline their children properly. Parents who are looking for an excuse believe in chance. They believe their children carried bad baggage of some sort-it goes by such names as genes, biochemistry, and personality-with them into the world. When these kids, at whatever age, unpack this baggage, demons are loosed. Thus, the parents in question are victims of forces beyond mortal control.
Naturally, people have asked what I think about all this. With some hesitance, I throw my lot in with the School of No Such Luck. The hesitance has to do with the fact that I absolutely know some children are initially easy and some are initially difficult. Some, as infants, are calm and cheerful. Others come into the world raging, bristling for a fight. But the hesitance ends there, for I've also seen "easy" become "difficult" by early childhood and vice versa.
Over the years, I've noticed that by the time a child is of school age, if he is well behaved he also has parents who obviously know how to discipline. These parents give instructions properly, they do not, as a rule, discuss their decisions, and they are consistent when it comes to punishing misbehavior. Oppositely, those children who are generally ill-behaved always have parents who do not seem to grasp the basics of effective discipline. They plead with and nag at their children to obey, explain themselves ad infinitum/ad nauseam, and threaten ten or more times for each time they actually punish. This is hardly coincidence; therefore, it is anything but evidence of "luck."
Researchers have failed to find any behavioral trait that is fixed, permanent, immutable. Children who are initially shy can learn to be outgoing. Children who lack self-confidence can learn to take chances. Defiant children grow up to be good citizens, and compliant, responsible children sometimes grow up to be criminals. And so on. Behavioral genetics has been, thus far, a bust.
The nature-nurture debate is, I think, a simplistic dualism. If by nature we mean a child's genetic compliment, there is scant evidence that genes determine behavior. Notwithstanding the lack of proof, the notion is undoubtedly comforting to parents of rowdy, ill-mannered children. On the other hand, if by nature we are referring to the spiritual nature all humans share, then there is no doubt in my mind but that human nature is forceful and fraught with nefarious inclinations.
Someone once remarked to me that training children is a lot like training dogs. I had to chuckle, for there is no comparison. A dog comes into the world wanting to please, and a child comes into the world wanting to be pleased. A dog comes into the world wanting to obey, and a child comes into the world wanting to be obeyed.
Then there's God's will-the fact that each and every one of us plays a role in The Master Plan-and free will, choice. Biological nature, human nature, and nurture (parenting) are nothing when compared with the power of choice that the child obtains during his/her second year of life. One choice on the part of a child can nullify years of good upbringing. One choice can free the child from the restraints of his human nature or plunge the child headlong into the depravity of it. One choice can make a mockery of biogenetic theories.
None of this has anything in common with rolling dice.