Educators, sociologist and psychologists have debated this topic for decades with varying emphasis. Most parents today are convinced that if they provide as many opportunities as possible for the child, they have done their duty and their children are destined to become "success stories." But this may not be as simple as it seems.
Schools in Malaysia for example, experience time and time again the extraordinary performance from children who come from poor, neglected and even broken homes. This proves that so much depends on a combination of factors both in the heritage and the environment in motivating and enabling children to be proficient in what they do and excel in what they undertake.
As parents, we need to dismantle our mindsets on what we may think are advantages or opportunities. A grand home with the latest computers, or even an up-to-date library does not guarantee the making of a scholar or a genius.
Fractured relationships in a home may act as a motivation for one child and completely discourage another. Similarly, good health and early training may make one child into an athlete but may prove futile with another.
|"Given this background, what kind of kid do you think he is today--a druggie? A foul-mouthed delinquent? A lazy, insolent bum?"|
Enthusiastic parents can, with the best of intentions overload and completely exasperate the child with options for which he has no inclination or talent.
Parents need to keep their ears close to the ground to hear what children are saying and they need to have their eyes up above recognizing that the Creator has given each child a special gift.
To provide space, encourage, and cultivate that gift is really the way to success but too often parents have their own agendas for the child's life and make a mess with their well-intended strategies to achieve their own ends in the life of their child.
We need to take our cue from a certain country in which graduate parents were encouraged to have more children as it was assumed that they would produce more intelligent human beings. But it has never been that way. A humble clerk and a housewife have produced a string of brilliant children. How does one account for this?
Talents and temperaments often seem to be inherited but given a different environment and circumstances; where the emotional climate is conducive to the flourishing of latent talent, a child can develop exceptional ability and character. Let us be sensitive to their leanings and help them to develop the uniqueness that is theirs.
Tell me why some kids with every advantage and opportunity seem to turn out bad, while others raised in terrible homes become pillars in the community. I know one young man who grew up in squalid circumstances, yet he is such a fine person today. How did his parents manage to raise such a responsible son when they didn't even seem to care?
That illustrates just the point I have been trying to make. Neither heredity nor environment will account for all human behaviour. There is something else there--something from within--that also operates to make us who we are. Some behaviour is caused, and some plainly isn't.
Several years ago, for example, I had dinner with two parents who had unofficially "adopted" a thirteen-year-old boy. This youngster followed their son home one afternoon and asked if he could spend the night. As it turned out, he stayed with them for almost a week without so much as a phone call coming from his mother.
It was later learned that she works sixteen hours a day and has no interest in her son. Her alcoholic husband divorced her several years ago and left town without a trace. The boy had been abused, unloved, and ignored through much of his life.
Given this background, what kind of kid do you think he is today--a druggie? A foul-mouthed delinquent? A lazy, insolent bum? No. He is polite to adults; he is a hard worker; he makes good grades in school and enjoys helping around the house. This boy is like a lost puppy who desperately wants a good home. He begged the family to adopt him officially so he could have a real father and a loving mother. His own mum couldn't care less.
How could this teenager be so well disciplined and polished despite his lack of training? I don't know. It is simply within him. He reminds me of my wonderful friend David Hernandez.
David and his parents came to America illegally from Mexico more than fifty years ago and nearly starved to death before they found work. They eventually survived by helping to harvest the potato crop throughout the state of California.
During this era, David lived under trees or in the open fields. His father made a stove out of an oil drum half-filled with dirt. The open camp fire was the centrepiece of their home.
David never had a roof over his head until his parents finally moved into an abandoned chicken coop. His mother covered the boarded walls with cheap wallpaper, and David thought they were living in luxury. Then one day, the city of San Jose condemned the area, and David's "house" was torn down. He couldn't understand why the community would destroy so fine a place.
Given this beginning, how can we explain the man that David Hernandez became? He graduated near the top of his class in high school and was granted a scholarship to college. Again, he earned high marks and four years later entered Loma Linda University School of Medicine.
Once more, he scored in the top 10 percent of this class and continued in a residency in obstetrics and gynecology. Eventually, he served as a professor of OB-GYN at both Loma Linda University and the University of Southern California medical schools. Then, at the peak of his career, his life began to unravel.
I'll never forget the day Dr. Hernandez called me on the telephone. He had just been released from the hospital following a battery of laboratory tests. The diagnosis? Sclerosing cholangitis, a liver disorder that was invariably fatal at that time. We lost this fine husband, father, and friend six years later at the age of forty-three. I loved him like a brother, and I still miss him today.
Again, I ask, how could such discipline and genius come from these infertile circumstances? Who would have thought that this deprived Mexican boy sitting out there in the dirt would someday become one of the most loved and respected surgeons of his era? Where did the motivation originate?
From what bubbling spring did his ambition and thirst for knowledge flow? He had no books, took no educational trips, knew no scholars. Yet he reached for the sky. Why did it happen to David Hernandez and not the youngster with every advantage and opportunity?
Why have so many children of prominent and loving parents grown up in ideal circumstances only to reject it all for the streets of Atlanta, San Francisco, or New York?
Good answers are simply not available. Some kids seem born to make it and others are determined to fail. Someone reminded me recently that the same boiling water that softens the carrot also hardens the egg. Likewise, some individuals react positively to certain circumstances and others negatively. We don't know why.
Two things are clear to me from this understanding. First, parents have been far too quick to take the credit or blame for the way their children turn out. Those with bright young superstars stick out their chests and say, "Look what we accomplished."
Those with twisted and irresponsible kids wonder, "Where did we go wrong?" Well, neither is entirely accurate. No one would deny that parents play an important role in the development and training of their children. But they are only part of the formula from which a young adult is assembled.
Second, behavioural scientists have been far too simplistic in their explanation of human behaviour. We are more than the aggregate of our experiences. We are more than the quality of our nutrition. We are more than our genetic heritage.
We are more than our biochemistry. And certainly, we are more than our parents' influence. We are unique individuals, capable of independent and rational thought that is not attributable to any source. That is what makes the task of parenting so challenging and rewarding. Just when you think you have your kids figured out, you had better brace yourself! Something new is coming your way.
This article was written by Focus on the Family Malaysia and the Questions and Answers are extracted from "Complete Family and Marriage Home Reference Guide" by Dr. James Dobson with permission.
Focus on the Family 90-second commentaries is aired over TRAXX FM at 9.30 a.m. Monday to Friday.