For years I’ve been slightly bothered by the recurring motif in scientific, long term studies, of twins reared apart. What is crucial is that these were twins who, by force of circumstances, were reared apart, did not meet until adulthood, many, if I remember correctly, brought together as part of this study.
In some cases, the wives the twins married -- remember these people didn’t know each other -- the wives had the same first name. In many cases the profession they chose -- fireman, dentist, policeman truck driver -- was the same. They gave their dogs the same name.
Such studies seemed to say to me that rearing, their physical environment, their parents, mattered almost not at all: these twins married wives with same first name, had dogs of the same breed.
After reading one study too many I thought, you might as well plump your kids in front of a TV or a game machine, give ‘em enough to eat, and just leave the room. We parents have precious little to do with who they marry, what name they give their pets.
I despaired, a little. Oh I knew I had some effect on them. In my case, my children startled me by remembering words I told them. I love to spit out quotations for all occasions. Over many years, my now grown up kids spit back to me a quote or two. I am startled & pleased that they remember. But some part of me continued to believe a parents influence is miniscule, almost insignificant when compared to the power of genes.
Thankfully, recent studies have proven me dead wrong, wrong headed, ill informed, pessimistic, and all too willing to give up my job -- which is to be the best parent I could possibly be.
In his book Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell talks of Termites. That’s what they were called. One thousand four hundred and seventy children who were labeled geniuses. Why? Because they were part of a chosen group with an average IQ of 140. Some had IQ’s in the 200s -- which is well above Einstein‘s IQ. They were all part of a many years long study conducted by a man called Terma (hence Termites). He was absolutely sure that such high IQ people would be the leaders of tomorrow. They would be shakers, movers, Empire Builders. Heads of state.
Nothing remotely like that happened. Not a single one became a mover and shaker. Many succeeded in a way that most “well off, well-to-do” middle class people succeed. But many Termites did not do well at all. What was the single dominating difference between those who succeeded and those who did not -- and remember everybody in the group had a high-high Q? Those who succeeded were those who were well supported -- encouraged by doting parents, a supportive environment. Those were the ones who did well. Those who, for one reason or other, lacked adequate support, did badly.
Support is a vague word. What is support? Well, in many cases the support came from parents who become involved in the lives of their children. Who encouraged their children to develop a talent. In addition, as the great black writer James Baldwin said, “Children never fail to imitate their parents.” How totally true in a very deep way. They may choose the same profession, wives whose first names are the same, but your support or lack of support will have a tremendous impact on what your child will or will not become.
Is it genes or environment? How dare they even try to in any way to separate the two, or dictate percentages. And yet I was guilty of doing just that. I was ready to plop them in front of a TV because I feared I had no impact on them.
I was too easily swayed, too easily convinced, by one study after another that said: it is in the genes. These people are born killers. If you study the brain of criminals you will find….
Not true, or half true. Of course half the equation is genetics -- your IQ, your slightly non-standard-issue brain, but the environment is the other half -- and the word environment means far more than just your parents. It is totally true that it takes a village to raise a child. It takes a caring country to properly take care of all of its inhabitants, in a very real sense, to supplement the very crucial role of parents.