After another eventful week of service while working with today’s youth, I was approached by a parent who was concerned about his stepson’s sudden digression into serious anti-social behavior in school and possible criminal acts.
The parents are puzzled at this behavior due to the fact that they are very active and involved parents who until now have had little or no problems with the teen, who is in high school and on the verge of expulsion.
Child development 101: This sudden shift in attitude and behavior is quite common when the child hits the turbulent teens.
However, a question has been raised by some parents concerning their child’s genetic makeup. I’ve worked with a troubled young man whose biological father had a long history of crime, yet he has had no contact with his father since he was an infant. His home environment showed no alarming indications that would lead him to a life of crime or violence, yet he would eventually spend time incarcerated as a juvenile.
The question again was raised: What is the main factor in determining a person development? Is it nature or nurture?
Is the genetic predisposition or is it simply the conditions of the environment?
As in my case, some conditions are obviously unhealthy for the proper development of a child. I recall walking to school in the morning through a gauntlet of addicts. There were crackheads on one side of the street and winos on the other side. Around the same time, I woke up one morning to find a strange crackhead, who had broken into our home, cooking an omelet on the stove.
Some would say that being raised in an environment with conditions like that would destine a child for serious trouble. Other than me being a little paranoid around people who drink, I think I managed to escape such an environment with no real damage.
This is also evidence to the fact that regardless of the environment – whether abundantly filled with love and affection, or near tragically unstable – there are vastly different effects on individuals. Therefore, it is darned near impossible to precisely predict how the way a child is raised will affect his development as an adult. I’ve worked with young people from well-nurtured, stable and comfortable living environments with a two-parent household and no addictions, neglect or abuse who became teens who self-destructed their lives and the lives of others before they reached adulthood.
And for many others, including the tragic and triumphant story of Dave Peltzers’ ”A Child Called It,” some individuals have the fortitude to not only survive an extremely brutal and tragic childhood, but excel and succeed because of it.
This, however, is a fundamental flaw according to many family therapists, that often results in emotional instability and social deficiency. Being raised without traditional love and affection may not be as detrimental to one child’s development, yet it could have a severely damaging effect on another child.
This illustration was shared with me years ago by a professor of Sociology: Raising a child is like baking a cake. You can bake a good cake and choose to put any type of icing for additional sweetness or artistic appearance, but if you forget a key ingredient in the recipe, no matter how good the cake looks on the outside or how sweet the icing is, on the inside something is going to be noticeably wrong with that cake.
The final analysis is that you may have no control of the natural or genetics of a child. However, you can nurture that child with fruitful elements that could help them grow into a responsible adult.
Deon Price is a freelance writer and youth life skills coach who lives in Fairfield. He can be reached at Deondprice@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/youthgeneration.