The influence of genes on parenting is not solely a top-down process from parent to child.

The amount of studies focusing on genes in relation to education is getting really large. Quite often it’s more a case of confirming things we already knew. Do check this earlier post. This new study sheds light on a misconception that I didn’t have actually: that parenting is solely a top-down process from parent to child. While parents certainly seem to shape child behavior, parenting also is influenced by the child’s behavior. When being put like this, it’s something a lot of parents will know: parenting is both a cause and a consequence of child behavior.

Let’s face it, parents grow in their role of being a parent based also on the interactions with their child or children.

From the press release:

While environmental factors do play a role in parenting, so do a person’s genes, said S. Alexandra Burt, associate professor of psychology and co-author of a study led by doctoral student Ashlea M. Klahr.

“The way we parent is not solely a function of the way we were parented as children,” Burt said. “There also appears to be genetic influences on parenting.”

Klahr and Burt conducted a statistical analysis of 56 scientific studies from around the world on the origins of parenting behavior, including some of their own. The comprehensive analysis, involving more than 20,000 families from Australia to Japan to the United States, found that genetic influences in the parents account for 23 percent to 40 percent of parental warmth, control and negativity towards their children.

“What’s still not clear, however, is whether genes directly influence parenting or do so indirectly, through parent personality for example,” Klahr said.

The study sheds light on another misconception: that parenting is solely a top-down process from parent to child. While parents certainly seem to shape child behavior, parenting also is influenced by the child’s behavior — in other words, parenting is both a cause and a consequence of child behavior.

“One of the most consistent and striking findings to emerge from this study was the important role that children’s characteristics play in shaping all aspects of parenting,” the authors write.

Ultimately, parenting styles stem from many factors.

“Parents have their own experiences when they were children, their own personalities, their own genes. On top of that, they are also responding to their child’s behaviors and stage of development,” Burt said. “Basically, there are a lot of influences happening simultaneously. Long story short, though, we need to be sensitive to the fact that this is a two-way process between parent and child that is both environmental and genetic.”

Abstract of the research:

Decades of research have indicated the foundational importance of parenting to offspring outcomes during childhood and beyond. Unearthing the specific origins of parenting is therefore a critically important research objective. Extant research on this topic has suggested that parenting behaviors are multidetermined (Belsky, 1984) and are associated with a wide range of contextual and familial characteristics (e.g., ethnicity, community, family financial stress), as well as characteristics of the parents (e.g., personality) and their children (e.g., temperament). Behavioral genetic studies have further indicated that parenting behaviors are in fact heritable—that is, individual differences in parenting are at least partially a function of genetic differences between persons. Critically, however, the estimates of these genetic influences have varied dramatically across studies. It is also unclear how factors such as parent gender, child age, and methodological considerations may impact genetic influences on parenting behavior. In the current set of meta-analyses, we sought to quantitatively synthesize twin and adoption studies (n = 56) examining the etiology of parenting behavior, with the goal of more definitively cataloguing genetic and environmental effects on parenting. Results reveal significant effects of parental genetic makeup on parental behavior, but also highlight the genetic makeup of the child as a particularly prominent source of genetic transmission (via evocative gene–environment correlation). Environmental contributions to parenting also emerged as important, including both shared and nonshared environmental effects. Theoretical implications of these findings are discussed.

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