In Which A Child’s Personality Traits Are Considered

At some point after Ander’s Behring Breivik’s terrorist attacks in Norway, I thought of his parents and what they must be going through. Other than the fact that his father was a diplomat, I have no idea what kind of parents they were or what kind of values they instilled in him. I do know that he and his father are estranged but for what reason, I don’t know. Did they raise him with hateful views? Or were they kindly parents who did all they could but at the cusp of his own adulthood, they knew that he would have to be responsible for the formation of his own personality?

It’s something I think about a lot, now that I have a person of my own to raise. I often see young people behaving horribly and wonder what their parents must be like. So, to make sure I did my job as a parent, I told my son, "James, you’re not allowed to grow up to be a terrorist." I’ll remind him again in a few years, just to be sure.

On a slightly lighter note, I wonder what a parent can actually do to shape the personality traits of their children. How much is DNA and how much is environment and how much is just plain personal choice? I like to think my parents were decent folk who did their best but it didn’t stop me from becoming a self-absorbed asshole for most of my teens and early twenties.

So I teach my child to be kind and tolerant but will he make the choice to become hard and hateful? Sure, he’s full of hugs and kisses now but what happens in ten years when he’s about to turn 13?

I think I can deal with just about any phase a kid can go through (kind of hoping for Goth) but I won’t know what to do with a kid who turns out to be an asshole.

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2 thoughts on “In Which A Child’s Personality Traits Are Considered

  1. It’s funny that I thought more about that more when our older child was about the same as your child is now. Not that I don’t think about whether they’ll turn out to be good, but I think once they are able to speak and express more complex thoughts, you have a better feel about whether they are headed in the right direction. Things come up that make you say, ‘Wait a minute. Don’t act that way. Be a good kid.” but in general they seem like they’ll be OK.

    That said, I still look at teenage girls and young women in public and wonder, is my kid going to be like THAT? Only time will tell and as open I am about most teenage prototypes, they’re likely to become one that I can’t really relate to (like a preppy sorority girl or death metal chick).

    My take has always been that genetic vs. environment hovers at about 50/50. Since you don’t have control over the genetic and part of the environment, your best is to instill as much as you can before they are released out to the wild. Some traumatic experience could happen that pulls them in a different direction,but maybe what you teach them keeps them on the straight and narrow.

    • We had a moment a few weeks ago when he was throwing pebbles at the neighbour’s cat. He can’t throw, really, but he likes to toss pebbles in the water so I guess he thought it would be equally fun to toss pebbles at a cat. He wasn’t doing it to be mean, he just thought it was fun. That got him the naughty step and explanation that cats (and people) don’t like to have rocks thrown at them. He hasn’t done it since.

      I’m big on empathy, probably because I was so bad at it when I was younger. I think if you can get a handle on how your actions can affect yourself and others around you, then you’re basically on the way to being a good person. But kids aren’t wired that way, it has to be taught early and often.

      I don’t know what kind of teenage prototype he’s going to be. He very much the stereotype of a boy: he’s into sports, trucks, and trains. All of these are things I had no real passion for as a child. I wouldn’t know how to teach him to be a jock. Baseball, maybe, but not hockey. Still keeping my fingers crossed for a nerdy little bookworm. That I can do.

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