I was sat watching my daughter the other day, I could watch her all day, her and back to back episodes of House – I know I am about 10 years late too to that party but I digress. I was watching my tiny 20 month old giving her dad some attitude followed by a typical toddler strop, where she hits the deck and hides her head. I know this isn’t uncommon in little ones. They can’t express themselves, they act out, they don’t yet know appropriate behaviour, I get that, but it did get me wondering about behaviour. See sometimes she does things (good and bad) I have never taught her, never done in front of her and that to my knowledge she has never seen, such as said strop and I wonder where this comes from? Sometimes she is funny, she does silly things that make me actual LOL and it seems as though she is doing it because she knows it’s funny. So I wonder, how does she know how to do these things. Is it in her nature to have a sense of humour? Is she going to be funny like her dad? Or has her dads playful, teasing ways already started to influence who she is. Is she being sub consciously nurtured to be this way?
With that in mind I thought about the reverse of this. Above I was talking about my daughters funny, naughty but ultimately innocent ways. But actually there is a much darker side to my pondering. A deeper undercurrent that really perplexes and scares me in equal measure. That is the Nature vs Nurture debate in all its ugliness. There have been some pretty horrific news story’s of late, so much so it’s stayed with me and left me stewing over it. I am talking about the two teenagers who were convicted of brutally killing Angela Wrightson. They were 13 and 14. Shockingly they are not the only teenagers to make the headlines for such horrific crimes. We have heard about 15-year-old Will Cornick who fatally stabbed his teacher, 14-year-old Daniel Batlam who was found guilty of killing his mother with a hammer and then setting the house alight and we are all painfully aware of the story of Jamie Bulger – these are just a select few. How is it such young minds can be guilty of such atrocious criminality? Were they born this way? Can anyone be born this way? Or were they a product of an incomprehensible youth devoid of love and guidance? Did their nurturing (or lack thereof) through childhood have such a profound effect on them it caused or contributed toward their crimes?
When researching this post I found that the QC defending the older girl in the trial of the case of Angela Wrightson, said that she came from a ‘terrible, violent and unstable upbringing’. In the case of Jamie Bulger the parents, or rather mothers, of Jon Venables and Robert Thompson (the absent father somehow gets a pass on this one) were vilified as giving such dysfunctional upbringings that the judge felt it necessary to bring it to the forefront of the publics attention so that child social care would be put under the microscope.
But that doesn’t explain the case of Will Cornick, or that of Daniel Bartlem. Both boys were considered ‘intelligent’, Cornick’s parents were described as ‘ decent’ and ‘responsible’ people who aided the police with their investigations. Bartlem was not considered to be from a dysfunction background either, rather he was said to have had a privileged upbringing and enjoyed private education. Yet, both committed horrific and violent murders. Was such violence just in their nature?
Growing up I always thought we were born a blank canvas and we are taught the rights and wrongs of the world by those around us. I have since come to accept that actually this may be wrong. For my part, I know two people very close to me, who despite their genetic nature being different had exactly the same loving, decent, wholesome upbringing that would put your stereotypical ‘soccer mom‘ to shame. Despite this identical nurturing over the years they are incredibly different people, with different values, different moral compass and strength of character. Don’t get me wrong one isn’t a murderer (or any kind of criminal for that matter) but there is a notable difference in who they have become. Did nature win here too?
For my part, I am not sure we’ll ever really know the answer and individuality of character must come into it somewhere. But I do think people’s nature has a lot to answer for. I fear it can pull the strings behind many actions. Dare I say that there may even be those whose nature will always have the final say and dictate who they are? But I do not wish to accept (perhaps incorrectly, or perhaps naively) that nurture cannot influence a person. I want to believe that, actually, we can teach and nurture a person to be good and kind, strong and respectful. Or at least better, kinder, stronger and more respectful than they might have been. As a parent I feel I have to believe this, the alternative scares me. I have to believe that my constant nagging to my children, to eat with cutlery, to say thank you, to share, to not push is all having an impact on them. I want to believe that nurture CAN influence an individual.
What do you think? Nature or nurture? Or perhaps a bit of both?