Nature verse Nurture?
In academia, we have this conversation all of the time. Wayward teenagers– are they influenced to act out by their friends and/or home life, or is it their fundamental cognitive wiring?
I would have to say it is a combination of the two ideas. I use my own daughter as proof.
A few years ago, Tom and I decided that Carson was old enough for some responsibility. She was in third grade. We decided that it would be her job to walk Linus to the stop sign and back every day after school. When we announced that we thought she was old enough and mature enough to take on this new job, she was elated. Well, at least until she realized that she had to take bags with her and pick up his poop from the neighbors’ lawns. Her new responsibility quickly turned into a chore. Needlesstosay, she did not want to let us down.
A few weeks went by and I noticed that the walks were taking less and less time. I didn’t think much of it at first. I thought about them running and romping together, a girl and her dog. After a few days, however, I noticed she was bringing back the bags and putting them back under the sink. I knew that Linus pooped like clockwork. I was suddenly skeptical. I decided to spy on her.
The next day, she bounded into the kitchen happily. Linus was already at the side door wagging his tail. She grabbed the bags, put the leash on the dog, and announced, “I’m going to walk Linus. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” I was busying myself in the livingroom as not to cause suspicion.
“Okay, Honey. Have fun.” I used the sweetest, sing-songy mom voice I could muster.
I heard the side door close and I called to Tom to come upstairs from the basement. I needed a partner in crime, a co-conspirator willing to spy with me. I watched out of the kitchen window; he watched her from the living room. We both stood far enough from the windows so that she could not see us, just in case she looked back, which she did do, about five houses away. Linus peed, and then she just stood there holding his chain.
“What is she doing?” I asked Tom.
“I don’t know, but I don’t think she walks him to the stop sign every day, ” he said.
We were still watching. She was still standing. Linus, out of boredom I presume, sat down. After what she felt was an acceptable allotment of time, she pulled on his leash. Linus stood up, and they walked home. Neither Tom or I were angry, per se, but we were upset that she left the house every day and said she was walking Linus to the Stop sign when clearly, she was not.
Before she walked into the house, I went into the livingroom. Tom and I knew we were going to have to carry on the duties of parents, although neither one of us was ever very good at it. Half the time, when I started yelling at one of the kids for this or that, I usually ended up bursting into laughter because whatever I was yelling about seemed so arbitrary and yelling seemed absurd. The side door opened and she walked in the house.
“Carson, can you come into the living room?” Tom said. “Sure, Dad. Let me just unhook Linus.” Her voice was so sincere, she had no idea what she was in for.
Tom had positioned himself at the end of the couch, and he folded his arms across his chest. He looked menacing. I just kind of stood in the middle of the room. I needed to be positioned so that if I was going to laugh, I could feign anger, and walk into the bathroom, shut the door, and howl to my heart’s content.
When she turned the corner, immediately, she slowed in her tracks. She could tell by the way were waiting that we had something to say, and I’m sure in her nine-year-old mind, we looked scary. “How was your walk?” Tom asked curtly.
For a split second, her eyes widened. “Fine.” She dragged out the word and said it like a question; her voice raised at the end. She knew she was caught.
Tom was not budging. His face was stone cold. I felt a chill go up my spine. He’s good at this disciplining thing, I thought. He spoke. “Linus does love when you walk him to the stop sign.”
That was all that he had to say. She started to cry. No. She started to sob, uncontrollable shoulder shaking sobs.
“Why are you crying,” I asked. It took everything in my power not to walk over and envelop her in my arms.
“I,” more tears.
“Yes, Carson,” Tom said. His voice still stern. “You…?”
“I haven’t been going to the stop sign and back. I’m a terrible person,” she said. She was looking at us and it seemed that what she was saying actually hurt.
“You are not a terrible person, Honey,” I said. I moved to her to rub her back and calm her down. “But you have been lying to Mommy and Daddy. You told us you were walking him to the stop sign, and you lied.”
“I know. I know.” She cried, and we let her. Sometimes, guilty feelings are the best punishment. I was feeling satisfied with her response, but then she pulled away from me, wiped her face and said, “I should be punished.”
I was flabbergasted. What child says she should be punished?
“Yes, you probably should,” Tom agreed. Ugh, I thought. Isn’t the guilt punishment enough? We had never actually punished her before, and I did not exactly know what to do. Lucky for me, I didn’t have to figure it out.
“I think I should have to go to bed every night at 8:00 for a whole week,” she announced.
Really? You are punishing yourself? Her bedtime was between 9:00 and 9:30, so this truly was a punishment.
“What do you think of that?” Tom asked me. To be honest, I thought it sucked. I didn’t want to punish her at all, but she had to learn not to lie.
“Yes, I think that is fair,” I said. By this point we had moved to the couch and she was sitting on my lap. I gently grabbed her chin so we were looking into each other’s eyes. “However, Carson, I need to know that you know what you did wrong. Why are you getting punished?”
Tears welled in her eyes once again. “I lied to you and Daddy.” She knew. She knew it wasn’t the actual act of standing in the neighbor’s yard for five minutes that made us angry. It was the fact that she lied. I gave her a big squeeze. Tom stood up and came over to us and he hugged her, too. We wanted her to know that this minor indiscretion did not change the fact that we loved her dearly.
For an entire week, at 8:00 on the dot, Carson would find me wherever I was in the house. “It is time for me to go to bed, Mom.” She carried out her own punishment with dignity, grace, and decorum.
Thus, we are nurturing her to be a good person who does not lie. Naturally, she is a good person who does not want to disappoint or do wrong. Nature vs Nurture? I say both!