What Makes Them Act That Way?
THE researchers felt that they had it all figured out. They had intently examined 200 children from their infancy through adolescence. They analyzed the parents, the home environment and the disposition of each child. Then they predicted which of these children would become happy adults. It seemed simple—a happy childhood under a pleasant family environment would produce a happy adult.
After waiting till the children became 30 years of age, they reinterviewed them. Two out of three of their predictions were wrong! There is no simple explanation as to why children act as they do. Yet several factors play a heavy role in determining how a child develops.
ARE THEY BORN THAT WAY?
Much of our physical appearance comes from our parents. But what about our behavior? Some authorities, such as Dr. A. H. Chapman, say: “The influence of heredity on a child’s personality development is much less than the impact of how he is reared. . . . The role of heredity is small.” Yet many parents strongly disagree. For instance, one mother asked about her child: “How is he able to imitate his father so perfectly—mean, defiant, spiteful—when he has never seen him? His father [left me] about two minutes after he got me pregnant.”
Recently, a team of scientists studied 15 sets of identical twins who were raised apart. They were “overwhelmed with the similarities of the participating pairs.” Since the twins were separated and raised in different environments, the scientists felt that heredity was a strong factor in the striking similarity of their behavior. As one of the scientists, David Lykken, concluded, the study shows “that vastly more of human behavior is genetically determined or influenced than we ever supposed.”
WHERE THE CHILD LIVES: “Tommy was also the unluckiest kid I ever knew,” began a social worker who for five years worked with juveniles. “He lived in a four-and-a-half-room cold-water flat with ten relatives. . . . At home Tommy faced the frustrations of a drunken father, an overcrowded dwelling . . . and the feeling of being utterly useless and unwanted.” The boy became a heroin addict at age 14 and died of an overdose three years later. Where he lived obviously had a negative effect on this youngster. Yet, another teenager, also living in a crowded city, turned out differently. His mother reports: “Though I can sense Jeff’s frustrations at times, still being around a number of people living close by who really cared for them has made both my children warm and friendly toward others.”
WHAT A CHILD WATCHES: In some countries, children reportedly may watch nearly 8,000 hours of TV before they start school. Such is bound to affect their view of life. “It teaches them that might makes right,” says psychologist Robert Liebert, one of the most respected observers of child behavior. “The lesson of most TV series is that the rich, the powerful and the conniving are the most successful.”
Additionally, much research is surfacing to show that extensive TV viewing hinders learning ability. As one authority reported: “When the television set is on, it freezes everybody . . . everything that used to go on between people—the games, the arguments, emotional scenes out of which personality and ability developed—is stopped. So when you turn on television, you turn off the process of making human beings human.”
‘Very important,’ say some doctors. Illustrating this is the experience of a boy whose mother said: “He is seven and loves school once he gets there. But I have to drag him out of bed, forcibly dress him, and spank him before he’ll eat. He throws up. We drive him to school.” Bemoaning the situation, she added: “Is there a better way to live?” However, it was discovered by a discerning doctor that the boy ate a lot of ice cream each night before going to bed. When the sweet snack was replaced by something more nutritious, his conduct in the morning dramatically improved. The observant doctor, Lendon H. Smith, in his book Improving Your Child’s Behavior Chemistry, stresses the need for proper nutrition, stating: “The successful functioning of any individual depends upon the full nourishment of the brain.”
“Junk food might eventually mean a ‘junk body,”’ is the report from Science World (February 22, 1979), which calls attention to the damage caused by increased consumption of sodas, candy bars, hot dogs, fruit pies, and so forth, especially by the young. At least one study has claimed that such a diet can cause “severe personality changes, generally [causing a person to become] highly aggressive and irritable.”
Allergies to food and other substances can also affect the way a child acts. One 11-year-old boy was described by his mother as being very moody, always unhappy, sullen and argumentative. A doctor discovered that the child had an allergy, and the parents reported that, with proper treatment, their boy was a “new person.” Similar results have been reported with some hyperactive children where there has been a careful control of their diet.
“I felt pity for my mother,” explained a 17-year-old boy. How did he show it? He had just sexually molested a girl at knife point. He did so, he said, to embarrass his father, who was openly cheating on his wife.
Instead of lashing out against the bad example of the parent, many children react in another way. The book Who’s Bringing Them Up? explains: “The toddler learns through the power of imitation . . . They absorb all the habits, feelings, tensions, joys, sorrows and behaviour of the adults they imitate. Children with violent parents will tend to copy violence, those with loving parents will tend to imitate that behaviour.”
There are many forces affecting a child’s life, but as one educational specialist put it: “Parents . . . have to realize they are still the most important force in their children’s lives.”
THE YOUTHFUL SEARCH FOR LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE
After only three months in the world a certain baby knew that something vital was missing. His persistent convulsions were the most violent protest he could make. The doctors could find nothing wrong. “But they learned that the mother hadn’t wanted the child, would never pick it up or cuddle it, just propped a bottle in the crib when feeding time came,” reported the book The Secret World of Kids. When nurses showed affection for the child, the convulsions stopped.
We are born searching for love. “This search for a feeling of love and attention is probably the most important explanation of your child’s behavior,” states child psychologist Bruce Narramore. Denied this love, a frustrated child may do almost anything—lie, steal, set fires, engage in drug abuse, immorality, and so forth. This desire for love, which grows as does the child, is also reflected in another way.
THE “BIGGEST PRESSURE” FOR YOUTH: ‘It’s not from teachers, not grades,’ confessed one teenager. “It’s pressure from other kids.” The desire to be liked by other youths dictates the behavior of many. A social worker who tried to reform members of vicious teen gangs reported: “Basically what these unfortunate brats are seeking is just what all of us want—to be somebody rather than nobody, to be recognized as a human being, to be appreciated and even loved.” (Emphasis added.) Desperately they try to find this in their peer group.
Just how powerful is this desire to be accepted by the group? A team of doctors decided to see. They invited a group of 10 teenagers into a room and held up before them a card containing several lines. “When we point to the longest line,” said the doctors, “please raise your hand.” However, unknown to one youngster, the other nine had previously been told to vote incorrectly.
When the moment to vote came, the teenager being studied looked in disbelief as all the others voted for the shorter line. “Somehow I missed the point, and I’d better do what everybody else is doing or they’ll laugh at me,” thought the youngster. So he carefully raised his hand with the rest! This was repeated several times. To prevent ‘being laughed at,’ he denied his own intelligence. “More than 75 percent of young people tested,” reported Dr. James Dobson, “behaved that same way!”
How many children have denied their own intelligence by engaging in immorality, drug abuse, drunkenness, and so forth, all because of the desire to be accepted by the group. However, another emotion also affects how children act.
“I ALWAYS FELT INFERIOR AROUND MY FRIENDS”: This is how a 15-year-old felt because she was overweight and had no boyfriend. She made plans to kill herself. Her life was saved by an alert suicide hot-line counselor. This girl is not alone in her feelings.
“Did you know that about 80 percent of the teenagers in our society don’t like the way they look? Eighty percent!” reports Dr. Dobson in his book Preparing for Adolescence. Yes, they feel too tall or too short, too fat or too thin! Others feel uneasy because of pimples on their face. Additionally, in an age when many parents put the emphasis on what a child achieves, not on what he or she is inside, often youngsters are disappointed with themselves and have little self-esteem. Many of them rebel, vandalize, act rough and tough, are always on the move, simply because they cannot live with themselves.
THE BLOOMING OF SEXUAL APPETITE: A tiny gland located at the base of the brain begins to give some sharp “commands” to teenagers. The pituitary, in effect, tells the body, ‘Get moving, get prepared for parenthood!’ The endocrine secretions it sends out cause the sexual organs to mature. But these hormones do far more.
“The adolescent age has . . . endocrine gland changes which organically stimulate young people to feel their oats. They are literally kicked around by their endocrine secretions, which finally have to strike a new balance,” states The Story of Human Emotions, by G. M. Lott, M.D. Yes, these hormones ‘literally kick around’ the emotions of teenagers. During this period of time a teenager will begin to assert his independence. He will probably have an increased interest in someone of the opposite sex.
The Bible describes this period as the “bloom of youth” and recommends marriage after one is “past” this period. (1 Cor. 7:36) The original Greek word used (hyperakmos) literally refers to being beyond the ‘highest point of anything, the full bloom of a flower.’ During puberty a youngster’s sexual appetite first blooms or becomes strong. The average age when a girl has her first menstruation has lowered from 16 a hundred years ago to 12 now. This adds to the problem, since some, barely in their teens, are now pushed into situations that they are not able to handle.
When teenagers allow this sexual appetite to dominate them, the results are often tragic—venereal disease, unwanted pregnancies, abortion and a lack of self-respect. There is a need to control such desires. (Col. 3:5) One college student, who reflected on this period in his life, acknowledged: ‘I first had intercourse with my girl friend when we were fifteen. We’d done everything but, and then one night she asked if we could go all the way. A few days later we broke up. It was the most painful time in my life. I was depressed and moody and nervous. I felt like a failure.’
Obviously, there are many factors that cause children to act as they do. Each child is different, so not all will react in the same way to the identical influence. Sadly, the actions of some will leave emotional scars that will last a lifetime. What can parents do to help them to avoid such hurt? Also, is there anything else that can help to assure a good outcome?
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A bad environment can breed criminal actions—but not always
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Too much TV can hinder learning ability, and some shows can teach wrong conduct
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A steady diet of junk food can cause aggressive behavior
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Children with loving parents will tend to imitate their behavior
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The desire to be liked by other youths dictates the behavior of many