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Bad Children Or Bad Parents: Parenting Does Make a Difference

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When you think back to when you were a child, what do you think influenced the person you are today? Many people believe that their parents and environment had a lot to do with the person they are today, and there are others that believe in science and genetics. When we think about what really influenced our personality and why we are who we are today, the nature vs nurture debate come to mind. The nature versus nurture debate is one of the oldest philosophical issues within psychology. The nature vs. nurture debate is the scientific, cultural, and philosophical debate about whether our culture, behavior, and personality are caused primarily by nature or nurture (Nature vs Nurture debate, 2018). We have read about it everywhere especially on philosophy and psychology classes. What is it exactly about? Let’s start with nature, it refers to our genes and those hereditary factors that may have influenced who we are. Then we have nurture, which refers to all those environmental factors that may have impact who we are, this includes our early childhood experiences, especially how we were raised, our parents, our social relationships, and the culture around us.

Many parents wonder why their kid ended up loving science, was it because of genetics or because the kid was sent to science summer camp every year? Many parents have a kid with anxiety and wonder why their kid developed anxiety at such a young age. Maybe, the parent was an anxious person and passed the anxiety to the kid. The big question here is, how much influence do parents have? The answer would be a lot. There have been different research that has proven that parenting quality influences children’s mental health and behavior. There is no doubt that genes play a role in whether the child is energetic or calm, but the parenting style plays the biggest role in the child’s behavior and development. According to a study from Washington University School of Medicine, children that have maternal support in early childhood, have brains with a larger hippocampus. The hippocampus is an important region of the brain because is the key for learning, response to stress and memory. The researchers did a longitudinal study on depressed and healthy preschool children. The 92 children who participated in that longitudinal study underwent neuroimaging. The results revealed that the children who were nurtured more had a hippocampus almost 10 percent larger than children that had mothers that were not as nurturing as the others. During an interview from the Washington University, Luby, one of the authors of the study mentioned that “This study, to my knowledge, is the first that actually shows an anatomical change in the brain, which really provides validation for the very large body of early childhood development literature that had been highlighting the importance of early parenting and nurturing. Having a hippocampus that’s almost 10 percent larger just provides concrete evidence of nurturing’s powerful effect.” (Luby, 2012). This study shows evidence that nurturing parents are important elements for a child’s healthy development.

From this study, we can conclude that parenting can affect intelligence and a child’s education. The growth of a children’s brain is affected by a parent’s nurture. A researcher named Murray A. Straus investigated the topic of spanking children when misbehaving. He demonstrated in his study, that spanking lead to lower IQ on children. In a 2012 interview with the Globe, Dr. Straus said that among his findings was that “spanking is a traumatic experience that can cause small losses in the brain’s gray matter, causing behavioral changes.” (Straus, 2012). Following the topic about spanking, spanking may be less serious, but many parents use physical punishment to correct undesired behaviors. Does physical punishment really work to control a child’s behavior? Not really. If a child is parented with violence, the child may develop severe trauma. Physical abuse throughout a child’s life leads to a child’s brain overwhelmed with stress. Research has found that this leads to faulty stress response systems that contribute to violence toward others, hypervigilance, and revictimization. As I mentioned before, about nurturing mothers and larger hippocampus, trauma stunts the growth of the child’s brain and can lead to violent behaviors and mental health problems like difficulty controlling aggression in a healthy manner. Studies have shown that abused children suffer from medical problems, cognitive deficits, behavioral problems, and socioemotional deficits (Barnett, Miller-Perrin, & Perrin, 1997). Aggressive behavior has a relationship with parenting styles.  The authoritarian parenting style is positively correlated with adolescents’ aggression and authoritative parenting style is negatively correlated with adolescent’s aggression. Mother’s indulgent parenting is negatively correlated to adolescent’s aggression (Azimi, Vaziri, & Kashani, 2012).

However, aggressive behavior is not the only negative effect of bad parenting. Have you heard the saying “anxious parents create anxious children”? Studies have shown that there is a correlation between parenting and childhood anxiety. Emotional warmth and control are two main broad dimensions that are systematically examined. Parenting styles characterized by low warmth and high control are associated with higher levels of childhood anxiety problems (Siquelend & Kendall, 1996). The absence of insufficient warmth and affection, as well as elevated levels of uncertainty and criticism directed towards the child, can heighten anxiety in children. The development of perfectionism is related to harsh parenting style too. Children with authoritarian parents sooner or later internalize their parents’ criticism and may develop their own harsh self-criticism. It is also possible that regardless of actual parenting styles, perfectionists report having experienced their parents as harsh and authoritarian (Kawamura, Frost, & Harmatz, 2002).

In addition, if a parent constantly tells their child, how many problems they cause, the child will most likely conclude that everyone, would be better off without him. This could lead to self-destructive behavior, such as addiction. The child could begin to purposely put himself in dangerous situations because he may believe he is of no value. There was a study done in Hong Kong, China with Chinese children to examine if there was a relationship between suicide ideation in children with different parenting styles, including authoritative and authoritarian styles. They found that suicide ideation is associated with authoritarian parenting styles, less parental warmth, higher maternal overprotectiveness, more negative child-rearing practices, and more negative family climate (Lai & Mcbride, 2001). The results were consistent with previous findings that lack of parental warmth and support are related to a wide range of psychological problems such as lack of self-esteem, depression, and suicidal behavior (Dukes & Lorch, 1989).

To support more of the studies above, lack of parental warmth also may affect a child’s moral development, including empathy and moral sensitivity to others. We all know the concept that children must be corrected so that they do not grow up to be immoral individuals. Studies have found that kind, loving, and responsive parenting leads to emotional maturity and empathetic morality. When parents pay attention to what their children say or do and respond to moral violations by explaining why they are wrong, instead of not saying anything children tend to be directed to the consequences of the act for others’ rights or welfare, and they can better understand the act’s moral relevance (Dahl & Campos, 2013). Parents that are distant, and critical can lead to children who become distant, and critical adults. If a child does or says something that is not correct or appropriate and the child is disciplined in a harsh way, it communicates that the act is wrong, but not the most important question which is “why is wrong”. Harsh discipline techniques may not facilitate mature moral understanding, as assessed using criterion judgments, because the rationale for the rule or prohibition is not clearly conveyed to the child (Laible & Thompson, 2002). When children receive harsh or coercive discipline, it does not help in the development of moral understanding. This kind of punishment may lead children to focus more on trying to avoid their parent’s punishment than on understanding why what they did was wrong. The way a child is disciplined does matter for their moral development.

In conclusion, there is enough evidence to support that parenting quality influences children’s mental health and behavior. In the studies mentioned throughout this paper, the parenting styles that always stood out due to affecting child’s development, behavior and mental health were authoritarian and neglectful parenting. Parents affect their children’s behavior and influence who they become as adults. According to the American Psychological Association, parenting practices around the world share three major goals: ensuring children’s health and safety, preparing children for life as productive adults, and transmitting cultural values (APA, 2018). So how much influence do parents have? The answer would still be a lot. Parents are the single greatest influence on children and in order to raise better children that become better adults, we need to start at home.


  1. (APA) American Psychological Association, (2018). Parenting. Retrieved from:
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  9. Laible, D. J., & Thompson, R. A. (2002). Mother-child conflict in the toddler years: Lessons in emotion, morality, and relationships. Child Development, 73, 1187–1203. .00466
  10. Luby, J. L., Barch, D. M., Belden, A., Gaffrey, M. S, Tillman, R., Babb, C., Nishino, T., Suzuki, H., Botteron, K. N. (2012). Maternal support in early childhood predicts larger hippocampal volumes at school age. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition. Retrieved from
  11. McLeod, B. D., Wood, J. J., & Weisz, J. R. (2007). Examining the association between parenting and childhood anxiety: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 27(2), 155-172. Retrieved from doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2006.09.002
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  14. Study finds spanking affects children’s IQ. (2009). Work-Life Newsbrief & Trend Report, 5-6. Retrieved from

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