The influential child: It is not all up to the parents

A classic answer to the "what stirred development to the wrong track" question, is parenting; Why am I so anxious? My parents did not love me enough. Why am I violent? My parents were not strict enough. Why am I an overachiever? My parents put a lot of emphasis on grades. Why am I insecure? My parents did not give me enough compliments. Citing parenting style as the all-inclusive cause for how children turn out is a popular stance, even among professionals. The problem with this view is that it does not consider the child as an influencing factor.

Imagine lighting striking you, or tripping on a rock and breaking your wrist, or even something as small as a mosquito biting you. We tend to ascribe such incidents to pure bad luck and view them as environmental mishaps. But even these seemingly random events may be genetically induced. How can genes affect anything other than the body in which they reside? By affecting an individual's behavior, which in turn will affect his/her surrounding environment. For example, a genetic propensity for risk taking may lead you to spend your time outside in spite of a nasty blizzard that is roaming the streets, thus increasing your chances of being struck by lightning; you may have low bone strength due to a genetic proclivity and be at a higher risk for fractures; or you may be explorative and curious, and like to travel to exotic places which happen to be swarming with mosquitoes. Similarly, parenting is an environment that can be influenced by the child's genetics. Although psychologists were able to recognize the effect of the child's temperament on parenting many years ago, it is an effect that has mostly been ignored.

Much of previous research has relied solely on associations between parents' and children's behaviors to support the assumption that parents affect children. For example, research demonstrating that warm parents tend to have children with high levels of self-control would have been interpreted as an effect of parental warmth on the child's level of self-control. But, who is to say that the child's high level of self-control does not lead the parent to be more affectionate? Will the same parent behave similarly with a child that has low self-control? Indeed, establishing causation in a relationship is a challenging task: it is difficult to determine who affects whom in ongoing interactions. This naturally applies to children and their parents as well. Children are already born with genetic and environmental (the environment in the womb) baggage. So from the moment they are born they influence their relationship with their parents. One means of disentangling the 'who affects whom' conundrum is incorporating genetic methods and show that the child’s genes affect the way the parent behaves. This translates to showing that the genes of the child affect a behavior that in turn affects the parent.

Parenting as a reaction to the child's genotype

In the current review I will focus on what is termed "evocative gene-environment correlation" ( evocative rGE; Plomin, DeFries, & Loehlin, 1977; Scarr & McCartney, 1983). Evocative rGE refers to instances in which a child's behavior that is affected by his/her genes, elicits certain reactions from the environment. For example, there may be an association between child aggression and harsh parenting. It would be easy to assume that harsh discipline leads the child to be aggressive, while the reverse may also be true. The reverse may be shown by linking the child's genes that predispose him/her to behave aggressively with harsh parenting. In such a case, the established path of causation will be: genes that affect aggression -> child aggression -> harsh parenting. Notably, this does not exclude the possibility that harsh parenting affects child aggression; rather, it supports the claim that the child-parent relationship is bidirectional.

article author(s)