Study: Genes May Play a Role in Parenting Styles

A new study indicates that genes may play a major role in parenting styles. "The way we parent is not solely a function of the way we were parented as children," says study co-author S. Alexandra Burt, an associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University. "There also appears to be some genetic influences."

Professor Burt and her team of research colleagues analyzed 56 different studies that included more than 20,000 families worldwide. What they discovered challenges the popular belief that parents deal with their children in a similar manner to the way they themselves were parented. One striking discovery is that parenting is greatly influenced by the child's behavior.

The research team's findings were published in the March issue of Psychology Bulletin. The team writes that "one of the most consistent and striking findings to emerge from the study was the important role that children's characteristics play in shaping all aspects of parenting." The parents are in effect responding to their child's behavior and various stages of development.

The researchers concluded that genes influence 23 percent to 40 percent of traits such as parent's warmth, control, and negativity toward their children, but it is still unclear whether genetics have a direct or indirect effect on parenting. With a lot of influences happening simultaneously, the researchers say this is a two-way process between parent and child that is both environmental and genetic.

Parents generally believe that they are modeling the positive aspects of the parenting style they are familiar with from their own childhoods, but need to be sensitive to the fact that other influences are also present. Each child's unique characteristics and the parent's own genetic makeup can subtly shape the parent-to-child interaction.