The context of this essay is to discuss the debate of nature v nurture in childhood development.
A range of factors has an effect on child development. Genetics has influence over every aspect of physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and personality development. Social context, such as family members, peer groups, school, and community, influences how children think, socialise, and become aware of self and others. Organic factors, such as nutrition, medical care, and pollutants affect the growth of the child both physically and mentally. Cultural aspects, including political foundations, the media, and social values, all influence how children live their lives. Significant life events can alter the growth of personality and identity. Yet what is important is how children themselves contribute to their own development. This occurs through their individual attempts to understand experiences, to respond to the people around them, and to choose activities, friends, and interests. Therefore, both internal and external, hold influences over all aspects of human development.
Throughout history societies have thought of children in many different lights. In early civilisations, childhood was brief: boys and girls were considered infants until the age of six, but soon afterward were apprenticed alongside adults in many labours. Children were considered property of their parents and many aspects of their lives were exposed to the harsh responsibilities and hazards of everyday life.
As the dark and middle ages receded, giving way to the Renaissance and the age of ‘Enlightenment’, many began to look at childhood in the new light of Humanism.
Childhood began to be viewed as a time of innocence. The importance of childhood as a unique period of development began to be more fully understood in the 17th and 18th centuries, as reflected in the writings of the philosopher, John Locke. Locke argued that the newborn comes into the world with no inherited predispositions, with consciousness as a tabala rasa, a ‘blank slate’, that is progressively filled with ideas, concepts, and knowledge from encounters with the world. Locke concluded that early experiences, primarily how children are raised and educated, moulds the trajectory of a child’s life. Following Locke, Jean Jacques Rousseau claimed that children at birth are inherently good, and that their natural tendencies should be protected against the corrupting influences of society. This compassionate attitude towards children inspired by Locke and Rousseau had a profound and lasting affect on society and the western view of childhood.
As social sciences (‘psy – sciences) expanded in the 19th century, interest in the characteristics and requirements of children produced more methodical efforts to study their development. The modern theory of evolution, espoused by Charles Darwin, argued that human behaviour is best understood through knowledge of its origins – in both the evolution of the species and the early development of individuals. In the early 1900s, the theory of psychoanalysis focused on the importance of early childhood experiences in relationship to the development of psychopathologies. Following Sigmund Freud’s work with ‘Little Hans’, investigations of child development through both quantitative and qualitative methodologies were conducted with the aid of children’s care givers. This began the scientific enquiry into child development.
In the early decades of the 20th century developmental scientists began large-scale investigations of child development that included working with children and their immediate families. Early investigations studied large numbers of children throughout their childhood to discover change, consistencies and inconsistencies in...