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How you raise your children is less important than you think, geneticist claims

‘I’m not saying you can’t change kids’ behaviour, but you’re not changing the kid’s personality,' says Robert Plomin

Phoebe Weston
Science Correspondent
Friday 24 May 2019 17:38 BST
Robert Plomin from King’s College London believes there's no point worrying about how children turn out
Robert Plomin from King’s College London believes there's no point worrying about how children turn out (Getty Images)

How children are raised and the schooling they receive matters a lot less than is generally thought, according to a leading geneticist.

Robert Plomin from King’s College London believes parents need not worry about how their children will turn out because it is not something they can control.

In an interview with New Scientist, the controversial academic claimed that parents should just “lighten up and enjoy their children”.

“I’m not saying you can’t change kids’ behaviour ... but you’re not changing the kid’s personality,” said Professor Plomin, who believes genes determine who people grow up to be.

Professor Plomin said being overweight was genetic and this was why it ran in families. He said: “if you were adopted at birth away from your sibling, you correlate just as much as if you had been reared together in the same family.

“I’ve studied identical twins who have grown up apart, and I find it amazing how they are so similar in things like the way they laugh or talk.”

His research has previously indicated that up to 70 per cent of a child’s academic performance is genetically derived. It is contentious because educationalists have long held that any child, from whatever background, can achieve the highest academic ability.

Prof Plomin claimed people confused parenting and children’s outcomes. He said he believes cognitive skills such as learning to read, performing maths and understanding science are “some of the most heritable, the most genetically influenced traits that we have”.

Similarly, he said, genetics played a major part in the intelligence of schoolchildren, rather than teaching.

“That’s always been assumed to be due to the nurturing environment, parents reading a lot to their kids makes them more likely to read. But parents reading a lot could reflect their own genetic propensity for reading,” he said.

He encouraged parents to accept they cannot mould their offspring and instead told them to “watch who your children become”.

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