Think your decision to own your own business is all yours? Maybe not. New research finds that your parents had a lot more to do with your career choice than you thought.

While previous researchers have determined that your career inclination may be inherited genetically and others say the driving force is our upbringing and the nurturing we get from our parents, a new child-development theory bridges those two models. The research indicates that the way a child turns out can be determined in large part by the day-to-day decisions made by the parents who guide that child's growth.

"This model helps to resolve the nature-nurture debate," said  psychologist George Holden at Southern Methodist University in Dallas who conducted the research.

Holden hypothesizes that parents guide their children's development in four complex and dynamic ways:

  • Parents initiate trajectories, sometimes trying to steer their child in a preferred developmental path based on either the parents' preferences or their observations of the child's characteristics and abilities, such as enrolling their child in a class, exposing them to people and places, or taking a child to practices or lessons;
  • Parents also sustain their child's progress along trajectories with encouragement and praise, by providing material assistance such as books, equipment or tutoring, and by allocating time to practice or participate in certain activities;
  • Parents mediate trajectories, which influences how their child perceives and understands a trajectory, and help their child steer clear of negative trajectories by preparing the child to deal with potential problems;
  • Finally, parents react to child-initiated trajectories.

Trajectories are useful images for thinking about career development because one can easily visualize concepts like "detours," "roadblocks" and "off-ramps," Holden says.

Detours, he says, are transitional events that can redirect a pathway, such as divorce. Roadblocks are events or behavior that shut down a potential trajectory, such as teen pregnancy, which can block an educational path. Off-ramps are exits from a positive trajectory, such as abusing drugs, getting bullied or joining a gang.

Holden says there are other ways parents influence a child's progress on a trajectory, such as through modeling desired behaviors, or modifying the speed of development by controlling the type and number of experiences.

Some of the ways in which children react to trajectories include accepting, negotiating, resisting or rejecting them, he says.

"Some factors that also can influence trajectories include the family's culture, their income and family resources, and the quality of the parent-child relationship," says Holden. "What this model of parenting helps to point out is that effective parenting involves guiding children in such a way as to ensure that they are developing along positive trajectories."