The Ripple Effect

Lyla ChearyFebruary 21, 2023Dreams and DesiresFeatures

Our upbringing is like a ripple effect.

The way our parents raise us affects our dreams and desires as well as how our futures are formed in a number of ways. But this concept isn’t always the easiest to grasp. Metaphors, such as the ripple effect, can make complicated topics easier to understand. I’ve always looked at the world this way since my parents frequently talk about how our actions have a ripple effect, constantly affecting those around us.

Everyone’s childhood is different, and our preferences are one of the things that differentiate each person’s experience. Preferences are the very things that guide us. Every decision we make is a push forward toward our desires and our dreams. According to Oxford Languages, preferences are defined as a greater liking for one alternative over others. Even though our preferences and tastes can seem insignificant, they guide us through our everyday decisions, like how a ripple changes a wave’s path.

According to Merriam-Webster, upbringing is “early training” or “a particular way of bringing up a child.” Our childhood is the foundation on which we build ourselves up. However, if this foundation cracks, we will continue to build our lives on a flawed structure. Psychology Today talks a lot about this concept, focusing on four "broader" impacts from our childhood that affect our adult lives.

Birth order is the first impact. Birth order determines how you behave depending on whether you have siblings and what order you were born in. According to Psychology Today, It has been widely suggested that the eldest child, or an only child, is more likely to be a leader and to perform well in school. However, eldest children can also be anxious, sensitive, and self-critical. The second child is quite the opposite and is often rebellious, pushing boundaries and questioning authority. Second-children may struggle to get their parents’ attention and are often labeled as "forgotten" children. Youngest children are stereotyped as being spoiled by receiving constant attention from being the youngest. However, being spoiled can also lead to anxiety because the youngest children never build up the confidence to handle things independently.

Another study on this subject, from Scientific American, discusses birth order in a similar way: “Firstborn and single children had less reason to quarrel with the status quo and identify more strongly with the worldview of their fathers and mothers. Younger siblings are less sure of their parents’ view and therefore more often choose alternative paths in life.” These categorizations are popular because they are easy to understand, but that does not mean they are less valid. In fact, several studies have confirmed that birth order does affect our personality. According to Scientific American, “a 1968 study showed that, compared with later borns, first borns are less likely to participate in dangerous sports because of fears of physical injury. And a 1980 study of 170 female and 142 male undergraduates showed lower anxiety and higher ego in firstborns, as measured by the Howarth Personality Questionnaire.” Although these studies are not completely reliable, since they are self-evaluated by the participant, they still provide a good picture of how our birth order may affect us.

The second impact on our upbringing is emotional wounds, or what we learned to be sensitive to growing up. According to Psychology Today, emotional wounds stem from one-to-two of five things: criticism, micromanaging, feeling neglected, not feeling heard or feeling dismissed, and not being appreciated. The repercussions are that you translate these coping mechanisms to your adult relationships, and when you feel wounded, you do what you learned in childhood. According to Psychology Today, “the consequences here are that you bring these coping styles into your adult relationships and when you feel wounded, do what you learned.”

The third impact is family climate. When someone grows up in an unsafe or toxic family environment, they often become very alert or hyper-aware in adulthood. This sprouts from the need to always be on guard as a child and from needing to always be on your toes. An example of this can be found in Psychology Today, which claims that living in a home where parents are always fighting, yelling out of anxiety, having mood swings, or drinking is an example of an unsafe or toxic household that could create a hyper-alert and on-guard child.

The last major impact is our childhood role models. People typically have a black-and-white response to the role models they had as children. For example, you might identify with the aggressor if you grew up in a household with a parent who often yelled when overwhelmed. By contrast, being in an aggressive household might cause you to do the opposite, deciding not to behave like either of your parents and never yell or get upset, and instead to hold things in. Regardless, our role models play a big role in shaping who we become, and they don’t always have to be our guardians, even though they are the most important models. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, children may try to imitate the behavior and appearance of celebrities, including athletes and entertainers, and characters from various types of media. When I was younger, I looked up to Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series. I sought to mimic many aspects of her personality, but mainly her appearance and academic ability.

All these factors substantially affect how you react to things, how you deal with problems, and how you go about your everyday life. As people grow up, parents consistently insert thoughts and ideas into our heads, unintentionally impacting our preferences. For example, girls often receive princess dolls when they are younger, and often these girls say to people, “I want to be a princess when I grow up!” with a smile on their faces. Possibly a slightly less obvious example is if your parents dress you in a certain color growing up, that could end up being your favorite color. Alternatively, if your parents helped you a lot as a child, you could be used to having help with things as you grow up. Our upbringing can influence our tastes and preferences in so many ways, some of which are subconscious.

Parents greatly impact our lives, even with the smallest choices or behaviors. According to Business Insider, “a study tracking more than 700 American children over 20 years found that when parents taught their young kids social skills, like how to be helpful or cooperative with their peers, they were more likely to earn a college degree and have a full-time job by 25. Those without social skills were more likely to drink and get arrested.” This highlights how important parents’ actions are when raising their children.

Subconsciously, my parents changed and directed my tastes and preferences, just as many other parents do. They were the ones who raised me, guiding me through every decision when I was young, helping me through every decision as an adolescent, and influencing my decisions in future. Throughout my upbringing, I was raised to be goal-oriented, determined, and, most importantly, optimistic. Although there are many things I could add to this list, both good and bad, I believe these are the ones that guide me most when making decisions. My optimism became more apparent when we lived in Puerto Rico. Living there was very difficult; we faced many challenges that would make it easy just to give up. However, I didn’t. This was a choice I made that I had to work on actively. Every day I woke up and found the positive side of things, no matter how tricky it was. And it was very difficult. However, the choice that I made to essentially ‘be happy’ allowed me to grow and survive until we decided to move back to our hometown.

The decisions we make are more or less a lead-up to some larger “end goal” or desire. For example, I dream of attending a school like Harvard, Yale, or Princeton and this leads me to study for my upcoming exams very rigorously. However, someone who wants to avoid college may not study as hard. Every choice we make leads to our dreams or desires, no matter how close or how far away these dreams may be.

Our decisions originate from our upbringing and help us reach our dreams and desires. Our upbringing affects our mentality and psychology. Metaphorically, our upbringing is like a ripple, small compared to the rest of the ocean but far-reaching. Many people are affected by this ripple, but not one is affected quite the same way. We can’t control how we were raised — that part isn’t up to us. However, it is up to us to take advantage of it and follow our dreams.


Hartmann, Corinna and Sara Goudarzi. "Does Birth Order Affect Personality?" Scientific American, August 8, 2019.

Taibbi, Robert. "Four Key Ways Your Childhood Shapes You." Psychology Today, March 8, 2019.

"11 Science-backed Ways Your Parents’ Behaviors Shaped Who You Are Today." Business Insider, August 21, 2020.

"Role Models and Children." American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, March 2017.

"Upbringing." Merriam-Webster.

Oxford Languages.

Lyla Rae Cheary, 13 years old, currently lives in New York City and attends middle school at East Community High. In her free time, Lyla loves to read, write poetry, bake, and after many years of persistently asking her parents to get her a dog, finally got one.