Modern parenting practices and cultural beliefs are hurting children’s development, a child psychology expert argues.
Professor Darcia Narvaez of the University of Notre Dame, who studies how early life experiences affect brain development, said:
“Life outcomes for American youth are worsening, especially in comparison to 50 years ago.
Ill-advised practices and beliefs have become commonplace in our culture, such as the use of infant formula, the isolation of infants in their own rooms or the belief that responding too quickly to a fussing baby will ‘spoil’ it.”
Set against these, some ancient parenting practices have been repeatedly linked to positive brain development.
Professor Narvaez explained:
“Breast-feeding infants, responsiveness to crying, almost constant touch and having multiple adult caregivers are some of the nurturing ancestral parenting practices that are shown to positively impact the developing brain, which not only shapes personality, but also helps physical health and moral development.”
For example, research has shown that:
- Positive touch reduces stress in children.
- Responding to babies needs is linked to the development of consciousness.
- Free play in nature reduces aggression.
- A set of supportive caregivers may boost IQ and empathy.
Despite this, children in the US are now less likely to be breastfed, are not held as much as they were and free play has reduced dramatically since the 1970s.
On top of this, extended families have been broken up by economic and social forces.
This means children do not see as many of their relatives as they used to.
Professor Narvaez said:
“The right brain, which governs much of our self-regulation, creativity and empathy, can grow throughout life.
The right brain grows though full-body experience like rough-and-tumble play, dancing or freelance artistic creation.
So at any point, a parent can take up a creative activity with a child and they can grow together.”
The research was presented at the University of Notre Dame in 2012 (Narvaez, 2012).
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
Twins image from Shutterstock