Could detached parenting be responsible for growing psychological problems in our youth?
A recent symposium at Notre Dame University lamented the growing use of non-adaptive parenting practices. The symposium, led by Dr. Darcia Narvaez, linked the problems of American youth to the way in which their parents related to them during infancy and early childhood.
Dr. Narvaez and the other speakers theorize that modern methods of childcare fail to inject children with protective measures against depression, anxiety, immorality, and delinquency.
The researchers also suspect that the decreasing levels of empathy in our society result from ‘modern’ parenting methods.
Evolved Developmental Niche
The symposium reflects a body of research about the Evolved Developmental Niche (EDN), an idea adapted from biology and evolutionary science. The research rests on the notion that every animal has an evolved developmental niche, which is a way of caring for their young that ensures their health and survival. Since the dawn of civilization, the EDN for caring for young children has included positive touch, responsiveness to their needs, breastfeeding, extensive free play, and social support. Nowadays, many parents are not following their EDN, even though research studies have shown that these ancient parenting practices foster cognitive and emotional development in children.
EDN Practices Bring Positive Results
Caregiving practices that follow EDN influence health and development over the long term. Children’s stress responses, as well as cell growth, are affected by the way they are treated in the first three years of life.
Research shows that having a set of supportive caregivers leads to higher I.Q. and empathy, and free play reduces aggression. Quick response to a baby’s needs influences the development of conscience, and positive touch helps them build impulse control.
One study supporting these findings was led by Kim Fleischer Michaelsen, a researcher in Norway. She and her team reviewed several studies effects of breast feeding on brain development. Firstly, they found better visual acuity in infants who were breast fed than in those who were bottle fed. Next, they found that multiple studies revealed higher I.Q.’s in children who were breast-fed. The children retained the raised I.Q. throughout their lives. Dr. Michaelsen and her team surmise that the psychological effects of the closeness caused by breastfeeding might contribute to the children’s higher I.Q.’s.
Smart and Ethical Children
Dr. Narvaez and her colleagues published a 2013 study that reviewed children’s development over time. They reviewed information about 682 families, and rated each on the aspects of EDN. Specifically, they looked at breastfeeding, touch, amount of social support given to the mother, and mother’s responsiveness to the child.
Researchers then measured the children’s behavior over three years. They found that those who received the highest amount of EDN parenting showed prosocial behaviors, such as cooperation and sociability. They also found that those children had fewer behavior problems, and better cognitive ability. The children were better at understanding spoken statements, and expressed themselves well verbally.
Another 2013 research article written by Narvaez reveals findings about the moral development of children. She and her colleagues studied the reports of 383 Chinese mothers of 3-year-olds.
The mothers indicated the extent to which they followed EDN, including free play, breastfeeding, responsiveness and frequent touch. They also graded their children on empathy, conscience and ability to regulate their behavior. The results showed that using EDN techniques led to greater development of empathy, guilt, concern for others and self-control, all of which are necessary to grow into an emotionally healthy adult.
Engaging With Kids: Responsiveness Brings Results
While most parents engage positively with their infants, the presenters at the symposium expressed concern that infants spend too much time in carriers, car seats and strollers. They also worry about the lack of support offered to new mothers, given that extended families are broken up. These factors can create serious problems for our future society, as children fail to develop skills that are necessary for collaborative relationships.
Michaelsen, K.F., et. al. Breast-feeding and brain development. (2003). Scandinavian Journal of Nutrition. Accessed on October 3, 2013.
Narvaez, D., et. al. The evolved developmental niche and child sociomoral outcomes in Chinese 3-year-olds. (2013). European Journal of Developmental Psychology. Accessed on October 3, 2013.
Narvaez, D., et. al. The evolved development niche: Longitudinal effects of caregiving practices on early childhood psychosocial development. (2013). Early Childhood Research Quarterly. Accessed on October 3, 2013.