Our society has officially produced a generation of parents which retard the growth of children in more ways than one. A child’s healthy brain and emotional development are being hindered by social practices and cultural beliefs of modern life, according to an interdisciplinary body of research presented recently at a symposium at the University of Notre Dame.
“Life outcomes for American youth are worsening, especially in comparison to 50 years ago,” says Darcia Narvaez, Notre Dame professor of psychology who specializes in moral development in children and how early life experiences can influence brain development.
“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,” Narvaez says.
Dr. Eileen Montgomery, Naturopathic Physician and child health specialist concurs with the assessments and conclusions of the interdisciplinary research. “This generation of parents believe that vaccines, with all their toxic excipients and preservatives, are more beneficial for a child’s health than their mother’s breast milk,” she stated.
This new research links certain early, nurturing parenting practices — the kind common in foraging hunter-gatherer societies — to specific, healthy emotional outcomes in adulthood, and has many experts rethinking some of our modern, cultural childrearing “norms.”
“Breastfeeding 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,” says Narvaez.
In 2011, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (MJS), launched a shocking misinformation campaign to advise all fathers and mothers that they need not listen to their parental instincts when it comes to sleeping with their babies. Instead, these instincts should be ignored and replaced with illogical, unproven and unscientific claims regarding sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and that co-sleeping “can be just as dangerous” for your infant as them sleeping with knives.
“Public officials routinely assert their influence over the greater wisdom of parents whose natural instincts in caring for children is somehow misplaced and misguided in their view” said Montgomery. “It’s baffling how there is a fundamental disconnect between natural parenting skills and health officials…it is deeply distorted.”
Studies show that responding to a baby’s needs (not letting a baby “cry it out”) has been shown to influence the development of conscience; positive touch affects stress reactivity, impulse control and empathy; free play in nature influences social capacities and aggression, and a set of supportive caregivers (beyond mother alone) predicts IQ and ego resilience as well as empathy.
The heartbeats of a mother and her unborn fetus synchronize when she breathes rhythmically. Researchers also found that a new born baby may benefit tremendously by co-sleeping with the mother to help time respiratory gas exchanges.
Mothers aren’t the only ones who are biologically adapted to respond to children. Other research from the University of Notre Dame showed that dads who sleep near their children experience a drop in testosterone. Previous research from humans and other species suggests this decrease might make men more responsive to their children’s needs and help them focus on the demands of parenthood.
The United States has been on a downward trajectory on all of these care characteristics, according to Narvaez. Instead of being held, infants spend much more time in carriers, car seats and strollers than they did in the past. Only about 15 percent of mothers are breastfeeding at all by 12 months, extended families are broken up and free play allowed by parents has decreased dramatically since 1970.
Whether the corollary to these modern practices or the result of other forces, research shows an epidemic of anxiety and depression among all age groups, including young children; rising rates of aggressive behavior and delinquency in young children; and decreasing empathy, the backbone of compassionate, moral behavior, among college students.
According to Narvaez, however, other relatives and teachers also can have a beneficial impact when a child feels safe in their presence. Also, early deficits can be made up later, she says.
“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.”
It’s time for parents to ignore the advice of health officials, physicians or any other person who opposes the natural care-giving instincts hard-wired into every mother and father. Love knows best so ignore the rest.
About the Author
April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.
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