January 24, 2013

Modern Parenting Linked To Brain And Emotional Development In Kids

While fans of the University of Notre Dame (UND) football team are processing the controversy surrounding linebacker Manti Te’o, researchers at the school have been hard at work; they recently discovered that modern parenting could possibly prevent children’s healthy brain and emotional development.

The study focuses on the social practices and cultural beliefs integrated with modern life, with the findings recently presented at a symposium at UND.

“Life outcomes for American youth are worsening, especially in comparison to 50 years ago,” remarked Darcia Narvaez, a professor of psychology at UND who is an expert in moral development in children and brain development related to early life experiences, in a prepared statement. “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.”

The team of investigators looked at the differences of emotional outcomes during adulthood, comparing early, nurturing parenting practices, such as those found in a society of hunter-gathers, to 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,” continued Narvaez in the statement.

Past studies have demonstrated how the development of conscience in a baby can be influenced by the caregiver’s response to a baby needs (i.e. when the baby is “crying out”). In particular, positive touch can impact empathy, impulse control, and stress reactivity. Free play in nature can also influence aggression and social capacities. In this regard, supportive caregivers can impact a child’s ego resilience, IQ, and empathy.

However, Navarez believes that there has a been a decline in these specific care characteristics. These days, children are carried in car seats, carriers, and strollers more so than being held. In addition, since 1970, there has been a reduction in the number of mothers who are breastfeeding their children over a period of 12 months and the amount of free play allowed by parents, along with a rise in the number of extended families who have broken up.

The scientists are not sure as to whether these changes in society have had a direct correlation or are an indirect result of children’s temperature, but other studies have shown that there is a rise in anxiety and depression among children of all ages. Many kids, including young children, are showing an increasing rate of aggressive behavior and delinquency. For college students, they display less empathy, compassion, and sound moral behavior.

Furthermore, apart from caregivers, the researchers believe that relatives and teachers can have a positive impact on children by allowing them to feel safe in their presence; early deficits of this positive impact can be made up later on.

“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,” concluded Navarez in the statement.

Another study by the National Academy for Parenting Research last year showed the importance of “positive parenting” and the need for parents to be active in their children’s lives.

“It is important for children to have clear, consistent boundaries, yet it is essential that this takes place within a warm, loving family relationships. Even the most challenging children become better behaved when their parents use positive parenting skills consistently,” commented Miriam Chacahmu, author of How to Calm a Challenging Child, in an article by the Huffington Post.

Image Credit: Photos.com

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