When we look at the current state of society with regard to children, it’s easy to see why these recent studies have a problem with the way parents are raising their children.
“Ill-advised practices and beliefs have become commonplace in our cultures, 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,” reports Darcia Narvaez, professor of psychology at Notre Dame, in a recent study.
Parenting isn’t a new thing for mankind, but it’s often an entirely new world for first-time parents--especially those living in a modern landscape that is chock-full of people handing out lists of “do’s and don’ts.”
When we look at the current state of society with regard to children, it’s easy to see why these recent studies have a problem with the way parents are raising their children. For example, children are more obese and overweight than they ever have been in the past. They’re spending more time in front of the television than they do playing outside. And parents are separating from one another at incredibly high rates.
Now, some believe that these unhealthy practices are actually negatively affecting the mental and emotional health of the children being reared today.
How much do the little things we say, influence children?
As many people say, children tend to absorb almost everything they see and hear. This means that every little thing we say and do is being scrutinized and internalized by our children. Things that we think nothing of will be taken to heart by little ones.
One area that is highly influential in children of a young age has to do with how gender is perceived and created in their world. Parents regularly say things like “act like a man” or “you need to be more lady-like.” These phrases might not seem like a big deal at the time, but for children, it can completely change how they view the world around them. Saying things like this basically tells them that the way they are feeling is invalid. It makes them question how they see themselves and how to act.
Similarly, parents may tell their kids to “grow up” or “stop acting like a baby,” believing that their constant need or desire for affection and love is somehow a weakness to be hammered out of them. But, research suggests that doing the opposite is actually best for the kids: “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,” continues Narvaez. Parents are cutting corners for the sake of convenience. Have you ever noticed how often you see young children with electronic devices nowadays? It’s to keep them distracted and entertained instead of crying and throwing a fit.
There seems to be a dramatic shift away from direct touching and soothing. For example, children spend a large amount of their time in strollers, highchairs, and other similar devices, away from their parents. Breastfeeding is becoming less and less common due to the stigma of doing it in public. And parents tend to distract their children when they are upset instead of choosing to take the time to nurture them--something that has a direct effect on the development of their right and left brain.
This type of parenting leads kids to believe that their emotions are more of an annoyance than something to actually be dealt with, it teaches them that their emotions are somehow wrong and that they should just find ways to entertain themselves.
Studies have found that responding to a baby’s emotional stressors helps them develop empathy and has even been tied to higher IQ levels. Parents are being criticized by other parents. It’s also fairly common to see parents get chastised for having a lack of grit and dirt in their parenting. I’m sure you’ve overheard someone say that kids will grow up to be weak if you do not punish them physically or if you show them too much affection; by not yelling and exacting corporal punishment, your kids are somehow at a disadvantage.
All of these tend to lead to one thing: emotional neglect. Something we can see directly when comparing rates of youth suicide across countries--Western youth (ages 15 - 24) suicide rates are the third highest in the world.
But, professor Narvaez says that these effects can be reversed: “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.”
Essentially, the takeaway from all of this information is this: care for your child in a way that you would want to be cared for if you were still a child. Don’t be afraid to be ridiculed for your parenting style, and do your best to avoid reinforcing false gender constructs that will make your children feel inadequate. Parents who are irresponsible, lazy and uninvolved in their child’s life will likely see symptoms of stunted brain development and emotional maturity.