Modern parenting may hinder brain development, research suggests

Aug 10, 2015

Credit: © oksun70 / Fotolia

By University of Notre Dame

Social practices and cultural beliefs of modern life are preventing healthy brain and emotional development in children, 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.

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 child-rearing “norms.”


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20 comments on “Modern parenting may hinder brain development, research suggests

  • If you put animals in cages, they go psychotic. Surely human babies are similar. They need to get out, crawl around and explore — eat some dirt. Think how active the young of most mammals are.

    When I was a baby I had a running conversation going with one parent or the other. They were always doing something interesting I could watch, and to some degree participate it. Both parents had a very high tolerance for mess. I don’t think modern parents have anywhere near the patience. The result is dull babies.



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  • “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,” says Narvaez.

    When the goddam kid reaches 7 or so, what difference will parenting practices conscientiously applied in infancy make on a brat who wants no human distractions from i-phones, i-pads, facebook or video games along with other preoccupations with virtual reality? Let’s get real about what’s going to change the future for “Kids today”…and it ain’t breast feeding.



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  • Melvin
    Aug 11, 2015 at 2:41 am

    When the goddam kid reaches 7 or so, what difference will parenting practices conscientiously applied in infancy make on a brat who wants no human distractions from i-phones, i-pads, facebook or video games along with other preoccupations with virtual reality?

    The use of video games and TV as substitute child minders, is just a continuation of the abdication of parental responsibility and the lack of adult human interactions which should be providing quality role models.

    Let’s get real about what’s going to change the future for “Kids today”…and it ain’t breast feeding.

    Shortcomings in the up-bringing of those at 7+, are irrelevant to the issue of how to manage the development of babies and under 5s in societies where family groups are now often geographically separated.



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  • Not quite on topic but still appropriate.

    You don’t solve crime in the electric chair, you solve it in the high chair.”

    Societies should put great effort into the care of children. And breast feeding is by far the best way to rear an infant. Breast is best. Societies should strive for communities where children can grow and remain innocent and child like for as long as possible. There is good research about the amount of screen time and how it should be limited for children. My daughter and I agree and when I’ve got the grandsons, it’s outside boys. Lets look under the pot plants.



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  • One of the shortcomings of modern parenting, is the inexperience of many mothers. One child families, brought up in geographical isolation from other family members, leads to mothers who have no personal experience of being involved in bringing up younger siblings or cousins. This leaves them open to being influenced by folk-tales and books full of quackery.

    I am pleased to say that my granddaughter, regularly has two-way visits with her mother’s sister and an older and younger cousin – in addition to attending a toddler group for play with other children of her age, where parents can exchange ideas. Grandparents, of course also have experience and skills to communicate.



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  • breast is best

    Naturally, until reality kicks in for some women – unfortunate situation of breasts becoming taut water balloons that need binding, whilst begging for mercy from the pain. That’s why Dog invented wet nurse.



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  • David and Alan and Bonnie all provide good advice on child rearing that falls under the category of advice in the article: Common Sense: Breast feed when practical and healthy, hold and caress the baby often, interact verbally and physically, provide affectionate and/or remedial attention to the distressed baby, allow other trusted family members or friends to care for the baby, expose the baby to nurturing people and environments indoors and outdoors, and so on. One word of caution, however. Never tell a parent how to raise her kid whens she’s using a kitchen knife or you gonna leave with your bowels in your hands.

    Microchip devices are starting to take over our lives mediating our work, our communication and social lives through a virtual reality separated from the natural and human environment. The challenges and threats to our humanity, the hunter-gatherer at the core of our being if you will, are alarming. On balance the computerized “robots” may still be serving us in the morning of the new age but by evening will we be so wired body and soul that we are serving them?



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  • Yeh, Bonnie, let’s hope they’re good tippers. Speaking of food, a cartoon depicts an extended family seated around a thanksgiving table laden with steaming turkey and all the fixings a la Norman Rockwell.
    Every head is bowed over an i-phone, calling, texting, scrutinizing facebook -each loving family member absorbed in isolation from the other.

    Do you ever get the feeling that when you’re around the “wired” generation, you’re not there; they’re not there and there is no there there?

    (On second thought Perhaps your humor was more like ..”The wolf invited me over for dinner” (?).



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  • Roll on the new generation. They will adapt to their way of living and leave us behind to bemoan our inability to cope like all the generations before us.

    Melvin, maybe adjusting the focus on your cartoon would show not the iPhone but the steaming Turkey being the problem.



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  • Roll on the new generation. They will adapt to their way of living and leave us behind to bemoan our inability to cope like all the generations before us.

    It would appear the new generation may be rolling onto the shores of Europe in their rickety boats with every passing day. Hundreds of thousands of young migrants -men, women, children and babies have arrived already from Syria, Afghanistan and Africa. Current developments have focused the European mind marvelously on the question of coping.



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  • Current developments have focused the European mind marvelously on the
    question of coping.

    The land of plenty and waste. We choose to throw away rather than share so focusing the mind might not be such a bad thing. It might even begin to solve some of the issues in the article. A baby having its own room?



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  • 17
    Lorenzo says:

    This article comes dangerously close to trigger my BS filter…

    It seems to me that, if you want to have a first class brain, the receipt is simple. At least to formulate: give it plentiful stimuli and have them coming in the broadest variety.



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  • Right Lorenzo. The article seems to recommend common sense nurturing practices that became popular in the 1950s. Old wine in new bottles. Contrary to admonishments, most parents frequently allow infants to sleep in their bedrooms and provide abundant stimulation, affection and attention. Depending on circumstances, the baby is “shared” with grandparents, aunts and uncles or, if relatives live far away, with friends. I haven’t heard anyone knock breast feeding for decades. Leaving a distressed baby to cry alone is tantamount to child abuse.

    Teaching infants “words” that reference states of mind in order to inculcate empathy could have no lasting effect without comprehension that comes with maturation .. Just love the child, let him explore and teach him colors and numbers along with “doggy” and other helpful associations. Trying to get the kid to “understand” you will become an obvious exercise in futility when she turns thirteen and tells mommy and daddy that they don’t know shit.



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  • Melvin
    Aug 12, 2015 at 10:22 am

    Trying to get the kid to “understand” you will become an obvious exercise in futility when she turns thirteen and tells mommy and daddy that they don’t know shit.

    But will be amazed by the age of 19, at “how much mum and dad have learned” during the previous 6 years!!!



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