Could Modern Parenting Styles be Hurting Children’s Brain Development?

Image via Flickr/ Scott Howse

Parenting styles and philosophies have changed quite a bit in the last 50 years. And, as new research suggests, possibly not for the better. A University of Notre Dame professor, Darcia Narvaez, recently presented his research on the life outcomes of American youth. The research specifically looks at the effects parenting practices during the early years.

Narvaez found that “nurturing parenting practices” results in emotionally healthier children and adults with more empathy and higher impulse control who were less aggressive and reactive to stress. These practices include breastfeeding, providing near-constant touch (such as with babywearing and cosleeping), and being responsive to an infant's cries. The research also found that a child having multiple adult caregivers and sources of support beyond the mother can help increase emotional health. 

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However, much of this has gone by the wayside in the last few decades. Those who continue these nurturing types of practices are often labeled “crunchy” or as “spoiling the child.” These days, modern parenting styles tend to favor independence in babies and children. Common practices in modern parenting include children sleeping alone in a crib in another room, letting children “cry it out”, and feeding formula via a bottle for fear of creating a child who is too dependent. 

While researchers note that it is impossible to tell if the coinciding increase in anxiety and depression rates within our society is related to (or even the result of) this change in parenting practices, it's clear that using more nurturing parenting methods may help increase normal brain development and emotional health. For those who may have used these techniques, it's not too late to change this. Narvaez's research indicated that “early deficits can be made up later.” Parents, teachers, and other relatives can help jumpstart this by encouraging children to engage in creative free-play and providing a supportive, nurturing circle the child can find security in. 

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Could Modern Parenting Styles be Hurting Children’s Brain Development?

Katelynne has been trying to get the hang of this raising kids thing since 2007 but spends most of her time wondering who stole her copy of Parenting 101. When she’s not playing referee for her two children or writing all the words, she fantasizes about a full night’s sleep, uninterrupted showers, and triple venti caramel macchiatos with coconut milk. ... More

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