Readers — I find this little report, “Neuroscience Used and Abused in Child Rearing Policy” so interesting, for two reasons.
First, by questioning the common wisdom that kids’ brains”irreversibly ‘sculpted’ by parental care” the first three years , it alleviates some of the incredible pressure put on parents to make sure that every single second they spend with their babies (even prenatally) is optimal: stimulating, educational, enriched. That’s a lot to demand of us.
Second, it echoes a point I make in my book and lectures: That while experts purport to “help” parents by telling us exactly how to interact with our kids, actually that avalanche of advice undermines the idea that maybe, just maybe, we could be decent parents without intensive tutoring. As the authors note:
…Mothers, in particular, are told that if they are stressed while pregnant or suffer postnatal depression, they will harm their baby’s brain.
‘This dubious information is highly unlikely to alleviate stress or depression but rather more likely to increase parental anxiety,’ said Dr Macvarish. ‘Parents are also told they must cuddle, talk and sing to their babies to build better brains. But these are all things parents do, and have always done, because they love their babies.
‘Telling parents these acts of love are important because they are ‘brain-building’ inevitably raises the question of how much cuddling, talking and singing is enough? Such claims also put power in the hands of ‘parenting experts’ and ultimately risk making parenting a biologically important but emotionally joyless experience.’
The way we’re approaching parenting these days is sort of the way we approach so many other worthwhile projects. Instead of saying, “It sure would be nice to set aside some land as a park,” we are forced to do a cost-benefit analysis that shows things like, “Parkland increases the ambient oxygen level by X percent, which in turn increases worker productivity, resulting in a net gain of…blah blah blah.” Not everything needs to be quantified, justified or even examined this way. And that’s not even getting into the whole issue of how many “scientific” studies turn out to be impossible to replicate (and quite possibly wrong). – L.