MSNBC reports on some studies that were presented at a conference this week at a University of Notre Dame conference, that show that early human parents were more empathetic and attentive, and provided a nurturing environment with multiple caregivers, in contrast to the way some (most?) children are raised today.
From the MSNBC article “Is it time to return to caveman parenting?”
Hunter-gatherers , the human way of life until the agricultural revolution about 8,000 years ago, were responsive caregivers, who didn’t let a baby cry it out. Moms breast-fed, probably for about five or six years. Cave kids had hours of unstructured free play, with children of all ages. And the little Pebbles and Bamm-Bamms of that Paleolithic period probably had multiple caregivers who provided nurturing and love. Cavemoms and dads didn’t spank their kids. Rather, they were the first adopters of positive touch, constantly carrying, cuddling and holding their children.
Many of our modern parenting practices are in direct opposition to our Stone Age brethren. The result: kids with a skewed sense of moral behavior, poor social skills, high rates of anxiety and depression, and a host of other ills, according to Narvaez. As one example, college kids today are about 40 percent less empathetic (a trait measured by standardized tests) compared to college students just 30 years ago, a study from the University of Michigan found.
“Humans are incredibly weak, but incredibly adaptable, and we knew we needed to create alliances to help us out,” says James McKenna, Notre Dame’s Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C., professor of anthropology. “Babies needed to be protected. A group of people who really care for an infant provides more protection than just mom and dad.”
Non-structured free play improves mental health and enhances intelligence. Longer-term breast-feeding boosted the immune systems of Stone Age kids, helping to protect them from disease. And with all that affection they received, they grew into happy, well-adjusted adults, because cuddling and holding infants helps boost neurologic development.”
It’s no surprise that as the world gets more complicated, things are going to be different. But this study is a good reminder that as humans, we’re wired a certain way, and our kids are going to do a lot better if we realize that our instincts of holding them, protecting them, nurturing them, maybe even being a bit of a “helicopter parent” (yikes!) isn’t a terrible thing.
But then again, if our ancient ancestors had iPhones and texting and the Internet, maybe things would be a lot better today. Or not.