Problems that used to be rare are becoming mainstream.

Charles Darwin had high hopes for humanity. He pointed to the unique way that human evolution was driven in part by a "moral
sense." Its key evolutionary features are the social instincts, taking
pleasure in the company of others, and feeling sympathy for fellow
humans. It was promoted by intellectual abilities, such as memory
for the past and the ability to contrast one's desires with the
intentions of others, leading to conscience development, and, after
language acquisition, concern for the opinion of others and the
community at large.

Darwin's "moral sense" is often interpreted as if these characteristics are universal among human beings.
But empirical research demonstrates how early experience and
caregiver-child relationships influence the development of
community-minded maturation. Our work shows that the roots of moral
functioning form early in life, in infancy, and depend on the affective
quality of family and community support.
Today, child rearing practices and family supports (or lack of) in the
U.S. are undermining the development of the moral sense.

As indexed by a recent UNICEF study of child well-being in 21 rich
countries that ranked the USA 20th in family and peer relationships and
21st in health and safety, by the growth of childhood problems, and by the burgeoning prison population,
American culture may be deviating increasingly from traditional social
practices that emerged in our ancestral "environment of evolutionary
adaptedness" (EEA). Empathy, the backbone of compassionate moral behavior, is decreasing among college students (see here).

who have documented early life for young children in foraging
communities (representing the EEA where the human genus is presumed to
have spent 99% of its existence) note that "young children in foraging
cultures are:

• "nursed frequently;

• held, touched, or kept near others almost constantly;

frequently cared for by individuals [adults] other than their mothers
(fathers and grandmothers, in particular) though seldom by older

• experience prompt responses to their fusses and cries;

• and enjoy multiage [free] play groups in early childhood."

• along with natural childbirth

• and 2-5 years of breastfeeding.

My laboratory and others are documenting the effects of these practices on child outcomes and finding relations to intelligence, cooperation, conscience, empathy, self-control, aggression and depression.

fact, the way we raise our children it seems that the USA is
increasingly depriving them of the practices that lead to well being and
a moral sense.

• We have among the worst mother and infant
mortality in the world, in part because the obstetric system is geared
toward efficiency as opposed to concerns for child well-being.

Breastfeeding is too frequently discouraged by a medical system that
routinely interferes with the establishment of breastfeeding in the
first days of life.

• Based largely on unfounded fears and extreme cases, parents are encouraged to sleep apart from their infants who often have limited physical contact with caregivers during the day.

• Many parents believe that letting a baby cry is compatible with adequate parenting (it's not).

• Instead of shared care giving by extended family members, as was typical for our species,
many children spend their early years in emotionally suboptimal daycare
facilities, with little individualized, responsive care.

Centers and schools typically separate children into same-age groups
where they are seldom allowed to play freely with each other in the
natural world, interfering with healthy development of both body and brain.

We can now map the sub-optimal consequences that arise from sub-optimal care.

• Formula fed infants have worse outcomes on every front that has been examined.

• Lack of touch and social support have detrimental effects on children's growth and development.

• Regular caregiver
neglect through non-responsiveness to infant fusses and cries, perhaps
due to overstressed parents or daycare workers, promotes the development
of a stressed brain that is detrimental to physical, social and moral

• Free play, once a hallmark of
childhood is now becoming scarce, despite recent findings that it is
critical for maintaining mental health, developing intelligence and a
fully social brain.

These are
just the tip of the iceberg. It is becoming increasingly clear that the
ways we are rearing our children today are not the ways humans are
designed to thrive. As Thomas Lewis and colleagues point out: "A good
deal of modern American culture is an extended experiment in the
effects of depriving people of what they crave most." (A General Theory of Love).

The ill effects of these missing ancestral practices are becoming evident as children's well being is worse than 50 years ago.
Characteristics that used to be limited to a subset of the population
from neglect and abuse are becoming mainstream. Too many children are
arriving at school with poor social skills, poor emotion regulation, and
habits that do not promote prosocial behaviors or life success.

The USA has epidemics of anxiety and depression among the young, indeed
all age groups, and these are real numbers not artifacts of increased

• Rates of young children whose behavior displays aggression, delinquency, or hyperactivity are estimated to be as high as 25%.

• The expulsion rate of prekindergarten children and the number of children under age 5 with psychosocial problems or on psychotropic medications have increased dramatically.

• Ten years ago, it was determined that one of four teenagers was at risk for a poor life outcome and trends have not improved.

we can continue to minimize these problems and the risks in
childrearing we are taking, the negative trajectories in well-being
among children in the USA suggest that a reexamination of our cultural
practices is needed. To the extent that our kids are not fully
functioning threads in the social fabric, the quality of our cultural
moral fiber is diminishing.

What Darwin considered the
moral-engine of positive human thriving may be under threat. Ill-advised
practices and beliefs have become normalized without much fanfare, such
as the common use of infant formula, the isolation of infants in their
own rooms, the belief that responding too quickly to a fussing baby is
spoiling it, the placing of infants in impersonal daycare, and so on. We
recommend that scientists and citizens step back from and reexamine
these common culturally accepted practices and pay attention to
potential life-time effects on people. It is an ethical issue.


blame mothers. Before the last decades, mothers were never alone in
raising children, they always had the extended family and friends on a
daily basis. The responsibility for child rearing belongs to the whole
community in how it sets up neighborhoods (e.g., is it easy for children
to play outside in nature), workplace
life (is there daycare where moms can nurse), policies that support
families (like paid parental leave after a child is born), and school
practices (is there frequent recess). We can change our culture again to
support children and families. Perhaps the greatest challenge is that
many of us were raised in less-than-ideal conditions and we think we
turned out just fine. We are the frogs in the pot that started out in
cold water. Now that the water is hot, we can't jump out. (…)


Source: Psychology Today –