According to research presented at a University of Notre Dame symposium, some of the social practices and cultural beliefs regarding modern parenting may hinder brain development in children.

Notre Dame Professor of Psychology, Darcia Narvaez, a specialist in moral development in children, says “Life outcomes for American youth are worsening, especially in comparison to 50 years ago,” and it may be related to common “modern” parenting techniques.  Her research found that the overuse of infant formula and  the isolation of infants in their own rooms, which follows the belief that responding to a fussy baby too quickly will ‘spoil’ the baby, have a negative effect on brain development, thus shaping personality and moral development.

Previous studies showed: responding immediately to a baby’s needs influences development of their conscience; positive touch can improve stress reactivity and empathy; free play in nature positively affects social skills and aggression; and having several supportive caregivers (in addition to Mom) is a predictor of IQ and ego resilience.

All of the above-listed characteristics have been slowly declining, and according to Narvaez, “modern” parenting, which has become common, includes extended time in car seats or strollers, formula feeding, self-soothing techniques, and reduced free play.  Whether or not these methods contribute to rising rates of emotional disorders, aggressive behavior, and decreased empathy is an important conversation.

There’s good news, though.  Early deficits can be “made up” later.  According to Narvaez, “The right brain, which governs much of our self-regulation, creativity, and empathy, can grow throughout life…through full-body experience like rough-and-tumble play, dancing, or freelance artistic creation.  So at any point, a parent can take up a creative activity with a child and they can grow together.”