Culture and Religion

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Infant Social Development

The recent issue of National Geographic (Jan. 2015) had an interesting article about infant development, titled The First Year. Researchers found that very young children who received more attention at home tended to have a higher IQ. Those with more cognitive stimulation were better with language.

For example, one of the tests involved exposing 9-month olds from English speaking families to Mandarin Chinese. There were 3 groups: one with native Chinese speaking tutors, another watching those same tutors but through a video presentation, and another hearing only the audio part of the presentation. After 12 sessions all the children were tested on recognition of similar phonetic sounds in Mandarin.

According to this article, 'The researchers expected the children who watched the video to show the same kind of learning as the kids tutored face to face. Instead they found a huge difference.' Only those children exposed to the language through human interaction were able to discriminate those sounds. The other two groups showed no learning whatsoever. This and other studies led Patricia Kuhl to suggest social experience is a portal to linguistic, cognitive, and emotional development in infants. A TED talk by her about this subject is available from 2010.

The website Resources for Infant Educarers (www.rie.org) offers recommendations for infant care including: "we encourage even the tiniest infant to become an active participant rather than a passive recipient of the activities." I noticed there are other sites mentioning this 'REI parenting philosophy, including Janet Lansbury.

Other sites can be found which also recommend "Individual attention is critical to future development."

All of these recommendations amount to the recognition that the baby is a social creature and he/she requires the social interaction from birth for proper adaptation and learning. Babies can learn during time alone but for certain skills like language development that face-to-face interaction with another person is critical.

The terrible institutional experience in Romania for over 20 years indicates the opposite where severe child neglect in the first years of life resulted in less brain development and more psychiatric disorders. As one doctor remarked, "Children need to be in socially responsive situations."

There are three reasons why an essay about infant development is in this web site about culture and religion.

First, this connects with the theme of this web site that each person is a social creature and our social interactions with our environment are critical to us. Social dynamics, including group behaviors, are critical in our socieyt.

Second, religious leaders (and so also those political leaders who seek to use religion for political advantage) often push the concept that a person starts life at conception. This totally denies the reality that after birth the baby integrates into his/her social environment; before birth the fetus is developing physically but not socially. We are social creatures and social interaction is critial to our development and through our entire lifetime. A fetus is a living being but it is not a true 'human' being; it is not a person adapted and connected to society.

Third, political leaders do not recognize the importance of this early infant care. This is seen in a number of ways.

Parents, and especially mothers, must have some control over when a baby is delivered, through access of appropriate means of birth control, so they are ready for the baby after its delivery. If a family is unable to support a baby but is denied birth control then the baby will undoubtedly suffer in those circumstances while if the family could wait until it is more stable then the baby’s (conception and) arrival later will have a better chance for that secure home. There are even politicians (like Rick Brattin) who wish to force a pregnant woman to submit to the decision of the baby's father in all cases - which of course means in the case of a rape the rapist decides whether the baby is carried to term. Such a rule is abominable and quite unjust. Many men (often Christian leaders) in our patriarchal society continue to seek ways for maintaining women in a submissive role when denying the woman to have control over decisions affecting her body before and after conception.

Appropriate maternity leave is not offered either by government recommendations or by corporate policies. The FMLA (1993) mandates 12 weeks of unpaid leave. As the Kuhl presentation (linked above) shows the critical language development is still occurring at the age of 6 to 8 months this time is too short. We (Americans) live in a culture that is very business oriented, where if an employee is not willing to abide by their employer's rules then they can be replaced by someone who will - and many take the side of the employer in that conflict. The fact business profits come before the well-being of our next generation (starting now as children) does not bode well for our future.

Infants are developing physically, a process that takes quite a few years to maturity, so they are naturally susceptible to a wide variety of health problems. Sometimes these are severe, with a national rate of infectious disease hospitalization of about 1 per 14 infants.

Health care is also critical to the well-being of our next generation. Unfortunately, corporate influence continues to prevent a universal health care program, but instead we have a national health insurance program where everyone must pay to the health insurance industry to get access to health care. Again, profits in the health insurance industry take precedence over the health of the citizens.

The first year of a baby's life includes critical stages of development. It is quite unfortunate that our society does not make it easier for parents to improve their opportunity for each baby to mature into a successful adult, each offering their own unique contributions to society. As we continue an evolution to a world described in the novel 1984, with a small privileged upper class, a small middle class supporting the ruling class, and the huge majority of humanity impoverished at the bottom of this global social hierarchy, infant care for all but the rich is not much of a priority.

created - Jan. 2015
last change - 01/10/2015
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