Wednesday, August 25, 2010

the decline of children and the moral sense

Psychology Today | 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 diagnosis.

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

• The expulsion rate of prekindergarten children31 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.

Although 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.