It’s not much of a surprise. On March 26, 2007, the findings of a United States study, the largest, most comprehensive, and longest running study ever undertaken, were published by the National Institute of Health. It concluded that the more hours a pre-kindergarten aged child spent in daycare, the more likely teachers would later label the child as a problem — for getting into fights, being unruly, argumentative, or not listening at school.
The problems teachers saw in daycare-farmed kids included being demanding of attention, arguing excessively, bragging, boasting, cruelty, lying, meanness, bullying, destroying property belonging to others, fighting, cheating, and screaming.
The study considered 1,364 children, followed since birth, and concluded that by the sixth grade, if they’d been to daycare for most of their formative years, most had behaviour problems. Overwhelmingly, studies have found that no matter how good daycare is reputed to be, or what the compelling reasons are for the children to end up in part-time orphanages in the first place (ie., two working parents, single moms, student parents, widows, etc.), daycare, especially for the under-threes, causes significant behavioural and health disadvantages — everything from aggression to fitness to impaired motor-social skills.
(For those of you who need some good news here, the study did also find that daycare kids had better vocabulary — which will no doubt relieve working parents everywhere worried that their snotty, rebellious, argumentative pre-teens aren’t sufficiently verbose. Good vocabulary is an important skill to have if you’re a kid who wants to argue and disobey your parents with any effectiveness.)
The American study comes on the heels of a Canadian study published last year that also found daycare children were 17 times more hostile than children with full-time mommies, and nearly three times more anxious. It’s another in a long line of studies that has still failed to convince most people of the obvious — that infants thrive in the care of their parents.
There isn’t a shortage of evidence that little children need their parents, just a lack of reasonable solutions for what has become the wholesale farming out of our youngest citizens to paid, unrelated caregivers. A 2005 United Kingdom study also found daycare caused higher aggression in toddlers, and a 2006 Australian study concluded daycare affects babies “social and emotional development” and damages their brain chemistry.
Overall, daycare is worse for infants and toddlers than for preschoolers, although that doesn’t make substitute, intitutionalized care particularly good for the latter either; it just means that it’s better on the worse scale. Obviously, little babies need and require the kind of one-on-one attention and nurturing that is impossible to get in a daycare center with three infants to every one adult caregiver.
This may explain why natural human triplets (meaning without any scientific tinkering, or fertility drugs) are a rare phenomen in nature — the natural order dictates that one mom can’t easily manage to take care of and feed three infants at the same time and have good odds of all three surviving. Like many of the things that are bad for you in life, the more daycare the child gets, the worse the overall effect. So a child in daycare seven days a week is at higher risk than a child in daycare one day a week, and both are worse off than those receiving mother or parental care, or even grandma-care.
Yet another report indicates that parents today spend 40% less time with their children than did parents just one generation ago. In the U.S., more than 50% of babies under one years old have a working mother. More than 70% of college-educated mothers with small infants are employed. And many of the daycares in which their children spend up to 35 hours a week are substandard. A 1995 report by researchers from four universities, Connecticut, Colorado, North Carolina, and California, surveyed 400 randomly chosen facilities and found that most child care is “mediocre in quality, sufficiently poor to interfere with children’s emotional and intellectual development.” Their report indicates that only one out of seven centres comes even close to providing any kind of environment for healthy development of a child.
Non-parental care of young children, by women who are no relation to the child, has no successful precedent in our history. And the majority of women don’t want to be forced to leave their young infants anyway. In Canada, more than 70% of mothers working outside the home report they would rather care for their own children, so it seems they sense intuitively how things should be.
Raising small children in substitute care is quite literally an experiment defying the natural order, where the subjects (children) have not given their permission.
So the question remains, why are we as a society willing to allow our children to grow up disadvantaged, without the care of at least one loving parent, and how can we support more parents to do the very important work of parenting, at least during the first few years of life when it’s so critical?
Next week in “Living”: Making parenting a priority