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“Parenting” Is the Most Important Job We’ll Ever Do – And Here’s How We’re Failing
The word parenting, as a verb, has only been around since 1958. Developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik examines when caregiving became the art of hovering, and the pitfalls and anxiety of trying to shape children instead of raise them.
Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley. She received her BA from McGill University and her PhD. from Oxford University. She is an internationally recognized leader in the study of children’s learning and development and was the first to argue that children’s minds could help us understand deep philosophical questions. She is a columnist (every other week) for The Wall Street Journal. She is the author of over 100 journal articles and several books including “Words, thoughts and theories” (coauthored with Andrew Meltzoff), MIT Press, 1997, and the bestselling and critically acclaimed popular books The Scientist in the Crib (coauthored with Andrew Meltzoff and Patricia Kuhl) William Morrow, 1999, and The Philosophical Baby: What children’s minds tell us about love, truth and the meaning of life, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2009. She has also written widely about cognitive science and psychology for Science, The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, New Scientist and Slate, among others. And she has frequently appeared on TV and radio including “The Charlie Rose Show” and “The Colbert Report." She has three sons and lives in Berkeley, California with her husband Alvy Ray Smith.
Alison Gopnik: Once we started thinking about the role that parents and children play in human evolution one of the things that became very apparent is that that role was very different from the prevailing role in our current culture about parents. So in our current culture there's something called parenting and that very words, that verb only first appeared in 1958. And if you look at the Google Ngram it's sores up in the 1970s. And that word comes with a picture and that picture is that what caregivers do is shape or mole the child to come out a particular way. So your job as a caregiver is to do a bunch of things, acquire a bunch of expertise that will lead to a particular kind of child, which will lead to a particular kind of adult. And then somehow if you just get the right expertise you can create a better child who will create a better adult. Now exactly what that better means is a little unclear. I think parents whisper under their breath better like better than the kid next-door. But anyway, there's some picture, which I think of as the carpenter picture of caregiving, which is that you're going to shape this child into a particular kind of adult. And that picture, which goes with that word parenting, really is very recent. It really only developed at the end of the 20th century. So that picture is the picture that's become prominent in our discussions about caregiving, but it's very, very different from the picture that comes from thinking about caregiving in an evolutionary context and it's also very differently from the picture that comes from the studies that we've done in my life and others about how children actually learn.
Another way of thinking about what caregiving is about is that rather than having a bunch of procedures that let us shape a child to come out a particular way, what we do when we're taking care of children is to provide a kind of nurturing context, an environment in which lots of variability, lots of different things can happen. If you're a gardener, the way I am, one of the things you know as a gardener is that nothing ever works out the way that you originally planned. And terrible things happen and also marvelous things happen in garden that weren't the things that you were originally thinking about. But there's actually a deeper reason for that. And the deeper reason for that is that being a gardener is to create a kind of ecosystem. What you really want to do is create a system with enough variability and possibility, flexibility, robustness so that when the weather changes or the season changes the garden as a whole will be available to adjust to that kind of change. And when you think about the evolutionary function of childhood that's really what childhood is about. What childhood is about is providing a period of exploration of possibility for human beings so that we can change in the light of changes in our environment. Childhood is about change and caregiving is about providing a safe protected nurturing stable environment in which that kind of exploration can take place. That's a very different picture than the parenting carpentry kind of picture.
Another kind of metaphor that you could use is think about a monoculture like one of those giant farms where all they do is grow the same kind of potato. In a way that parenting picture is saying that we should think about caregiving taking care of children as being kind of like creating the very best potato. And we know that that's not a good formula for robustness. We know that that's not a good formula for dealing with change or variability. So the gardener picture is more like creating a meadow where there's many, many different kinds of flowers, many different ways of developing and that variety of possibility is what allows the garden to flourish or the meadow to flourish even when things change. And that's the evolutionary picture about children and parents and their relationship. And that's the picture that comes out of our empirical studies of children's learning. It's very different form the parenting picture.
For most of human history the way that we learned how to be parents, the way that we learned how to take care of children was by watching the other people around us. So that same evolutionary development that gave us this much broader range of caregivers, fathers or grandparents and friends and cousins, also meant that when we were growing up ourselves we were taking care of children from the time we were very young. One of the things we know is that siblings provide a lot of caregiving for human beings. And we were watching lots of other people take care of children. The strange thing that happened at the end of the 20th century was that as families got smaller, as people got more mobile, as people waited to have children until an older and older age we had this situation sort of unprecedented in human history where people were having children who had never taken care of a child before. And that's become even more true over the past 20 years let's say the beginning of the 21st-century so that even teenage babysitters have sort of disappeared from the scene for at least for middle-class and upper middle class children. So we have 40-year-olds who have spent a lot of time going to school and working and not spent any time at all taking care of children. So it's not too surprising that when they sit down to have a child they think this is a variety of work, this is something that I can get expertise about the same way that I got expertise at passing my exams or I got expertise in achieving my workout goals.
So this strange sociology of raising children in the late 20th century lead to this kind of strange and I think distorted picture of what caregiving is about. And, you know, of course there's lots of things that we evolved to do that we've had to change and revise, changing the way that we do things is also part of human nature. But it isn't just that the parenting model isn't the natural model, it's also just not a very productive model. It hasn't helped parents or children to thrive. It's led to a great deal of anxiety and guilt on a part of parents and a great deal of sort of hovering expectations for children that really aren't necessary and in fact may even be counterproductive if we still want children to innovate and create. And in fact, at this particular moment in our history, this post industrial moment, abilities like imagination, creativity, diversity, those things are more important than ever before. The irony is that the way that we evolve naturally actually seems to be a better way of encouraging those abilities than the particular picture that we get from the schooling of the last hundred years or so.
We don't really know very much about how specific kinds of early experience shape adult outcomes. One of the things that we know is that early experience is important because we know that, for instance, children who are impoverished, children who are neglected have all sorts of difficulties and problems as adults. And we can even trace some of the physiological origins of that in things like cortisol levels or stress. So we know that early experience is important. But the kinds of variance in conscious parenting methods that middle-class parents stress about like does this stroller face front or does this stroller face back or do you start feeding solid food when the kids are six months old or when they're a year or when they're three months old? Do you co-sleep or do you sleep train children? All those things that become sources of enormous stress as far as we can tell don't make very much difference in the long run. And in fact, again, this is part of the difference between the carpenter and the gardener model, if you think about caregiving as being a way of encouraging diversity it kind of makes sense that you wouldn't see strong correlations between what specific parents do and then how those children come out specifically as adults. And that's kind of the empirical picture.
So I don't necessarily think that children who are coming out of this parenting model are going to have some terrible deficit that's going to be distinct from other children, but one thing that I do think for sure is that during the process of caregiving the model is making people miserable. And children are resilient, children will come out, the next generation of children will come out the way that they're going to come out, but in the meantime there's a lot of unnecessary stress and misery that's happening both for parents and for children that is unnecessary, that isn't actually having the outcomes that we think. And it seems to me plausible that some features of children are related to this particular kind of attitude towards caregiving. So it seems as if, at least anecdotally, I don't think we have any data about this but at least anecdotally it seems that we have this strange thing with children who are very privileged who have been very well taken care of and are terribly fearful, are terribly afraid that something bad is going to happen to them. And that's the kind of combination you might expect from this kind of very controlling parenting model.
As I say I don't think we have very clear evidence for those relationships, but at least it seems anecdotally plausible that that might happen. But I don't think that's the biggest problem. I think the biggest problem is that life is being made miserable for parents and for children in ways that are just not necessary.
Like most things these days, parenting ain’t what it used to be. Even the word "parenting" is a relatively new verb, first appearing in 1958 and gaining mass popularity from the 1970s onwards. Today, Amazon stocks 60,000 titles on the subject.
The methods of modern parenting are focused on promoting certain behaviors, ensuring outcomes, and teaching lessons that will produce a particular kind of child who becomes a particular kind of adult: polite, office trained, financially secure, and yeah happy. But when you compare that to our evolutionary history of caregiving, it seems an astonishingly rigid system.
Developmental psychologist Alison Gopnik has a metaphor for this – carpenters VS. gardeners. "If you're a gardener, the way I am, one of the things you know as a gardener is that nothing ever works out the way that you originally planned. And terrible things happen and also marvelous things happen in gardens that weren't the things that you were originally thinking about."
Rather than focus on producing one type of show-winning specific flower, caregiving is about creating an entire ecosystem, one with variability, flexibility and robustness so that if circumstances change something will still grow. "What childhood is about is providing a period of exploration of possibility for human beings so that we can change in the light of changes in our environment. Childhood is about change, and caregiving is about providing a safe, protected, nurturing, stable environment in which that kind of exploration can take place. That's a very different picture than the parenting 'carpentry' kind of picture [where you build the model child]."
Ask yourself what weathers a storm better: a wooden chair or a tree? One can sway with the wind, the other is broken to pieces by its own resistance.
Gopnik attributes the 20th century distortion of caregiving into parenting to global mobility and social evolution. For most of human history, we learned to take care of children by watching the people around us. Families were bigger, cities were smaller, villages shared responsibility, and there were a range of caregivers from grandparents to cousins to siblings, so people were exposed to caregiving from young age. "The strange thing that happened at the end of the 20th century was that as families got smaller, as people got more mobile, as people waited to have children until an older and older age we had this situation, sort of an unprecedented [shift] in human history where people were having children but had never taken care of a child before." 40-year-olds who have spent a lot of time in school and at work essentially project manage their children, completely out of tune with natural caregiving, and found themselves at the mercy of high expectations (internal and external) for their to be better – but better than who? Better that what? Gopnik asks. "It isn't just that the [current] parenting model isn't the natural model, it's also just not a very productive model. It hasn't helped parents or children to thrive. It's led to a great deal of anxiety and guilt on a part of parents and a great deal of sort of hovering expectations for children that really aren't necessary and in fact may even be counterproductive if we still want children to innovate and create."
Alison Gopnik's most recent book is The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us about the Relationship Between Parents and Children.
Sallie Krawcheck and Bob Kulhan will be talking money, jobs, and how the pandemic will disproportionally affect women's finances.
Want help raising your kids? Spend more time at church, says new study.
- Religious people tend to have more children than secular people, but why remains unknown.
- A new study suggests that the social circles provided by regular church going make raising kids easier.
- Conversely, having a large secular social group made women less likely to have children.
Be fruitful and multiply<p>Scientists in the United Kingdom collected data on more than 13,000 mothers and their children. Most of them were religious, but 12 percent were not. The data included information on their church habits, social networks, number of children, and the scores those children achieved on a standardized test.</p><p>In line with previous findings that religious women have more children than secular women in industrialized countries, a connection between at least monthly church attendance and fertility was confirmed. However, religious parents showed they could avoid the pitfalls that having more children can bring. </p><p>Typically, more children in a family leads to reduced cognitive ability and height in each <a href="https://academic.oup.com/ije/article/37/6/1408/729795" target="_blank">child</a>. Some studies find that children do less well in school for each <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13524-016-0471-0" target="_blank">additional sibling they have</a>. This makes a kind of intuitive sense, as parents with more children would have to divide their time, energy, and resources among more people as families expand. One would expect that the larger families would also lead to things like lower test scores. </p><p>Despite the expectation, the children of religious parents didn't have lower scores on standardized tests. There were small positive relationships between the size of the mother's social network, the number of co-religionists helping out, and the children's test scores. However, this association was small, didn't show up in all of the testings, and was unrelated to other variables. </p> These effects might be explained by the size and helpfulness of the social networks around the more religious. Women who went to church at least once a month had more extensive social networks than those who never go or who attend yearly. These social networks of co-religious people mean that there are more people to turn to for help with child-rearing, a point also demonstrated in the data. The amount of aid women got from their fellow churchgoers was also associated with a higher fertility rate. <br> <br> Conversely, an extensive social network was associated with fewer children for secular women. This finding is in line with <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1207/s15327957pspr0904_5" target="_blank">previous studies</a> and suggests that the social networks comprised of co-religious individuals differ from those found elsewhere.
So, how quickly should I join a local religious group?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="6RrmYM8M" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="9eb4740a7d1e10108a75fd2ed627a90f"> <div id="botr_6RrmYM8M_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/6RrmYM8M-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/6RrmYM8M-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/6RrmYM8M-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The study is not without its faults, and more investigations into the relationship between fertility, childcare, ritual, and social networks are needed.</p><p>These findings all show correlation, not causation. Though it might be said the results point towards causation, various alternative interpretations of the data are apparent. The authors note that most religions are explicitly pro-natal. It is possible that religious women have internalized these values and simply choose to have more children than secular women do.</p><p>This idea is similar to a potential interpretation of why large social networks have the opposite effect for secular women. The authors suggest that, in some cases, these more extensive social networks are associated with work and exert an anti-natal influence. Again, the people who build such networks may be people unlikely to have large families under any circumstances.</p><p>However, the researchers' hypothesis endured. The help religious women get from their church-based social networks allows them to have larger families than those who lack these support systems. In some instances, these support systems also prevent the adverse effects of larger families. </p>
The community religion offers<p>As we've mentioned <a href="https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/what-is-secular-humanism" target="_blank">before</a>, religion offers a community, and a community provides social capital. As religion continues to decline in the West, the social bonds of faith communities that used to tie social communities together begin to decay. However, as has been noted by a variety of observers for the last few decades, fewer and fewer new organizations appear ready to replace religion as a source of community in our lives.</p><p>While many different organizations might offer social support that religion once provided the whole of western society, this study shows that different social circles can differently affect the people in them. This finding must be considered by those trying to find new communities to join or the authors of future research. </p><p>The community offered by religious groups provides real benefits to those who join them. As this study shows, having the support network religious community offers allows some parents to avoid pitfalls that bedevil those lacking similar support. It suggests that previous studies demonstrating that group ritual offers benefits like increased amounts of <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797612472910" target="_blank">group trust</a> and <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1069397103037002003" target="_blank">cooperation</a> are onto something and that those benefits have a variety of applications. </p><p>While this study is not without its blind spots, it offers a strong starting point for further investigations into the nature of ritual in our modern lives and how local support networks remain vital in our increasingly globalized world. </p>
Health officials in China reported that a man was infected with bubonic plague, the infectious disease that caused the Black Death.
- The case was reported in the city of Bayannur, which has issued a level-three plague prevention warning.
- Modern antibiotics can effectively treat bubonic plague, which spreads mainly by fleas.
- Chinese health officials are also monitoring a newly discovered type of swine flu that has the potential to develop into a pandemic virus.
Bacteria under microscope
needpix.com<p>Today, bubonic plague can be treated effectively with antibiotics.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unlike in the 14th century, we now have an understanding of how this disease is transmitted," Dr. Shanthi Kappagoda, an infectious disease physician at Stanford Health Care, told <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">Healthline</a>. "We know how to prevent it — avoid handling sick or dead animals in areas where there is transmission. We are also able to treat patients who are infected with effective antibiotics, and can give antibiotics to people who may have been exposed to the bacteria [and] prevent them [from] getting sick."</p>
This plague patient is displaying a swollen, ruptured inguinal lymph node, or buboe.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p>Still, hundreds of people develop bubonic plague every year. In the U.S., a handful of cases occur annually, particularly in New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/plague/faq/index.html" target="_blank">where habitats allow the bacteria to spread more easily among wild rodent populations</a>. But these cases are very rare, mainly because you need to be in close contact with rodents in order to get infected. And though plague can spread from human to human, this <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health-news/seriously-dont-worry-about-the-plague#Heres-how-the-plague-spreads" target="_blank">only occurs with pneumonic plague</a>, and transmission is also rare.</p>
A new swine flu in China<p>Last week, researchers in China also reported another public health concern: a new virus that has "all the essential hallmarks" of a pandemic virus.<br></p><p>In a paper published in the <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2020/06/23/1921186117" target="_blank">Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences</a>, researchers say the virus was discovered in pigs in China, and it descended from the H1N1 virus, commonly called "swine flu." That virus was able to transmit from human to human, and it killed an estimated 151,700 to 575,400 people worldwide from 2009 to 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.</p>There's no evidence showing that the new virus can spread from person to person. But the researchers did find that 10 percent of swine workers had been infected by the virus, called G4 reassortant EA H1N1. This level of infectivity raises concerns, because it "greatly enhances the opportunity for virus adaptation in humans and raises concerns for the possible generation of pandemic viruses," the researchers wrote.
Can an orgasm a day really keep the doctor away?
- Achieving orgasm through masturbation provides a rush of feel-good hormones (such as dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin) and can re-balance our levels of cortisol (a stress-inducing hormone). This helps our immune system function at a higher level.
- The surge in "feel-good" hormones also promotes a more relaxed and calm state of being, making it easier to achieve restful sleep, which is a critical part in maintaining a high-functioning immune system.
- Just as bad habits can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system which can prevent you from becoming sick.
How masturbation affects your brain...<p>Orgasms are a very common human phenomenon. The physical and mental health benefits have been researched frequently as a result, and yet, there is still so much to be learned about how our bodies and brains react to the chemicals and hormones released during and after experiencing this type of sexual release.</p><p>"The amount of speculation versus actual data on both the function and value of orgasm is remarkable" explains Julia Heiman, director of the <a href="https://kinseyinstitute.org/" target="_blank">Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction</a>.</p><p>Masturbation causes a rush of <a href="https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/what-is-dopamine" target="_blank">dopamine</a>, which is a chemical that is associated with our ability to feel pleasure. Along with the rush of dopamine that is released during an orgasm, there is also a release of a hormone called <a href="https://www.livescience.com/42198-what-is-oxytocin.html" target="_blank">oxytocin</a>, which is commonly referred to as the "love hormone."<br></p><p>This concoction of chemicals does more than just boost our mood, it also can play a key role in decreasing stress and promoting relaxation. Oxytocin decreases <a href="https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-cortisol" target="_blank">cortisol</a>, which is a stress hormone that is usually present (in high volumes) during times of anxiety, fear, panic, or distress. </p><p>According to BDSM and fetish researcher <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/dr-gloria-brame-colbert-ga/278388" target="_blank">Dr. Gloria Brame</a>, an orgasm is the biggest non-drug induced blast of dopamine that we can experience. </p><p>By boosting the oxytocin and dopamine levels and subsequently decreasing our cortisol levels, the brain is placed in a more relaxed, euphoric, and calm state. </p>
Masturbation boosts your immune system and raises your white blood cell count.<p>How do those effects on the brain from reaching orgasm translate to boosting our immune system and making our body healthier?</p><p>The increase of oxytocin and dopamine that causes a decrease in cortisol levels can help boost our immune system because cortisol (well-known for being a stress-inducing hormone) actually helps maintain your immune system if released in small doses. </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.health24.com/Sex/Great-sex/incredible-health-benefits-to-masturbating-20181030-2" target="_blank">Dr. Jennifer Landa</a>, a hormone-therapy specialist, masturbation can produce the right kind of environment for a strengthened immune system to thrive. </p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15316239" target="_blank">A study</a> conducted by the Department of Medical Psychology at the University Clinic of Essen (in Germany) showed similar results. A group of 11 volunteers were asked to participate in a study that would look at the effects of orgasm through masturbation on the white blood cell count and immune system.</p><p>During this experiment, the white blood cell count of each participant was analyzed through measures that were taken 5 minutes before and 45 minutes after reaching a self-induced orgasm. </p><p>The results confirmed that sexual arousal and orgasm increased the number of white blood cells, particularly the natural killer cells that help fight off infections. </p><p>The findings confirm that our immune system is positively affected by sexual arousal and self-induced orgasm and promote even more research into the positive impacts of sexual arousal and orgasm. </p>
Masturbation can ease and prevent pain, which allows you to achieve the restful sleep that helps your immune system stay strong and healthy.<p>The benefits of masturbation have long been debated, but the more research that is done on the topic the more we understand that there are many positive reactions that happen in our bodies and brains when we orgasm.</p><p>Orgasms can help prevent or mitigate pain, which boosts the immune system, preventing cold and flu symptoms. </p><p>According to neurologist and headache specialist Stefan Evers, about one in three patients experience relief from migraine attacks by experiencing sexual activity or orgasm. Evers and his team <a href="https://www.livescience.com/27642-sex-relieves-migraine-pain.html" target="_blank">conducted an experiment</a> with 800 migraine patients and 200 patients who suffered from cluster-headaches to see how their experiences with sexual activity impacted their pain levels. </p><p>The study showed that 60% of migraine sufferers experienced pain relief after participating in sexual activity that resulted in orgasm. Of the cluster-headache sufferers, about 50% said their headaches actually worsened after sexual arousal and orgasm. </p><p>Evers suggested in his findings that the people who did not experience pain relief from migraines of headaches during their sexual activity did not release as large amounts of endorphins as those who did experience pain relief. </p><p>According to <a href="https://www.sharecare.com/health/chronic-pain/chronic-pain-affect-immune-system" target="_blank">rheumatologist Dr. Harris McIlwain</a>, people who suffer from chronic pain have immune systems that are simply not functioning at full capacity - therefore, alleviating pain (through orgasm, as an example) can help boost the immune system. </p><p>Orgasms can also promote relaxation and make it easier to fall asleep. Serotonin, oxytocin, and norepinephrine are all hormones that are released during sexual arousal and orgasm, and all three are known for counteracting stress hormones and promoting relaxation, which makes it much easier for you to fall asleep.</p><p>There are <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1233384" target="_blank">several studies</a> showing that serotonin and norepinephrine help our body cycle through REM and deep non-REM sleeping cycles. During these sleep cycles, the immune system releases proteins called <a href="https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-sleep-affects-your-immunity" target="_blank"><span id="selection-marker-1" class="redactor-selection-marker"></span>cytokines<span id="selection-marker-2" class="redactor-selection-marker"></span></a>, which target infection and inflammation. This is a critical part of our immune response. Cytokines are both produced and released throughout our bodies while we sleep, which proves the importance of a good sleep schedule to a healthy immune system.</p>
Masturbation promotes a high-functioning immune system; a healthy immune system prevents cold and flu.<p>The immune system is a balanced network of cells and organs that work together to defend you against infections and diseases by stopped threats like bacteria and viruses from entering your system. While there are many things we need to do to keep our immune systems functioning at optimal levels, masturbation (or other means of achieving orgasm) has proven to have positive effects on the immune system as a whole.</p><p>Just as bad habits (such as an inconsistent sleep schedule or harmful chemicals in your body) can slow your immune system, positive habits (such as a healthy sleep schedule and active sex life) can help boost your immune system. </p>
The word "learning" opens up space for more people, places, and ideas.
- The terms 'education' and 'learning' are often used interchangeably, but there is a cultural connotation to the former that can be limiting. Education naturally links to schooling, which is only one form of learning.
- Gregg Behr, founder and co-chair of Remake Learning, believes that this small word shift opens up the possibilities in terms of how and where learning can happen. It also becomes a more inclusive practice, welcoming in a larger, more diverse group of thinkers.
- Post-COVID, the way we think about what learning looks like will inevitably change, so it's crucial to adjust and begin building the necessary support systems today.