“Don’t Think of Ugly People”: how parenting advice has changed

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Ever feel constantly inundated with tips and tricks for raising kids? WELL, it turns out there’s a reason for that: sharing parenting tips is just part of what humans do.

This piece from The Atlantic compares and contrasts parenting advice from today (don’t let your kids see a screen until they’re two!) to parenting advice from the 1900s (“Pregnant mothers should avoid thinking of ugly people, or those marked by any deformity or disease; avoid injury, fright and disease of any kind.”) and examines why parents are so hung up on all that information in the first place (note: the first few paragraphs are kind of ehhhhh but things get interesting with “If you’re a fan of peculiar history…”):

Parents are still all too aware of what they don’t know. Fear still sells. The mortality rate of American babies today is infinitesimal compared to any other time in history. We no longer worry about diphtheria or a mother’s argument with a neighbor poisoning her breast milk. So we find different things to worry about. Things that even the most exhaustively detailed books of yesteryear would never even have considered.

Should drop-side cribs be banned? Which chemicals might be seeping into my child’s liver through the plastic in her sippy cup? What’s worse for baby: formula feeding, or just directly feeding it lead paint chips?

Dr. Apple offers a calmer point of view. “I’m a historian, not a healthcare practitioner, but from my experience and readings, I would say that the basic rule would be ‘everything in moderation.’ Anything done to excess can be potentially harmful; for example the difference between a daily multivitamin and a mega-dose of vitamins.”

There is one thing we tend to forget with our babies as we look down on them in their cribs, hoping the wispy rise and fall of their chests will continue even after we look away, and genuinely afraid that it won’t. Babies want to live. They want to thrive. No matter what new wave in parenting washes over them, they adapt. In 100 years historians may be disgusted by our use of diapers, and click their tongues over our ignorance of subatomic particles as they relate to cognitive development. They will be around to judge our folly because they survived it, just as our grandparents survived the incomplete information their parents had.

Head over to The Atlantic to read the rest!

Comments on “Don’t Think of Ugly People”: how parenting advice has changed

  1. “don’t let your kids see a screen until they’re two” is parenting from today? What’s the reason behind that?

    • The effects of too much TV watching on young kids hasn’t been fully studied, and it’s highly recommended that kids under 2 don’t watch it at all. I think it’s recommended that older kids get 1-2 hours of TV watching a day, MAX. This week is actually “no TV week” for my son’s preschool, and they were sent home with info that said on average, kids under 6 watch four hours of TV a day. I think the general consensus is it’s not good for anyone to watch tons of TV, and we especially don’t know what kind of impact it might be having on small kids.

      As for screens specifically, I think there are concerns about ADD + screens? Not entirely sure.

      • Hi Stephanie — the effect of screens on children has been studied extensively. Basically, screen time slows the young child’s development. They’re starting to study more thoroughly how different *types* of TV affect kids; calm, Barney-style shows were found to have a markedly lower negative effect on kids than quick-cut stuff like Sponge Bob.

        I hope we’ll see a lot more of that. (Also, the effects of parking your kid in front of the box versus sitting with them and interacting while they watch? I’d love to read more on that.)

        There’s some hilarious counterintuitive research, too, like kids are unlikely to watch something violent and play it out in real life, whereas if they see social drama, like Cartoon Bear makes fun of Cartoon Cat for being funny-looking, they’re very likely to start making fun of someone at school, even if in the TV show it all eventually gets resolved.

        • I am definitely really interested in the future of “screen time” research. My toddler watches videos and plays games on my smart phone, and just watching her it seems like her interaction with and learning from the screen is totally different for different activities. Does screen time still have a negative effect if the child is interacting with a touch screen? Or what about videochatting, where the conversation is immediately responsive? Maybe… the visual stimulation and lack of physical action is still similar. Or maybe not. Or maybe in some ways but not in others. Who knows! So fascinating. 🙂

      • It may end up being derided in future decades, but for now the research is solid. Science Daily: ‘Oct. 8, 2012 — Curbs on children’s daily screen time and delaying the age at which they start “the world’s favourite pastime” [TV] are urgently needed to stave off the risk of serious health and developmental problems, argues a leading psychologist and child health expert in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.’ The US Government’s NIH, National Institutes of Health, recommends limiting screen time for development but also to curb the obesity epidemic.

        The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 2 watch no TV at all. They also say: “excessive TV viewing has been linked to obesity and may lead to decreased school achievement, poor body image, increased aggression, and increased risk of substance abuse.”

  2. Even after all of these thousands of years of different medical advice we are all still here. I am not saying to toss science out the window, but just do what your family thinks is right and whatever get your family to survive until the kid is 18. =D

  3. In this age of fear-mongering and self-doubt, I find it’s a revolutionary act to trust my instincts, listen to my baby, and ignore most of the pop-media parenting advice. I am so much happier for it!

    • Definitely and I’m also finding that so much of what feels right and works well actually goes back to before these so-called experts started telling parents what to do (eg homebirth, babywearing, BLW, etc). I definitely like to have my decisions backed by science, but so far I’ve found that research really supports nurturing and relaxed methods of parenting.

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