Day Care Debate: More Than Aggressive Babies

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Day Care Debate

More Than Aggressive Babies

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A study released by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) in late April found that children who spend more than 30 hours a week in day care at an early age tend to be more aggressive, especially toward their peers. The study also found that these children were more fearful, shy and sad.

(The U.S. national average for the amount of time spent by a child in day care is 26 hours per week.)

The study was widely reported and editorialized about, as people seized upon the possibility that a cause for youthful anger and bullying had been found. Why do people put so much stock in this study?

U.S. parents are understandably distressed about the level of violence in schools, in light of the killings of the past few years. The study of bullying has become somewhat of a catharsis, in the hope that discovering and dealing with the cause of bullying will lead to safer schools for everyone. The NICHD study appears to offer at least a potential cause for "aggressiveness" and therefore a direction for taking action.

Jay Belsky, lead researcher on the NICHD study said that the children "scored higher on items like 'gets in lots of fights,' 'cruelty,' 'explosive behavior,' as well as 'talking too much,' 'argues a lot,' and 'demands a lot of attention'" ("Day Care Linked to Aggression in Kids," April 19, 2001, AP).

Why would anyone object to Belsky's comments? Day care has become an institution in the United States, a virtual necessity. It's a matter of economics.

It's the money

Sarah Friedman, a lead scientist for the NICHD study, cautioned: "The easy solution is to cut the number of hours [that children are in day care] but that may have implications for the family that may not be beneficial for the development of the children in terms of economics" (ibid.).

She's referring to the hard reality that many parents have become dependent upon day care, with single parent and double income households. People are trying to balance earning a living with what's best for the children. For some parents, it's no contest. Without day care, they simply could not earn enough money to pay for the basic necessities. For others, "what's best for the children" encompasses a wide array of "opportunities," including high-end housing, the latest technological toys, stylish clothing, private schools and tutoring, while saving for their college education.

What are the actual numbers of women in the U.S. workforce? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 9.7 million women with children under age 6 were employed in the United States in 2000, 6.9 million of whom worked full-time, with 2.8 million working part-time. Statistics show that 65 percent of married mothers with children under age 6 are in the workforce.

Presumably, a larger percentage of unmarried mothers work outside the home. And the ever-increasing numbers of children born to unwed mothers portend continued growth in the demand for day care. Children born to unmarried women accounted for 33 percent of total births in 1999, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

According to Helen Blank with the Children's Defense Fund, approximately 55 percent of working mothers bring home half or more of their families' earnings ("Day-Care Dilemma: What's Best for Kids, Families?" by Kathy Slobogin, May 2, 2001, CNN).

You see the dilemma. Day care has become an essential part of the economy of the United States (and other Western nations) and, therefore, an integral part of the early life experience of millions of children in the Western world.

"Academic benefits" from day care?

A further defense of day care is the claim that it has academic benefits. The NICHD study showed that children in high-quality day care in the preschool years had better language and cognitive development and were more ready for regular school than those children in lower quality day care facilities.

Caryl Rivers, in "Tall Tales About Kids and Day Care," takes great issue with any degradation of day-care programs. She quotes Professor Robert C. Pianta, another investigator on the project: "There are quite convincing findings that the quality of child care has a positive association with a range of social and academic skills" (April 23, 2001, MSNBC).

"Academic skills"—of preschoolers? Have we lost sight of reality?

In her April 25th piece, syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker offers this pointed rebuttal: "In other words, if your child is lucky enough to find himself in high-quality child care, he'll do better on his first-grade SATs. Yippee."

Does the quality of day care make a difference? Some have suggested that the government and employers should sponsor day care, pouring funds into hiring qualified staff and upgrading facilities. France and Sweden, where the government subsidizes day care, are touted as models.

Would it make a difference? No, says the NICHD study. It found that the increased aggressive behavior held true even when variables such as type of facility and quality of care were factored in.

The results also remain the same for both boys and girls, as well as for children from well-to-do and poor families.

Emotion-based reasoning

Parents are reacting emotionally to any criticism of day care. Some parents don't want their lifestyle interfered with; others don't want their livelihood taken away. None want to be made to feel guilty. CNN reporter Kathy Slobogin reported the reactions of two working mothers, Alyssa Lipshie and Wendy Williams (ibid., Slobogin).

Ms. Lipshie, a fourth-grade teacher, reacted to the NICHD study's results first with alarm, followed by anger. Based on her experience, she said, "My gut feeling is saying that it's wrong, it's absolutely wrong." She added that she stayed home for a year with her first-born and then found she needed to get back to work in order to avoid becoming frustrated and depressed.

Championing what day care has meant to her family, she declared, "I was so glad to see my kid at the end of the day that I really think I was a better mother." She was "a better mother," because she didn't have to "deal with" her young child throughout the day? With a 4-year-old daughter in day care for nearly 10 hours a day, Ms. Williams, a paralegal, describes herself as without any choice in the matter. However, she believes it's been good for her daughter, because day care is "a learning environment" in which "she's making friends." While young parents emphasize and seek to build relationships with their children, they lack the vision of past generations to transmit values to their children.

Prepared for school, but not for life

In Kathleen Parker's opinion, the NICHD report suggests "that we're creating a generation of children who may be fit for school but not for society" (emphasis added). That's sober food for thought. Parents should remember and recapture the primary task of child training—to prepare children for life. Not for school, not for SATs, not for sports, not for the arts, not "to give them opportunities I never had."

My wife is a schoolteacher. Occasionally, frazzled and distraught parents will seek her advice on how to deal with their uncontrollable children. Are these rapscallions in their mid-teens? No, they're second graders.

What's happened in our world that has produced parents who haven't a clue about how to rear children—or why? The culture of day care may hold an unexpected answer.

Parents don't parent anymore

One of the most outstanding articles that I came across in researching this topic was written by Mary Mostert, an analyst with the Banner of Liberty organization. She reported on another government study that followed babies from less than one month old through their first year in school. Children who were placed in day care showed the same attachment to their mothers as did children who were not left in day care. However, "the mothers showed less attachment to the children after long hours in day care" ("National Institute on Child Health Says Over 30 Hours [a] Week in Child Care Makes Aggressive Children," April 23, 2001,

Merging the conclusion of the above study with the recent NICHD study, Mostert raises a disturbing question: "Is the aggressive behavior being caused by the child care or the mothers who are not showing much 'attachment' to their children after picking them up from their long hours in day care?"

Mostert's daughter, Gail Lyons, who holds a degree from Cornell University in early childhood development and has four children herself, has spent most of the past 20 years teaching 3- and 4-year-olds at the Princeton Preschool at Princeton University. According to Ms. Lyons, the aggressiveness problem is usually the result of permissive parenting.

Says Mostert, "Parents either are overly permissive with their young children based on guilt at leaving them all day [in day-care facilities or with baby-sitters] or they are overly permissive based on a desire to buy the child's loyalty. They think the children will 'like' them better if they are allowed to do as they please. They don't want to 'waste' the so-called 'quality time' they have set aside for their children by saying anything that might make Junior think they are the 'bad guy'" (ibid.).

She continues, "Parents are not teaching their children that hitting and biting is unacceptable or that defying the teacher is a no-no. They are seeing 3- and 4-year-olds who not only hit and bite other kids, but also hit and bite their parents and the teachers.... Many parents no longer make any effort to teach children to respect authority—not even their own authority" (ibid.).

It's true that many parents struggle with their lack of knowledge, judgment and skill in training and caring for their children. But can the solution be to "subcontract" with substitute parents-"high-quality" day-care workers?

Few parents can afford or even find high-quality day care. Day care at the center that Alyssa Lipshie's child attends costs nearly $1,000 per month. Pediatrician and author Barry Brazelton describes most U.S. child-care facilities as "deplorable, absolutely deplorable," adding, "Nearly 80 percent of child care [facilities] you or I wouldn't trust with our children" (ibid., Slobogin).

Wanted: mothers

Consider one more piece of the NICHD study. It found that children fared better in the care of their own mothers than in any other care-giving situation.

According to Belsky, "The more time children spent in any kind of non-maternal care across the infant, toddler and preschool years, the more aggressive and disobedient, not just independent and assertive, they were at age 41/2, according to caregivers in childcare, and at kindergarten age, according to mothers and teachers" ("Study: Kindergarteners After Day Care Are Aggressive, Disobedient," by Susan Fitzgerald, The Philadelphia Inquirer, emphasis added).

Ephesians 6:3 Ephesians 6:3That it may be well with you, and you may live long on the earth.
American King James Version×
reveals that the hope for preparing children for life-"that it may be well with you and [that] you may live long on the earth"—is that they obey and honor their father and mother (verses 1-2).

"Obey" means to listen attentively, to conform to authority. "Honor" means to prize, revere or place a high value on the parent. Can that be accomplished if most of the child's waking hours are spent with someone other than his or her parents? Implicit in God's instructions is that parents, especially mothers, should have a close relationship with their children. That can only grow out of spending time with them.

Does any scripture express this more beautifully than Deuteronomy 6:7 Deuteronomy 6:7And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.
American King James Version×
? It shows the way to teach children-by communicating with them, as teaching situations present themselves. Those situations cannot be planned for, but rather present themselves spontaneously throughout the day.

The culture of true Christianity includes mothers who are devoted to the care of their children (Titus 2:4 Titus 2:4That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,
American King James Version×
). The wisdom of the Proverbs warns that leaving a child without a mother's direction will bring her shame (Proverbs 29:15 Proverbs 29:15The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself brings his mother to shame.
American King James Version×

It's not my intention to lay guilt upon any readers of World News and Prophecy, but there is a hard reality to consider. This world has set and sprung a trap, which has snared people in a dilemma. It all comes down to this "bottom line"—and it's not an economic equation. It's an equation of the heart.

Wanted: mothers. WNP