It is widely accepted that the critical period of early childhood is the most influential period in a person’s development. During the first several years of life, children are sponges, soaking and absorbing constant streams of stimuli, forming an intellectual view of the world and their place in it. For a variety of reasons, both social and economic, significant portions of recent generations are spending their formative years fostered in daycare facilities. This, along with the rise of single parent households, marks a seismic change in child-rearing.
Daycare is a competitive place where a group of children compete for the attention of low-wage, often exhausted and sometimes apathetic parental-like figures. These surrogates are little more than imitations and are less likely to satisfy a child’s thirst for bonding, care, guidance and love like the real thing. Psychologist Oliver James has said, “A rapid increase in nursery places has led to a generation of violent little savages.” He also cites, “studies show there is a direct link between how many hours you spend in daycare up to the age of four and a half and how aggressive you are.” This is believed to be a result of too many children competing for too little attention. To be fair, government studies indicate that high-quality daycare is sufficient and produces similar results to full-time parental nurturing. Remarkably, the lack of information and study suggests that there is little curiosity about the issue.
Culturally, the mainstream narrative supports the “warehousing” of children. Women, who historically have been tasked with child-rearing, are working outside of the home. Female economic independence and “having it all” have become cherished values. Cultural, social and psychological evolution has not adequately supported the concept of men as primary care-givers. Also, decades of stagnate wage growth, material envy and a decadent consumer culture has played a part in wanting for more. Parenting for some has become a secondary vocation, instead of a primary function in society.
The Millennials are the first generation in-mass to grow up in this new paradigm, a new normal. This has been in combination with growing up on-line and TV pacification. These trends align with the rise of helicopter parenting and lavish materialism, seemingly an intrinsic acknowledgement of guilt and compensation. It is theorized, that this is being reflected in the behaviors of young adults today; online attention seeking (competing for attention), a cry for safe-spaces (daycare like settings). For good or bad, most children are growing up differently in the 21st century. From porn and blurring of gender roles to surveillance and the atomized world, complexity has been added without a proportional increase in empathetic care and guidance. While we do not yet know what the results will be, it is important to realize this is a profound change and try to better understand the impact on mind and society.
Institutionalization leads to institutionalization, proceed with caution. The “gift” of free childcare may be offered by a political ideology and presented as women’s liberation, but this can lead to no good. If the state or large for-profit entities take over the job of child-rearing, the world imagined in Huxley, Orwell and Wall-E will be realized.