Presented recently at a symposium at the University of Notre Dame's Center for Children and Families in the US state of Indiana, the findings run counter to commonly accepted, decades-old parenting practices which espouse a "tough love" philosophy, such as letting babies cry themselves back to sleep.
"Life outcomes for American youth are worsening, especially in comparison to 50 years ago," said Darcia Narvaez, a Notre Dame professor of psychology, in a statement.
"Ill-advised practices and beliefs have become commonplace in our culture, such as the use of infant formula, the isolation of infants in their own rooms or the belief that responding too quickly to a fussing baby will 'spoil' it."
The indirect result of these misguided parenting methods, researchers charge, is an "epidemic" of anxiety and depression among children of all age groups, rising rates of aggressive and delinquent behavior and decreasing empathy among college students.
Instead of being held, infants spend more time in carriers, car seats and strollers, authors point out, while only 15 per cent of mothers breastfeed by 12 months.
To reverse the trend, researchers advise responding to baby's cries, an action that can positively influence the development of their conscience. "Constant touch" can also impact the way babies react to stress, impulse control and empathy development.
Contrary to tightly regimented schedules — soccer, ballet, piano lessons, or hockey — free and "rough-and-tumble" play can influence social capacities and aggression and help develop kids' creativity.
Similarly, expanding kids' adult exposure beyond mom and dad to a set of supportive caregivers like aunts, friends, teachers and relatives is also a predictor of IQ, self-confidence, and empathy, researchers say.
But not everyone agrees. Another study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies last summer found that women who believe in intensive or attachment parenting — a child-centered philosophy — are more likely to suffer from negative mental health outcomes such as increased stress, depression and lower life satisfaction. — AFP-Relaxnews