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The environment in which we live has many components which affect our minds and our relationships.

The world in general can be more or less “VUCA” (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.) Natural and human-made catastrophes affect the general climate of our lives. A distressing example is the observation that economic downturns bring about a rise in domestic violence.

Additionally, the beliefs, norms and values of the specific societies in which we live also affect us. Do our friends, advisors, doctors, educators believe that early life experiences shape children, or that it’s all in the genes? What is considered the ‘normal’ length of a parental leave, two weeks or three years? Does our culture value caring or competing, collective or individual goals, growth or sustainability, intrinsic or extrinsic motivations?

There is a risk in the US that cultural beliefs, norms, and values are undermining caregiving relationships:

  • Beliefs: Humanity’s greatest problem is the mismatch between how critical attuned caregiving is for zero-to-three infants, and how critical adult caregivers generally believe it is, and invest in providing it
    • It is still widely believed that pre-verbal children require mainly hygiene, supervision, and sensory stimulation. Little attention is paid to the quality of their emotional attachments

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  • Norms: Cultural norms encourage neither parental investment nor that of early childhood educators. Care is frequently informal, or left to underpaid, uncertified workers
    • Only a few states and no federal law provide paid parental leave (compared to over one year at 80% of salary in several other countries)
    • Insufficient investment in public daycares
    • Only 40% of 4-to-5-year olds are in pre-K in the US (versus 97% of 3-year olds in France)
    • Fortune Magazine found that the graduate degree with the second lowest remuneration is that of Early Childhood Education

 

  • Values: A 2010 study showed psychopathology increase in the US over the last decades, and ascribed it to cultural values. Psychopathology apparently rises when fewer people value intrinsic goals (affiliation, community, relationships, meaning) and more people value extrinsic goals (status and material comforts)

 

Cultural change is difficult to achieve. Here are the highest impact ideas to support, donate to, advocate for:

  1. Home visitation programs
  2. Quality daycares
  3. Paid parental leave
  4. Early Childhood Educator / Child Worker remuneration
  5. Pre-school enrollment

Nobel laureate James Heckman demonstrates that high-quality 0-to-5 programs can deliver a 13% per year return on investment. There is no more efficient use of public funds.