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Research Says We Should Parent Like Cavemen

Research Says We Should Parent Like Cavemen

New studies suggest that modern parenting skills pale in comparison to those of our pre-historic ancestors. As it turns out, the ancient hunter-gatherers parented in a manner that produced well-adjusted and more empathetic children than our 21st century models. In otherwise, Fred and Wilma Flintstone were better parents than you are, and Pebbles was a smarter, nicer kid than yours is.

Hunter-Gatherers As Role Models

How can that be? It seems our image of the hunter-gatherer societies as being clannish, loutish and war-mongering is more Hollywood than fact.

The hunter-gatherers engaged in minimal violence. They lived cooperatively and shared resources generously. They figured out quickly that kindness and working together was the key to survival and their parenting reflected this.

By studying contemporary peoples who live much like the hunter-gatherers, anthropologists have come to the conclusion that our modern world has robbed us of important child-rearing tools — many of which have actually become controversial. However, these techniques are important if society wants to encourage empathy, compassion and cooperation in young people.

Kids Today Lack Empathy

With studies pointing to the fact that today’s youth is 40% less empathetic than generations past, and with bullying seemingly on the rise, raising kids with a conscience has never been more important.

Keys to Good Parenting

Six parenting techniques are highlighted for their ability to promote stability and positive emotional well being in children:

Natural Birth – avoiding as many medical interventions as possible during childbirth goes a long ways towards promoting the mother-baby bond right from the beginning.

Breast-feeding – Mothers should strive to breastfeed for as long as possible. Experts recommend two to five years because children’s immune systems are not fully developed until age six. The longer a child is breastfed, the more help their immunity systems derive. The WHO (World Health Organization) recommends breastfeeding until at least age two, but in the United States, nursing is generally frowned upon as babies grow to toddlers. Nursing pre-school or kindergartners is rare.

Quick Response Times – Primitive peoples didn’t adhere to the idea that too much cuddling could spoil babies. Leaving infants to cry or fuss is considered a good way to teach young children independence, which is silly when a person really thinks about it. How independent can a being that is totally dependent on adults for everything actually be? Studies show that leaving babies to cry themselves to sleep, for example, only teaches them distrust and to emotionally distance themselves from people. Responding quickly to a baby’s cries reinforces the parent-child bond and teaches the baby that he/she is safe and loved.

Affection Not Corporal Punishment – Touch is important. Cuddling builds and strengthens emotional bonds. Conversely, spanking weakens and breaks them.

Multitude of Caregivers – In primitive societies, extended families meant children came into contact with multiple adults who cared for them. This type of extending parenting helped parents avoid exhaustion and burnout. It provided children with diverse role models and people they could depend on.

Play-time/Multi-age Groupings – In the hunter-gatherer world, age groups didn’t segregate children. This exposure to other kids at varying stages of development was helpful to the individual’s growth. Free play allowed children to be inventive, and play in general has been shown to reduce the risk of developing ADHD that some children may have.

Your Thoughts and Stories

Though hardly new ideas, parenting strategies tend to be debated heatedly and many new parents are overwhelmed by the differing opinions on how best to raise a child. What do you think? Could the hunter-gatherer way be THE way? Share your thoughts and parenting styles with us. We’d love to hear your stories.

 

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180 comments

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2:17PM PDT on Jul 21, 2011

Kersty E., I think the Chimpanzee is the only non human who will caculate an attack. it may loo like brainless chewing and biting when some animals attack/counter attack/defend, but when a chimp "has it out for you" they plan ahead, plan an attack, and execute it like a hitman. or just premeditate it.

"oh that guy crossed me. I'll sit in front of his door and slam his legs with a crow bar"

then (I think) you have your chimp. apparenty they also have a thing where they mutilate who they don't like.

1:56PM PDT on Jul 21, 2011

And about the article in itself... Poorly reserches, with no solid information. Example:
"With studies pointing to the fact that today’s youth is 40% less empathetic than generations past, and with bullying seemingly on the rise...'

What studies??? "Seemingly" on the rise? Like in anecdotal evidence?

1:50PM PDT on Jul 21, 2011

Kersty,
animals don't attack for money or religion only because they don't have intellect to have neither, so it's not the point.
If you want to make the point that aninmals know no cruelty, but only necessey evil (from humane's poit of view), you don't know the facts. Animals do kill just for "fun" or whatever you may call it (for 'fun' - meaning not for eating).
One of the few examples - wolves, dogs, cats, many raptors, even some dolphins. Male bear kill their own offspring so they can mate again. List go on and on, just put some efforts into studying the question before giving an 'opinion' based on your igtnorance. Animals do eat their mates (black vidows), they have wars (ants), and so on. We didn't get all this traits from nowhere, we grandfathered them.

3:46PM PDT on Jul 20, 2011

@Colleen, yes nature can be very cruel at times. Animals don't have doctors and hospitals. If one is too ill or wounded to heal, it is kinder to kill it than leave it to suffer and slowly starve or bleed to death. Animals don't attack each other for money or religion. They don't calculate crimes in the way humans can. Humans have many choices that animals don't have and really should know better.

3:21PM PDT on Jul 20, 2011

in their own clan/pack/family/tribe, and or rival.
every one bashes humans. so many people here demonize us, a creature who can achive great evil or great goodness.

what other speciese would donate blood to save a stranger's life? do people here really think an eagle will go out of it's way to feed one it dosen't know?

what if a wolf with broken ankle stumbles onto other wolve's territory. people here really think the pack won't mutilate it?

OH but evil human!, maybe we will take in a stranger who passes out in our yard, with a twisted leg.

3:38AM PDT on Oct 27, 2010

From a historical point of view, the hunter/gatherers were very much a communal society with not too much spare time. The problems started to set in the moment groups became sedentary and the accumulation of wealth created the 'class system' - or the 'haves' and 'have nots'.

The challenge is to combine the hunter/gatherer outlook with the sedentary situation.

6:04PM PDT on Oct 24, 2010

Absolutely!
I agree with Elke, too, contributing to the family is so important.
And, if you want ethical, empathic kids, maybe model that behaviour? Do some volunteer work, and either take your kids, or let it impact on them in some way. Make the time. My 5 are nearly grown up, (3 volunteer on their own behalf) and I'm pretty confident we did and are doing a good job with them.
A big house and new car are fine....but not at the cost of not having time with your family, so be careful of your choices.

2:10PM PDT on Oct 24, 2010

TBH I think there's one big factor missing here - although not a prent, i have lived in intentional communities and seen children raised to adulthood there, including home schooling and/or alternative schooling, and in my own experience this produces people who are very well adjusted *to that social setting*

Unfortunately they often seem to be completely unprepared and maladjusted to dealing with the world outside of that communal/naturalistic bubble, and often end up pretty much institutionalised to that sort of alternative lifestyle, finding it extremely hard to interact with the world at large.

So if my observations were accurate, that would suggest this approach may well work - but only if it were universal.

2:37PM PDT on Oct 21, 2010

Modern youth is not attractive when seen in clusters and betraying mobbing characteristics. In fact, it is obvious that something has gone very wrong and that they are primitive generally in terms of non acceptance of ethical values. Women in these groups are also prone to act as devils advocates and often goad their men to show others that they have the power of strength against them. I often wondered whether parents really knew what horrors they put to bed so lovingly every night. I too am of the conclusion that extended families with friends exchaging spaces freely within their comunities exposes the children to beneficial sources of training for future life experiences. Although there may be dangers of undetected intimacies, the acceptance of those possibilities can always be discussed openly to give further form to the variety of influences that will produce mentally healthy children. Narrow family stimulation with too much restrictive inbreeding often produces the monsters that crowd our television screens.

5:15AM PDT on Oct 21, 2010

My experience as a teacher for more than sixty years is that many parents' behaviour is already very primitive and we try to overcome its failings. Please do not advocate a further decline.

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches ancient Greek, Latin and Classics at Saint Peter's University in New Jersey.... more
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