"Latch-Key Kids" and the Effects of Daycare
By Raymond Shipley
Since the cultural revolution of the 1960s more and more mothers have opted to work as well as raise their children. The increase of parents in the work force led to the "latch-key kids" of the 1970s and 1980s. By the 1990s 58% of mothers with children under age six and 75% of mothers with children ages six through eighteen were part of the work force. Inevitably this led to a booming daycare industry. But what are the effects of putting one's children in daycare?
It should come as no surprise children are attached to their parents and need to fully develop that bond. According to Jenet Jacobs Erickson, who specializes in maternal and child-well being, in teachers' reports of children in kindergarten, the effects of daycare are comparable to the impact of poverty. The amount of time a child is away from parents and in daycare is associated with negative effects in social development. When a child spends their early years in daycare rather than with Mom or Dad they develop less social competence and cooperation, more problem behaviors, mild depression and aggression. These effects persist throughout childhood and into adult life as well.
Additionally, maternal sensitivity, the ability of the mother to infer and respond to an infant's behavioural signals, is the strongest and most consistent predictor of social-behavioral adjustment. A low maternal sensitivity rating coupled with high amounts of time in daycare inevitably leads to insecurity in attachment. As has been written in these pages, the mother/child attachment bond is paramount in raising healthy and well adjusted children. It is associated with positive peer interactions, social behaviors, emotions and exploratory behaviors. Moreover, the amount of daycare time has also been linked to poor social skills and poor work habits even by third grade. The problems steadily get worse, showing by age 15, children are reported to engage in more risk-taking and impulsivity, including alcohol and drugs. Impulse control and harmful behaviors often become a major issue by this age as well.
It has been argued that it is not quantity but quality of daycare that marks the difference. Unfortunately, this has simply not proven to be true. Yes, better quality daycare results in fewer problem behaviors; however, according to Erickson the quality of care is less important in either positive or negative social and emotional outcomes than quantity of daycare. Children that spend high amounts of time in daycare tend to exhibit lower levels of sensitivity and less positive parent-child interactions, regardless of quality in the daycare. Moreover, children whose mothers show low levels of maternal sensitivity and are in daycare more than 10 hours per week are more likely to experience attachment insecurity, which leads to depression and anxiety. Boys tend to experience a heightened level of problems and are more likely to exhibit conflict and aggression.
In many cases it is difficult, if not impossible to have a parent stay home to raise the children. But in such cases as it is a possibility, it should be done. The positive effects of having parents raise their children cannot be overstated, just as the negative impact of daycare cannot be ignored. Being a parent is the most important role in life one can possibly play, and there are no participation medals in the real world. So, go and earn that "World's Greatest Mom/Dad" coffee mug. If it is truly earned, it will be the most cherished trophy of all.