Can neuroparenting save the family?

Saturday 22 October, 14.00 - 15.30 , Frobisher 4-6 State and Society

In Association With:

Watch the video of this session at the bottom of this page.

‘Neuroparenting’ is on the rise. The idea has taken hold that because of progress in neuroscience, ‘we now know’ that babies need more, and earlier, ‘brain-attuned’ nurture from conception onwards. The idea is increasingly prevalent not only in maternal and infant healthcare and early-years education, but also in politics. In February this year, Prime Minister David Cameron made the case for universal parent training on the basis that, ‘neuroscience shows us the pivotal importance of the first few years of life in determining the adults we become’.

In fact, there is substantial evidence that babies are amazingly adaptable and resilient, thriving in all different kinds of societies, communities and families. But neuroparenting sets out a different version of infancy, portraying it as a time of intense vulnerability, during which children can be damaged for life by everything inadequate parenting to social inequality. To promote social mobility, Cameron encouraged us all to do more ‘baby-talk’, make more ‘silly faces’, and to ‘chatter even when we know they can’t answer back’ because he said, ’the biological power of love, trust and security’ is embedded in the brain in the earliest years.

A new book takes issue with the claims that ‘the first years last forever’ and that infancy is a critical period during which parents must strive ever harder to stimulate their baby’s brain just to achieve normal development. In Neuroparenting: the expert invasion of family life, sociologist Dr Jan Macvarish argues that those who use the language of neurons, synapses, attachment and toxic stress seek to disorient parents from their own instincts and from the support of family and friends. This risks making us more dependent on experts and state-led parenting support, thus threatening the privacy, intimacy and autonomy which makes family life worth living.

So should we ditch neuroparenting and trust mums and dads to get on with it, or does neuroscience have vital things to say about how we raise our children?