Mass shootings are shocking, and they should be! However, they, together with other everyday killings, have become commonplace; and they all need to be stopped. Changes have to be made and soon, or gun violence will be here to stay. New protective precautions have been taken in schools and at other public places, but those measures are not broad or basic enough to stop the problem.
Violence is not new to us. Back in 1994 the Carnegie Commission conducted a multi-million dollar research study to find out why there was so much crime and violence in our country at that time. While they thought they were going to find that it was because of what happens to teens and young adults, they did not. Through examinations of all kinds the evidence showed that the cause was solely related to what happens to children during their first three years. Abuse and neglect were the main culprits. However, in addition, in varying degrees, unkind words and glaring mistreatment were prevalent.
Betty Hart and Todd Risley are two researchers who took the next step. Because they wanted to know more they studied the problem from a different point of view—early brain development. Their results published in their landmark book Meaningful Differences were astounding. Using brain scans of two-year-olds they found that the ones that were from children who were talked to kindly and nicely on a daily basis had brains that were large and well-developed, while those that were from children who heard language with short choppy sentences like “Stop that. Come here” and “Leave me alone” had brains that were smaller and less well-developed.
Hampton, VA was another striking example that led the way! It was a city in 1989 that was ridden with crime and violence, and it turned itself around. They decided to solve their problem by helping new and young parents with parenting classes. They also distributed large amounts of baby supplies to all who needed them and then set up childcare and other support services for parents of children birth to three. Who would have thought that something as simple as time, money and energy invested in supporting parents of young children could make such a big difference, and yet it did!
The search goes on to find solutions, but in reality the answer is hiding in plain sight—education and support for new and young parents. Birth to age three are the true formative years. Study after study have given the same results—early positive input in the first three years correlates with later success in school and later on in life.
What is important to happen during those years?
- An enriched learning environment
- An emphasis on high quality and quantity language between parents and children
- Loving and respectful relationships
There is more to it than that, of course! Consistent care and concern daily is what first and foremost makes the difference. The late and very distinguished professor of child development at Cornell University said it this way, There needs to be at least one person in the child’s life who is “crazy about the kid.”
The evidence abounds. Supporting parents is not just a good idea; it is an absolute necessity. Some services already exist–in hospitals, preschools and through other kinds of specials programming. However, in reality there is not enough of what new and young parents really need, and that is support, support and more support. Providing preschool is one thing, but setting up “universal parent education and support” has the real power. We must do what we can to help all parents as they go through these very exciting yet equally difficult years. Confident parenting saves lives.