Child Development: Myths and Misunderstandings
Publication Year: 2013
In Child Development: Myths and Misunderstanding Second Editions, Jean Mercer uses intriguing vignettes and questions about children and families to guide readers in thinking critically about 59 common beliefs. Each essay confronts commonly held misconceptions about development, encouraging students to think like social scientists and to become better consumers of media messages and anecdotal stories. The book can be assigned to parallel either chronologically or topically organized child development texts. Features and Benefits: Presents 59 short essays about child development that challenge readers to reconsider their pre-conceived notions 14 new essays in the second edition confront topics like language acquisition, adoption, discipline, and nature versus nurture. Includes carefully developed critical thinking questions at the end of each essayOffers examples of research to help students make ...
- Front Matter
- Back Matter
- Subject Index
Part I: Genetics and Prenatal Life
- Claim 1: Genetic Factors Play such a Strong Role in Human Development that Genes Alone can Determine Certain Human Behavioral Characteristics
- Claim 2: There is no Harm in Putting off Childbearing until the Mother's Career is Established
- Claim 3: If a Child's Problem is Genetically Caused, the Problem will be Present at Birth and will Stay the Same throughout Life
- Claim 4: Unborn Babies are not Influenced much by the Environment outside the Mother's Body
- Claim 5: As a Mother-to-be gets Closer to the Date when her Child will be Born, she Needs to be more Careful about Alcohol and Drugs, because the Risk of Birth Defects Increases throughout Pregnancy
- Claim 6: If a Woman who is Taking Antidepressant Medication Becomes Pregnant, she should Stop Taking the Drugs Because they may Cause Birth Defects in her Baby
- Claim 7: Mothers Care for their Babies well because they have a Maternal Instinct
- Claim 8: Babies Work Hard to be Born
- Claim 9: “Crack Babies” can't be Cured and will Always have Serious Problems
- Claim 10: We can Learn about Human Development from Studying Baby Animals, Especially Primates
Part II: Infants and Toddlers
- Claim 11: Parents Need to have Contact with their Babies Right after Birth, so they can Bond with them
- Claim 12: Babies are Born with Emotional Attachments to their Mothers and can Recognize their Mothers at Once
- Claim 13: Feral Children are Individuals who have been Brought up from Infancy by Animals
- Claim 14: A Baby's Sleeping Position can Cause or Prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
- Claim 15: Parents should not Talk Baby Talk to their Children, because this Slows their Language Development
- Claim 16: Being Exposed to two Different Languages is Confusing for Babies and Interferes with Normal Language Development
- Claim 17: Breast-Feeding Makes Babies more Intelligent
- Claim 18: When Parents Divorce, it's Important for Young Children to have Certain Experiences with Both Parents, or they will form an Attachment to only one of them
- Claim 19: Toddlers Drop Food on the Floor because they want to make their Parents Mad
- Claim 20: It is Important for Parents to Work with Babies and Teach them how to Walk
- Claim 21: It is a Good thing for an Infant or a Toddler to have Experience with many Caregivers, not Just one or two
- Claim 22: Some Children would Starve to Death if their Parents did not Coax them to Eat
- Claim 23: Parents who were Abused as Children are Likely to Abuse their Own Children
Part III: Preschoolers
- Claim 24: Having Kids Listen to Mozart makes them Smart
- Claim 25: The Time between Birth and Age 3 Years is the most Important Period of Development and Learning in a Person's Life
- Claim 26: People who were Adopted will always be Unhappy because they have Suffered a Primal Wound
- Claim 27: Children Need to Develop Basic Trust and show it by their Confidence in other People
- Claim 28: If a Child is Able to Complete a Task with an Adult Present, he or she is also Able to do it Alone
- Claim 29: Preschoolers who Hold their Breath when Angry are Trying to Upset their Parents and get their Own Way
- Claim 30: Vaccines and Heavy Metals Cause Autism
- Claim 31: Autism Rates are Rising Rapidly, Especially in Certain Parts of the Country, so Something must be Happening to Cause more Cases of this Serious Developmental Problem
- Claim 32: Children with Brain Injuries can be Rehabilitated by using Practices like Patterning, and other Problems can be Treated with Similar Approaches
- Claim 33: Preschoolers who Try to Bargain with their Parents Really want to Manipulate and Control Adults, and they should not be Allowed to Negotiate
- Claim 34: A Young Child can Tell when Someone is Just Teasing
- Claim 35: Children with Attachment Disorders must be Treated Very Sternly and Differently from Typically Developing Children—Even in ways that are Ordinarily Considered Abusive
- Claim 36: Spanking should Never be used to Discipline a Child, because it is Ineffective and Causes Children to Model the Aggression they Experience
Part IV: School-Age Children
- Claim 37: Children who play with Matches will Grow up to be Seriously Disturbed and Violent and will Probably be Serial Killers, Especially if they are also Cruel to Animals and Wet their Beds
- Claim 38: Children have Different Learning Styles, Depending on whether they are Left Brained or Right Brained
- Claim 39: Karate Lessons Help Schoolchildren Achieve Self-Discipline and Improve their Schoolwork
- Claim 40: Birth order is an Important Factor that Determines Children's Intelligence and Personality
- Claim 41: When a Child is Mentally Ill, any Psychological Treatment is Better than no Treatment
- Claim 42: Bullying is a Natural Behavior for Children, and there's Nothing you can do to Stop it
- Claim 43: Sugar is a Major Cause of Hyperactive Behavior
- Claim 44: Adopted Children have Many more Problems of Social and Emotional Development than do Nonadopted Children
- Claim 45: If a Child is Sexually Molested, he or she will Probably Repress the Memory
- Claim 46: Parents Really don't Influence their Children's Long-Term Development Very Much
Part V: Adolescents
- Claim 47: Children are more Likely to become Delinquent if their Fathers are Absent or Uninvolved
- Claim 48: Violent Television Programs and Video Games Cause Increased Aggressive Behavior
- Claim 49: If Parents are not Strict Enough, Children will Behave Badly and may become Criminals
- Claim 50: Adolescents' Brains go through some Rapid Changes; as a Result, Teenagers Develop New Ways of thinking about Themselves and about the World
- Claim 51: High Self-Esteem makes Children Perform Better in School
- Claim 52: Single-Sex Schools Give better Outcomes of Academic Achievement than do Coeducational Schools
- Claim 53: The DARE Program is an Effective way to Prevent Children and Adolescents from Dealing or using Drugs
- Claim 54: Children and Adolescents Learn Bad Behavior from their Peers
- Claim 55: Young Teenagers should be Tried and Sentenced as Adults if they Commit Serious Crimes
- Claim 56: Adolescence is an Emotionally Dangerous Time when Teenagers are Likely to Attempt or Commit Suicide
- Claim 57: Punishment is an Effective Way of Changing Children's and Adolescents' Undesirable Behaviors
- Claim 58: Children are Reaching Puberty Earlier with each Generation
- Claim 59: Teenage Boys and Girls should have the Same Level of Fat in their Bodies, about 10%
Copyright © 2013 by SAGE Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
Printed in the United States of America
Child development: myths and misunderstandings / Jean Mercer, Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.—Second Edition.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-1-4522-1768-0 (pbk.)
1. Child development. I. Title.
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
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About the Author
Afterthoughts: Some Ideas to Take into your Future[Page 325]
Are you now thoroughly prepared to assess all claims about child development? Even if you have carefully worked through every question and example in this book, the answer, of course, is NO. There are a number of reasons why such assessments are difficult and will remain difficult throughout your life. One important issue is that the study of child development is full of unanswered questions; the more professionals learn about it through research, the more new questions arise. The existence of unanswered questions explains why you are likely to find some poorly supported claims in any child development textbook, even though its author has struggled to report the best evidence about the topics. In fact, child development has been a topic of scientific study for a rather short time (Cahan, 2007).
Another reason for the difficulty is that claims can have personal meaning for readers. Many claims involve emotional experiences and personal memories. Most of them are in some way related to moral obligations—how you or others ought to behave toward children and how children should behave toward others. Quite a few claims have a combination of these factors, and they resonate with readers about how their parents treated them (and how they treat their own children, if they have any). The most difficult claims to assess may be those that have to do with what one might call righteousness. Many claims about parenting, education, and criminal justice fall into this category.
Assessment of claims about child development also shares some problems with analysis of other scientific claims. Readers cannot directly know or evaluate much of the evidence for any of these claims, so they fall back [Page 326]on other approaches in which critical thinking is difficult. One discussion of this issue made the following point:
Few of us are qualified to assess claims about the merits of string theory, the role of mercury in the etiology of autism, or the existence of repressed memories. So rather than evaluating the asserted claim itself, we instead evaluate the claim's source. If the source is deemed trustworthy, people will believe the claim, often without really understanding it…. Their belief is not necessarily rooted in an appreciation of the evidence and arguments. Rather … [they accept] this information because they trust the people who say it is true. (Bloom & Weisberg, 2007, p. 997)
This tendency can create problems both for your own critical thinking and your ability to change other people's beliefs.Changing Assumptions and Future Possibilities
Earlier parts of this book mentioned certain assumptions made in the study of child development—for example, that developmentally appropriate practice is an important consideration and that transactional processes are important to development. Though most of these assumptions are still present, professionals need to realize that new assumptions are likely to be added in the future. For example, research and theory in child development are increasingly oriented toward dynamic systems theory, a way of thinking that emphasizes the importance of many variables that work together to produce an outcome. An essential aspect of dynamic systems theory is the assumption that in some cases small changes in relevant variables can produce a major outcome change, and in other cases large variations in causal factors may create little or no change in outcome. Dynamic systems theory, like the transactional process approach, emphasizes the idea that development may be based on small changes that accumulate gradually over time (Spencer et al., 2006).Using Critical Thinking about Child Development Claims: Personal and Professional Issues
There are real personal advantages for those who have learned to assess claims about child development. Critical thinking about child development can be helpful in life decisions, enabling people to make some appropriate choices for themselves and their families. The ability to assess claims [Page 327]can protect people against confused or even fraudulent persons who want to “sell” their practices or ideas. It can be very gratifying to learn how to assess claims and to practice what one has learned. Unfortunately, this achievement may not mean that one will win more arguments! On the contrary, using critical thinking about common beliefs can be very offensive to opponents who are committed to their unexamined beliefs. Those people can become even more entrenched in their belief system as they hear it assessed critically. This may be the case particularly when there is a connection between religious or political ideology and the claim in question—then the proponent of the belief feels that analysis of the claim attacks him or her at a serious level. Few people are actually objective about popular child development claims, and it is possible that no one is totally objective about all of them.
In addition to the personal advantages of thinking critically about child development beliefs, some related issues are of importance to the entire community, such as those dealing with the concept of evidence-based practice. In the mid-1990s, the medical profession began to emphasize the idea of an evidence basis for medicine. Physicians and surgeons felt it was time to reject the traditional reliance on authority and accepted methods and to seek empirical evidence that showed whether or not a practice was both safe and effective. Psychologists and other members of the helping professions soon followed this path and began to demand that interventions be chosen on the basis of research that supported their appropriateness.
The concept of evidence-based practice is now commonly used in education, parent training, and child and family mental health work. Members of these disciplines agree that methods should be chosen on the basis of evidence of their safety and effectiveness. However, this agreement is not as simple or as complete as it might appear to be. Some educators and mental health professionals reject the idea of evidence based on research. Others believe that choices of evidence-based practices should include not only empirical research evidence but also the clinical experience of the professional and the values of the child's family. These factors—experience and values—need to be assessed through critical thinking approaches. The implication that evidence-based practice is objective and “scientific” cannot be accepted unquestioningly when these subjective factors are included.
There is still another problem that demands critical thinking about evidence-based practices. There is really no good general definition of the evidence needed to make a practice legitimately evidence based. What research evidence shows an intervention to be safe? What shows it to be effective? How are these two terms defined? None of these questions has received an adequate answer, so it remains the task of teachers, principals, [Page 328]child care providers, parents, social workers, and mental health professionals to apply their critical thinking abilities when they choose educational programs, discipline techniques, or mental health interventions.The End for Now—But Don't Get Uncritical!
In conclusion, you may want to keep in practice by pursuing two more questions with your critical thinking skills. First, consider the child development textbook you have been using. What were some topics that were presented with little or no research evidence for the claims made? And, second, what kind of research evidence would you want to require as support for the effectiveness of, say, a child care program or a suicide-prevention plan for adolescents? You may not feel prepared to answer these questions right now, but keep them in mind as you pursue your studies and work at higher levels—you will find these matters simpler with more practice and more information.
Critical thinking about child development issues like these is hard work. But don't forget that your critical thinking skills can make a difference in your life—and in what you can give to your community. Thinking critically is worth the trouble.References2007). Childhood origins of adult resistance to science. Science, 316, 996–997.http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1133398, & (2007). The child as scientific object. Science, 316, 835.http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1136576(2006). Moving toward a grand theory of development: In memory of Esther Thelen. Child Development, 77, 1521–1538.http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2006.00955.x, , , , , & (