Source: A Mother and Child, Thomas Rowlandson; Public Domain http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thomas_Rowlandson_-_A_Mother_and_Child_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg Father and Child; Public Domain http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:US_Army_52696_Fall_fun_ripe_for_the_picking.jpg
So again, arguably the most important relationship that a person can have, particularly as a young child, is with their parents. A large amount of research in developmental psychology has gone into what the effects of parents are on their children, as well as how they can improve parenting to make it better. So today we're going to be talking about those parental influences.
It's important to note right off the bat that these parental influences are not necessarily the same all the way across the board. If you remember from before, we talked about cultural relativity, which is to say that an action depends on the values of the culture in which it's taking place. Different cultures have different values, and so the actions that they approve of, or they tend to support, can be different across the board.
An example of this is with the idea of gender roles. Gender roles are the sorts of roles that different men and women can take in different societies. Generally in Western society, in American society, we see the father as the worker or the wage earner. You would say, maybe, the hunter. The person who's going out and getting the food. Whereas the mother is the caretaker, the person who takes care of the house and the children.
So we tend to see, as a result of these gender roles, we tend to see women as more caring and nurturing because they're at the home, whereas men are more emotionally distant because they're away from home more often. They're not in contact with the children as much. So oftentimes we also see the women as having the most influence on children. But it's important to note that these gender roles are constructed as a result of our culture and our society. And in fact, children learn the gender roles from their parents themselves. They aren't innate, they aren't biological in any way.
Because of these differences in gender roles, there's a corresponding difference in the influence that the parents have on their children. We're going to be looking at those different maternal and paternal influences on a child's development.
Let's take a look first at the maternal influences, which is to say, the influence that the mother has. As infants, the mother generally tends to speak to the children more. They tend to be more communicative. And they also tend to take care of a lot of the care-giving. Which is to say, giving food, or changing them, or bathing them. Things like that. So in general, the mother is more in charge of the physical and emotional care for children. And this extends throughout childhood. They provide more social and emotional support for the children as they develop.
On the other hand, paternal influences are that the father tends to play more with the children, and to tell stories to the children. In other words, they're more physically involved. They do more tactile sorts of things, and things that are more physically stimulating to the child. So the child tends to respond in those sorts of ways. As a result, children with strong paternal influences tend to develop in different sorts of ways. They tend to develop those physical skills a bit more. They tend to be more tactile, or physically adept. That isn't to say that the father doesn't have any kind of emotional or social interactions with the children. In fact, studies show that the more caring and nurturing the father is, the more well-developed the child tends to be further down the line.
Previously in psychology, a lot of studies have shown that love and affection is too much. It can be a bad thing for a child's development. In fact, John Watson, the behaviorist, called love and affection for a child a dangerous instrument. However later studies by a psychologist named Harry Harlow in the 1960s, showed the importance of love and attention to a child's development. What he did was, he took these baby rhesus monkeys away from their mothers, and instead placed them in a room with different surrogate mothers. A surrogate mother is a substitute mother. Something that takes the place of a mother or an important caregiver in some way.
So these surrogate mothers, in one of the experiments, came in two different varieties. There were two different surrogates in the room with the baby monkey. One was made of wire. In other words, it was cold and it didn't feel physically like a mother monkey, but it did have milk to it. So it provided food and sustenance, whereas the other one was covered with terry cloth, kind of like a towel, and it felt a bit more like a mother monkey. What he found is that the child would actually cling to the terry cloth monkey even more. He needed that kind of tactile contact with the mother to feel like they were receiving the right sorts of attention.
In fact, when a fear stimuli was introduced-- something came in that scared the baby monkey-- it would automatically go over to the terry cloth monkey, instead of the monkey that would provide food and nourishment. Because the wire monkey didn't feel the same. In other words, the baby monkey needed that kind of love and attention to be able to develop appropriately. And when that surrogate mother was taken away, it would do less exploration in the room. It would tend to curl up in a ball and, in fact, show signs of extreme anxiety and fear, because it was taken away from that touch and that affection from that surrogate mother.
On the other hand, too much attention might not always be a good thing. Recent studies have shown that mother's attention, versus their direction, during play can influence a child's feeling of independence and ability to self-organize, and cognitively drive themselves later on in life. So if a mother became more involved in a child's play, if they told the child what to do more, it could affect them adversely.
So as with all things, it's important to find a balance when we're talking about parental influences.