New Research Sheds Light On An Age-Old Debate

There have been countless studies over generations to find what the greatest influences are on our children.

We’ve all heard the “nature versus nurture” debate, but there are so many opinions and theories out there, it can make a parent’s head spin.

But there does seem to be one factor that significantly affects children, and the research may help us develop more beneficial resources and programs in the future.

All children in the U.S. today are required to attend public or private school through the 12th grade, or equivalent hours in a homeschool.

Education has been found to be perhaps the greatest mitigating factor in a child’s life — second only to being physically cared for and emotionally nurtured during childhood.

And parental education has an obvious influence on the education level a child will attain as he/she gets older.

For example, if both parents completed college, they will instill that idea in their children and likely provide the support necessary for the child to attend as well.

But parental education has been found to have many more far-reaching consequences.

A report from the Department of Health and Human Services on the matter stated the following:

Research suggests that parental education is indeed an important and significant unique predictor of child achievement…maternal education was linked significantly to children’s intellectual outcomes even after controlling for a variety of other indicators such as household income…mothers’ and fathers’ educational level and fathers’ occupational status were related positively to their children’s adulthood occupational status.

Obviously, the more opportunities parents have for education and good jobs, the more likely their children will have those same opportunities.

But it’s not just the fact parents’ education and occupations influence kids by example.

Parental education has actually been found to change the child’s brain, affecting intelligence, learning, and memory.

The Washington Post reported on a study conducted by two professors of pediatrics, Kimberly Noble and Elizabeth Sowell.

Noble actually analyzed the brains images of people across the socio-economic spectrum – those raised in poverty to those raised in financial security with differing levels of education.

She found that the region of the brain responsible for learning and memory (hippocampus) was larger in subjects who had been raised by parents with higher education levels and higher incomes.

Alternatively, she found that the part of the brain that processes stress was smaller (a good thing) when the subject’s parents were more educated.

The more parental stress a child is exposed to, the more negative an impact it can have on a child’s developing brain.

But to alleviate any fears, Noble says economic and educational disadvantage certainly do not cause brain deficiencies.

“Certainly, income or education alone are not what causes the differences. Rather, it’s likely it the things that income and education are associated with have something to do with it. We know that providing children with cognitive stimulation and emotional warmth are important: talking to children, bringing them to the library, being warm and nurturing. You can provide cognitive stimulation in the absence of high income,” stated Kimberly Noble, according to The Washington Post.

Of course, this is something all parents know.  Children must be stimulated and loved; supported and encouraged; read to and sung to.

They need to feel wanted and appreciated; understood and acknowledged, just like the rest of us.

To do so increases their intelligence, confidence, and feelings of security – all indicators of success at a later age.

Children who are raised by parents who are highly educated may be given more experiences that influence their brain growth and intelligence.

Mommy Underground recently reported that traveling with children may improve their intelligence and academic performance.

That’s because more educated parents may have better job opportunities, and therefore higher incomes which, in turn, allow them to do more things with their children – travel, trips to the museum or library, extracurricular and enrichment activities.

But the flip side is, as Kimberly Noble notes, that parents with fast-paced careers that provide higher incomes may be under more stress.  This may actually have the opposite effect, as they may not have as much quality time to devote to such activities.

The bottom line seems to be that parents with higher levels of education and income may be able to provide better educational experiences to their children, but the determining factor in a child’s success and brain development is that age-old “nurture” component.

A child can have the most wealthy, highly-educated parents in the world and still suffer from deficiencies if they are not given the time, support, and love they need.

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Parents with less opportunities to attain education and make better salaries may actually work harder to spend more quality time with their children and focus more on nurture and  environment than opportunity.

Another study, led by Erick Pakulak at the University of Oregon, found that children who grew up in poverty showed more memory deficit as adults than others from different economic backgrounds.

But when parents in lower-income situations participated in brief training on stress reduction and attentiveness to children, the children’s memory and cognition rapidly improved.

The Washington Post reported that researchers noted “details like the number of books in the home, if a child’s artwork was displayed, [or] if the parent introduced the child to a visitor.”

More than 10 years later, these small nurturing details influenced the “temporal cortical thickness” in a young adult’s brain.

So what does this all mean for families who may not have the opportunity to promote education and experiences?

All of the researchers agree that families need to have access to resources that promote healthy childhood development through “stimulation and emotional warmth.”

“One possibility is that by promoting programs that would reduce poverty and increase parents’ educational opportunities, we might in turn promote childhood development.  The most important thing you can do is talk to children. The brain plasticity continues through childhood and adolescence,” reports The Washington Post.

The takeaway is that education and income are important factors in childhood development, but no matter a parent’s circumstances, an environment in which stress is controlled and children are stimulated and nurtured is most important in the long run.

What do you think about the research on parental education and brain development in children?  What’s your take on these studies?  Leave us your thoughts.