Monday, 15 July 2013


Science has taught us some truly incredible things. Even more excitingly, it will continue to do so. The benefits of science are numerous. It can be used to treat diseases, put food in more and more people's mouths and allow us to live increasingly comfortable and happy lives.

With each step we take forward in science, we also advance the burden of knowledge. There's one particular example that pops to mind. Each discovery made in nuclear physics, in the early 20th century, presented both an opportunity for incredible good and incredible evil. The burden of knowledge in this case was responsibly discussing, planning and implementing the technology. Nuclear technology still ignites hotly contested debates today, thus, we are still carrying that burden.

It is not, however, nuclear technology that I wish to focus on. In fact, my introduction may have betrayed the true topic of this post. I actually wish to focus, fairly generally, on some of the work done in psychology and medicine, and more precisely, the implications of that work.

On the back of an overwhelming amount of good research (and the 'good' is an important distinction to make), it is now held that the formative years of child's life, determines a great deal about their life. This has huge implications for parents, new and old alike. Let's first look at some of the positive aspects.

Armed with this knowledge, we now know just how important it is that a child be cared for extremely well. We know that every little thing a parent does can have profound effects on the child when they grow up. It is believed, and the research tends to support this, that in the first few years of life, an individual's personality, their moral outlook and the basis of their social skills will be developed. All of this occurs before the all important education of the child starts.

The extent of these formative influences on the "adult product" is subject to much debate, though I think we could conservatively assume that these influences are quite a lot larger than we would expect on intuition alone. As a result, parents in general have started to lift the standards of care for their children. They have headed these warnings, that have come from psychologists and doctors alike, and have made a concerted effort to give their children the best possible future. So effective has this knowledge been, that mothers have started taking supplements even before conception to ensure that their bodies are ready for the huge responisbility that is bearing a child.

It is undeniable that these new found standards in child care have really lifted the bar. Naturally, it will remain to be seen, but it is fair to suggest that 21st century parents have, by applying the knowledge that science has given us, started to raise a smarter, a healthier and a happier next generation.

There is, however, a significant burden that comes with this knowledge. Today, we live a cursed life of what ifs. We not only pay particular attention to what actions we take in the future, but we also reflect on those actions we've taken in the past—in fact, it could be said that we do the latter more so than the former.

In this context, we can quite understandably succumb to an incredible amount of apprehension and self doubt about our decisions. Moreover, if unhappy about how we've turned out, we are now more capable of confidently blaming our parents and subjecting them to our bitterness. Because of this knowledge, because of its implications, we are subjected to a torturous amount of what ifs. Our personality, our social skills (or lack thereof) and our moral outlook are no longer predicated on our decisions, or on our experiences as students. According to the science, they were all decided long before we had a say in them, let alone anything really.

As with much of what science has taught us, when we appreciate the facts, we are often left with a stupid look on our face and the word wow etched on our lips. Our knowledge of the important balance of rearing, with the right amount of play, the right amount of nutrients and the right amount and type of social interaction, has no doubt helped 21st century parents be much better parents, but we must ask ourselves, what has been the burden on them?

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