Wild Child: How Bad Is Child Care for Kids?

Is daycare preparing toddlers to become bullies?
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Be prepared. Boys and girls of the next generation are going to be bratty but smart, perhaps more so than their older siblings. Problem behavior in children, ranging from rudeness to cruelty and physical attack, is in the media spotlight because of two new research reports from the National Institute on Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). According to this research, these problem behaviors increase as children (age 4.5 to 6) spend more hours in child care, apart from their mothers, regardless of the quality of the care.

"There is a constant dose-response relationship between time in care and problem behavior, especially those involving aggressive behavior," notes Jay Belsky, a psychologist at Birkbeck College, London, and a lead researcher for the Study of Early Child Care, a research effort tracking 1,300 American children since 1991.

There seems to be no threshold. As hours in child care increase, aggressive behavior increases. On a brighter note, children in center-based care also score higher on language and cognitive tests than their at-home peers.

Researchers also reported that bullying is widespread in American schools, based on a survey of 15,600 students, grades 6 through 10, in all kinds of schools—public, private, and parochial. The consequences of bullying are fateful. "People who were bullied as children are more likely to suffer from depression and low self-esteem, well into adulthood," says Duane Alexander, NICHD director, "and the bullies themselves are more likely to engage in criminal behavior later in life."

Much can be gleaned from these studies, and the increase in aggressive behavior in children is not another irreversible reality of contemporary culture. In many communities, churches are leading ...

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