Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The brain, the family and the state

Does it help if parents receive advice on how to raise their children?

Or does it make them more confused, trying to find their way through all the information?

These are some of the questions being asked in a CRFR project looking at how ideas from brain sciences are being used in policies relating to parenting and family life. The child’s brain has come to be a hot topic, and whether or not parents are aware of the origins of the advice they receive, brain science is being increasingly used to shape professional practice: from the content of parenting courses, to initiatives to encourage singing and reading with your baby, through to legislation targeting children and families.

Many parents may be able to recall, for example, advice given on the importance of cuddling their children – which stems from evidence that affection aids the development of infant’s brains. What once were perhaps seen as ‘soft’ topics are now being backed up by what is often seen as ‘hard’ science. Brain science is, today, playing an important role in reshaping the relationship between parents and the state.

We have almost completed the first part of our project, looking at how brain science is used in policy and how this relates to any changes in policy priorities and aims. We have also interviewed a number of very engaged and enthused policy-makers, who are involved in different ways in making ‘Scotland the best place to grow up’. One finding is that, whilst the brain sciences seem to have clearly played a role in policies for parenting and care, they are at the same time talked about very tentatively – policymakers are keen to highlight what they don’t know (yet), as well as what they feel certain of.

But what about parents? We are now interested in hearing what advice parents receive on parenting, and what they think about the role of brain science in this advice. Do they value it, do they use it, or do they ignore it? Upcoming interviews with families will help to shed light on how parents view these policy-backed messages, and the impact this type of advice has on their own parenting approaches.

If you are interested in learning more about this project please contact Tineke Broer (tineke.broer@ed.ac.uk). If you are a parent/carer of a child from 0-3 and would like to be interviewed for this project, please also get in touch.

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