In the last half a century, the orthodoxy about the long term impact
of childhood on adult development has swung too and fro. Professor
Michael Rutter will deliver the Great Ormond Street Lecture [5.15pm,
Weds 24th Sept] on what half a century of science now tells us.
Drawing on the latest research in genetics and neurology, he discounts three once fashionable and contradictory views
-that the first three years of life uniquely determines the rest of life
-that early experience doesn’t matter very much
-that only extreme experiences in early years matters
brain does develop rapidly in the first three years; there are some
windows which can be missed; but for many things development runs into
adulthood (with adolescence another area of rapid development). Good
early years helps set the course but shortfalls can often be mitigated.
health depends on developing coping mechanisms. Just as the immune
system develops by meeting immune challenges, so we need to help
children cope, rather than hope to avoid all stress and anxiety.
is an enormously interesting area. It appears some children with the
right genes are very resilient to deal with certain challenges, others
who live in an environment without those challenges will also avoid
problems, whatever their genes.
Experience can alter our brains –
as the research showing taxi drivers have a larger hippocampus, that
part of the brain which deals with memorising routes and journeys.
affect their parents as well as vice versa: Studies have shown for
example that some adoptive parents behave differently to adoptive
children whose biological families have certain issues, compared to
those adoptive children who do not. In other words, the children are
cueing certain types of behaviour in the adults.
said: “The lessons need to pull together the various different issues
that have been considered. Thus, the quality of children’s rearing
environment really matters and committed family relationships are
particularly important. Family, peer group, school and community are
all influential but they are all interconnected. That is, it is not
just what parents do in bringing up children within the family home but
it is also through their choices that influence peer groups, schooling
“The quality of family relationships is more
important than family structure. There has been a tendency to focus on
the risks associated with being brought up by a single parent. It is
true that there are risks but they are very dependent on the
implications for the quality of rearing. It is not whether or not there
are one or two parents that is crucial but rather that parenting is
more difficult if one parent has to do it on their own.“
The lecture is public and free.
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