March 29, 2007
The necessary work of debunking the latest alarmist headlines over the impact of daycare on children is carried out by Emily Bazelon at Slate.com. In short: The screaming headlines and TV teasers saying the study shows that daycare kids have behavior problems are bunk; the real message of the study is that behavior problems tend to be correlated with bad and mediocre daycare.
Personally, I’ve stopped even paying attention to these headlines, which (as Bazelon notes) reflect a preformed consensus among media types that Only Bad Parents Use Daycare. It’s long been evident that television “news” has only two buttons to press, anger and fear. By creating the specter of daycare centers incubating future criminals because of bad, lazy mommies who won’t stay home, these bogus stories offer a two-fer.
It’s crap. My generation straddled the period when middle class moms could treat staying at home with the kids as an option, not a luxury, and I remember the first day of kindergarten as being only slight less grim than, say, going to an execution. Kids who had never been away from mom for any extended period of time were suddenly thrust into classrooms, and I would say a good third of my classmates at Euclid School found the day frightening enough to bring on sobs, screams and, in one memorable case, panic-induced vomiting. Most of us stayed sober and quiet and made the most of it, of course, but the abrupt transition from home life to institutional life was a tough hurdle. By providing a more gradual transition for children, daycare has done the public schools an enormous, largely unrecognized favor.
It goes beyond that, of course, but the Slate article gets to the core of the issue when it points out the enormous difference between good daycare and bad, or simply mediocre, daycare. As a parent, I see the difference every day among the children of our friends and acquaintances. That truth is a little too elusive to be caught in the frayed nets of our television news twinkies. That’s why I gave the initial burst of scary headlines the same chuckling indifference I gave to the New York station that promo’d an expose on fingernail-biting and how it can harm your health. No, I’m not making that up. Since most TV “news” operations wouldn’t recognize real news if it fell out of Anna Nicole Smith’s bra cup, their only option is to add to the level of noise in our daily lives. That’s why God invented the off switch.