The Rights and Needs of Newborn Babies and Young Children

There is no such thing as a baby… A baby cannot exist alone but is essentially part of a relationship.D.W. Winnicott, pediatrician
The Child, the Family, and the Outside WorldSignificant strides have been made to overcome blatant juvenile ageism even though it has not been formally acknowledged as a form of prejudice and discrimination. Childhood and adolescence are recognized as unique stages of development today. Still, the fact that a newborn baby is a unique human being and a citizen isn’t recognized in popular thought or most legal doctrines. This isn’t surprising. It took a long time for older children to gain recognition as human beings with basic rights.Seeing a child as immature rather than as merely ignorant took shape in the Eighteenth Century. Rousseau and the Romantic poets dispelled the distorted view that children are miniature adults. The Civil War established the civil rights of individual adults and created the opportunity for a vision of the civil rights of children and the role of the state in American life.In 1870 the Illinois Supreme Court decision in People v. Turner extended due process protection to minors. It set the stage for juvenile courts that were established in 1899 and expanded in the 1910s to administer payments to single mothers, a precursor of the contemporary federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.
A wide-ranging “save the children” movement ushered in the Twentieth Century as the Century of the Child. The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children had been formed in 1875. In 1900 the Swedish feminist Ellen Key published The Century of the Child. In her vision, babies would be conceived by loving parents. They would grow up in homes where mothers were ever-present.This vision dominated most of the first half of the 1900s. The aim was to map out a childhood in which children would acquire the “habit of happiness.” This inspired the professional approach to childhood and adolescence through pediatrics, developmental psychology, child-centered education, child welfare, child and adolescent psychology and psychiatry and policy studies related to the young.In the second half of the Twentieth Century, a sense arose that childhood was disappearing. The worlds of children and adults were merging again. Materially better off than sixty years ago, children are often being expected now to be independent and to adjust to a variety of family styles. Adolescents especially are wooed as major consumers. The more children act like adults in sports and in schools, the better.Underlying these developments is recognition of the rights of minors. These rights culminate in most adult legal rights being granted typically at the age of 18 during late adolescence. Eligibility for these rights presumably begins at birth.The Rights of ChildrenRights have two distinct but related functions: to protect a person’s freedoms and to fill important needs. The most important needs of children are protection from harm by others and themselves and to grow up to become productive citizens.Minors lack the capacity and experience to marry, enter contracts and bring lawsuits without adult guidance. They are considered minors until they reach the age of majority at either 18 or 21, depending upon the state and the privileges. Until then, they are required to have legal and physical custodians, usually their parents. Since late adolescents are older than 18 and are regarded as legal adults in most ways, references to adolescent rights in this Chapter are limited to early and middle adolescence.When newborn babies and children were regarded as property, they had no rights. Only their parents had rights based on the liberties and privacy of individuals. Now those parental rights are legal (acting on behalf of) and custodial (residential). Over the last century, minors have been accorded a series of moral and civil rights based on moral and civil rights that apply to all human beings.The Moral Rights of MinorsMoral rights reflect cultural values devoted to the common good and compassion for others. Emmanuel Kant said that each human being “must always be treated as an end, not merely as a means.” To treat another person as a means is to use that person to advance one’s own interests. To treat another person as an end is to respect that person’s dignity and autonomy. This distinction is especially important for young persons who are vulnerable to oppression and exploitation.The traditional caretaker view of minor’s moral rights was articulated in 1691 by the philosopher John Locke. According to him, all humans are “born infants, weak and helpless, without knowledge or understanding.” Therefore, parents were “by the law of nature under an obligation to preserve, nourish, and educate the children they had begotten.” In Locke’s scheme, parents have the right to make choices for their children:
Whilst [the child] is in an estate wherein he has no understanding of his own to direct his will, he is not to have any will of his own to follow.Moral rights impose a duty to actively help a person. For example, a minor’s moral right to education imposes a duty to provide that education.Eglantyne Jebb, founder of the Save the Children Fund, began an effort to codify the moral rights of minors in l922 in England’s Charter of the Rights of the Child. The Charter spelled out the moral right of all minors to be protected from exploitation; to be given a chance for full physical, mental and moral development; and to be taught to live a life of service. The League of Nations adopted the charter in l924 as the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child.In the United States, the moral rights of minors have been detailed in a variety of organizational creeds, children’s bills of rights and White House Conferences on Children. Further declarations have come from the United Nations. These rights reflect reasonable expectations that minors will be given whatever they require to grow into healthy, functional adults. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that all human beings are born with the following inherent civil rights:• to survival;
• to develop to the fullest;
• to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and
• to participate fully in family, cultural and social life.Whenever policymakers express their hopes for children, they effectively conclude that children have a moral right to competent parents… and specifically to not live in foster care or institutions. When parents and other persons make decisions for a child, they act as fiduciary custodians. They are expected to put themselves in the child’s position and place the child’s interests above their own. The contemporary challenge is to apply the same principles to newborn babies.The Civil Rights of MinorsMoral rights are not enough to protect minors from abuse and neglect. For this reason, certain moral rights of minors have become legal civil rights. Civil rights spring from the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries’ reformist theories of human rights, the same ideals that inspired the English, American and French revolutions. They guarantee all citizens equal protection under the law regardless of race, religion, gender, age or disability; equal exercise of the privileges of citizenship; and equal participation in community life. Newborn babies are equal in the sense that they are entitled to as much respect for their rights as are adults.Moral rights became enforceable civil rights for minorities and women only through great effort and vigilance. Even more effort and vigilance is required to enforce important civil rights for minors, especially for newborn babies. For the first time in history, we are poised to specify rights for minors in positive terms. Of course, these civil rights are based on their developmental needs and capacities rather than their wishes.Adult civil rights that apply to minors include freedom from racial and gender discrimination; the right to life and personal security; freedom from slavery and involuntary servitude; and freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment. In 2005 the U.S. Supreme Court recognized the relative incapacity of minors and ruled that the execution of minors violates the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment.The gradual emergence of minors’ civil rights in the United States began through different treatment in criminal matters. The first juvenile court was established in 1899 in Cook County, Illinois. Because existing courts were not adequately rehabilitating juveniles, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1967 in In re Gault mandated due process to provide Constitutional protections for them. Unfortunately, this did not actually improve the courts’ abilities to help juveniles as much as intended.Minors’ civil rights progressed from child labor, child neglect and abuse and education laws to the idea that children have the right to environments that offer reasonable opportunities for healthy development. These include adequate nutrition, housing, recreation and health care as well as love, security, education and protection from abuse and discrimination.These rights do not include certain adult rights such as the right to privacy, the right to confidentiality and the right to make their own choices on vital matters. All of this boils down to the right to have competent parents. Competent parenting actually is an enforceable affirmative civil right because incompetent parenting is a cause for state intervention through child abuse and neglect laws. These laws allow for the termination of parental rights by the state.In 1968 in Ginsberg v. New York, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized society’s interest in protecting minors from circumstances that might prevent them from becoming responsible citizens:The state also has an independent interest in the wellbeing of its youth… to protect the welfare of children… safeguarded from abuses which might prevent their growth into free and independent well-developed… citizens.
Stated positively, minors have a civil right to nurturance, to protection and to make certain choices through age-grading statutes. Still, the fact that parental rights are based on the right of minors to have competent parents is not yet fully appreciated by courts or the public.The civil right of minors to competent parents is more important than adult rights to freedom of actions because of the adverse consequences incompetent parents impose on our society. Adult rights benefit individuals and are the backbone of our democratic society, but minors’ rights are essential for our society’s survival and prosperity. Our society’s wellbeing depends on protecting and nurturing our young so that they can become responsible citizens.The Right to Competent ParentsNone of us have a moral right to succeed. In fact, we have a right to fail unless our failure adversely affects other people. The failures of parents do affect others, including their children and society, and fly in the face of children’s right to competent parents. A person’s freedom to fail therefore faces an exception when that person is a parent.
The legal right of newborn babies to competent parents stems from the fact that incompetent parents justify state intervention and possible termination of parental rights. Because our society is paying an ever larger share of the cost of rearing, educating and treating neglected and abused children, we all have a financial stake in competent parents.Public decision making needs to acknowledge the interests of children and that parents usually protect those interests best. But when a parent’s inability to do so is evident before childbirth, the state is obligated by existing child abuse and neglect statutes to intervene preemptively.Our society must value newborn babies enough to protect their rights to competent parents and to enforce its expectations of parenthood before childbirth. Whether or not a pregnancy was planned, the decision to enter parenthood should be based on a newborn’s right to a competent parent before the child is born. Action should not be delayed until after childbirth when maternal and paternal instincts, hormones and ideologically and fantasy-based emotions impede problem solving and decision making.The Developmental Needs of BabiesThe notion that all babies require is feeding and diapering prevails in popular thought and public policies. This is reflected in the use of the term caregiving rather than parenting as the primary need of babies and toddlers. The fact that they are interacting, learning human beings seeking to form relationships with their parents from the day of birth has not taken solid root.Babies usually are seen as objects to be adored and cared for. This view allows us to overlook the fact that a difficult birth and time in intensive care, and even circumcision, are traumatic for newborns. It makes it possible to ignore the baby while dealing with the crisis of adolescent childbirth, including establishing paternity. It makes it possible to presume that baby boys aren’t affected by the pain of circumcision. It makes it possible to ignore the connection between baby-parent love and loving adult relationships in later life. It makes it possible to successfully market videos for babies that absorb their attention and ensnare them with “infotainment” before they can explore the world on their own.The fact that their development as human beings depends on enduring parent attachments formed through parent-child interactions is not fully appreciated by the general public in part because parenthood cannot compete with less demanding and more materially rewarding activities. Actually newborn babies are interacting persons in every sense of the word. They analyze and respond to sounds. They stop feeding to listen to something. When they hear other babies cry, they usually cry with them. They might stop crying on hearing a recording of their own voice. They gaze deeply into their mothers’ eyes. They closely watch their mothers. They are upset when their mothers wear expressionless masks or when their mothers are depressed. They hunger for interaction with humans who are motivated to bond with them and can fill their survival needs. Without a doubt, they are human beings… they are persons.Attachment BondingHistorians, archeologists and anthropologists building on the work of Charles Darwin have described the human capacity for attachment bonding, cooperation and altruism from early life. Animal research suggests that bonding between mother and baby is encoded through genes in addition to the usual memory process. The bonding process tempers self-assertive-individual-survival instincts with integrative-species-survival instincts.While competition is a key motivator in human affairs, cooperation is even more important. The viability of interpersonal relationships and market economies depend upon our virtuous natures. Higher brain centers evolved to ensure species survival through attachment bonding between parents and children and among intimate groups. These trust-inducing advantages contributed to neurological attachment bonding systems fostered by hormones.
The attachment bonding process begins before birth. Research on lifetime health records reveals that characteristics in later life are affected by our experiences in the womb. A classic example was the retarded growth of women who were low-birth-weight newborns during the Dutch Hunger Winter of 1944-1945 and who later gave birth to smaller babies themselves even with adequate nutrition during their pregnancies.Newborn babies seek attachment bonds. They can form close relationships, express themselves forcefully, show preferences, form memories and influence people from day one. They show their thoughts when they reach out, give an inquisitive look, frown, scream in protest, gurgle in satisfaction or gasp in excitement. They listen intently to their mothers’ voices, which they readily distinguish from other voices. They engage in complex activities that integrate their senses and enable learning.The psychologist John Bowlby’s groundbreaking theory of attachment bonding borrows from cybernetics, the study of how mechanical and biological systems self-regulate to achieve goals as their external and internal environments change. Attachment theory begins with the idea that two basic goals guide young children’s behavior: safety and exploration. A child who stays safe survives; a child who explores develops the intelligence and skills needed for adult life.These needs often oppose each other, so they are regulated by a cybernetic thermostat that monitors safety. When safe, a child explores and plays. When safety is uncertain, a switch is thrown that triggers fear and withdrawal. The attachment bonding process allows children to handle these emotions by internalizing models of their caregivers. As they mature, these working models become their self-regulating thermostats. Four kinds of interactions develop the working models children and parents build of each other.• First is the succorant bonding system present at birth. It extends from infancy into adolescence and seeks bonding with parents.• Second is the affiliative bonding system, which emerges during early childhood and continues into adulthood to sustain friendships.• Third is the sexual bonding system, which becomes prominent after puberty, continues through adult life, and fosters romantic relationships.• Fourth is the nurturant bonding system, which flowers after puberty, continues throughout life and fosters bonding to a child and intimate relationships between adults.Development of the nurturant bonding system builds on the succorant and affiliative systems. In turn, those systems depend on having been nurtured in the intertwining parent-child relationship. The capacities for each system are present during early life and emerge more fully at successive levels of development. Each system is based on human needs that persist throughout life.These systems ensure that individuals survive and produce progeny. Many people lead full lives without reproducing, but the evolutionary purpose of their interpersonal bonding is reproduction, not just companionship or sexual gratification. Stable family relationships depend upon dampening the self-assertive individual-survival instincts expressed through the succorant and sexual bonding systems. This is achieved by the integrative-species-survival instincts of the affiliative and nurturant bonding systems.Succorant Bonding SystemA baby’s succorant bonding system seeks essential caregiving for the baby’s physical survival through such activities as feeding and cuddling. As seen in orphanages, without attachment bonding babies fail to thrive physically and even die. Templates for succorant bonding to mother and father images appear to be genetically programmed.Interactions with additional caregivers can help babies gauge the intentions of others and elicit their care, which also can be important for survival.Mothers who give birth are deeply attached to the human beings who were in their bodies. Prenatal exposure to the mother’s voice and odors primes a newborn to respond preferentially to a birth mother. Human babies recognize the sight, sounds, smell and touch of their mothers but apparently do not recognize their fathers the same way. However, there is some evidence that genetic mothers and fathers can tell their own newborns from other newborns simply by touching their baby’s hands.At first attachment bonding is unidirectional. Over time working models of the parent are built into the baby’s brain just as images of the baby are encoded in the parent’s brain. A baby’s distress triggers caregiving instincts in the parent. A baby’s drive for succorance is reinforced by receiving nurturing from the person to whom the baby attaches.Nurturing instincts insure that mothers are devoted to their newborns. After birth, the baby is the center of a mother’s life. Physical transformations in her body continue after birth. Nurturing her baby produces hormones and inscribes new pathways in her brain that lower the amount of stimulation needed to elicit maternal responses. Breastfeeding releases oxytocin with a relaxing effect. Within days a mother can pick out her own baby’s clothes by smell alone.Without DNA testing, fathers have no way of being certain about their parentage other than what they believe to be true. Still, a strongly attached father can be more important to his baby’s wellbeing than a weakly attached mother.Affiliative Bonding SystemThe affiliative bonding system favors the cooperative behavior essential for the survival of the species. Also referred to as reciprocal bonding, affiliative bonding builds on one-way succorant bonding in babies and nurturant bonding in their parents. It goes beyond a child’s instinctive quest for security and a parent’s instincts to nurture and protect. It involves a range of two-way dimensions that include intimacy, shared humor and positive emotions.A child succorantly attaches to a caregiver and affiliatively bonds through shared interactions with a caregiver. A parent nurturantly bonds with a child by responding to the child’s succorant attachment. A child’s initial succorant attachment grows into affiliative bonding. However, babies do not become succorantly or affiliatively bonded with genetic mothers and fathers who don’t interact intimately with them.Babies and children form succorant and affiliative bonds with adoptive parents who nurture them. Children who discover they have been adopted have socially conditioned reactions, but they do not automatically shift their bonding relationships from the adoptive parents to the genetic ones. Life experience rather than genes creates succorant and affiliative parent-child bonding.A deep emotional bond with blood relatives also is not based on genes. It comes from reciprocal affiliative bonding that takes place through child-parent and sibling relationships. Affiliative attachment bonds are imprinted in the brain. Adoptive parents are the real parents through their succorant attachment and affiliative bonds with their children.Affiliatively bonded adults and children build evolving images in each other’s brains. They sense and respond to each other’s needs. Reciprocal interactions with caregivers develop a child’s capacity for higher mental functions, empathy, compassion and resilience… in essence, they develop the child’s mind.Sexual Bonding SystemThe sexual bonding system appears early in life in the form of the Electra and Oedipal complexes. These complexes motivate attachment bonding with the parent of the opposite sex and rivalry with the parent of the same sex.Sexual feelings and fantasies later evolve during adolescence with the eventual goal of mating and reproduction.
Lustful craving is the basic motivation for sexual union. Lust doesn’t automatically result in romantic passion or the urge to attach to a mating partner. Lust’s capriciousness might be part of nature’s plan. It enabled our ancestors to follow two complementary reproductive strategies. If a male had one mate and two children by a female from a different band, he would double his descendents. Likewise, a female who had a mate and became involved with another might bear the latter’s baby and acquire extra food and protection for her children.Romantic passion, the elation and obsession associated with being in love, focuses courtship on one individual at a time. The process focuses the evolutionary precious time and energy spent on mating and reproduction.Passionate love’s symptoms overlap with those of heroin (euphoric wellbeing) and cocaine (energetic euphoria). When passion is spurned or thwarted, the brain reacts with negative feelings like despair, depression and rage, all of which are similar to withdrawal symptoms from heroin or cocaine usage. Most commonly the need for passionate love eventually diminishes as affiliative bonding strengthens attachment bonding between a couple.Nurturant Bonding SystemThe nurturant bonding system first appears in young children’s caregiving impulses. When fully expressed in parenthood and adult companionship, it fulfills the reproductive cycle.Romantic passion doesn’t necessarily turn into nurturant attachment. They are separate processes and follow different patterns. Under the influence of oxytocin, nurturing attachment grows slowly over time as lovers rely upon, care for and deepen the trust between them. Passionate love is like fire. Nurturant love is like a growing vine that intertwines two people. Parent-child and enduring intimate adult relationships are both examples of this kind of love.Nurturant attachment between them motivates partners to stay together long enough to rear their young. When disrupted, it can cause pain. The desire for nurturant attachment generally is stronger in females than in males.
Homo sapiens is a social species full of emotions finely tuned for loving, helping, sharing and intertwining our lives.There are as many ways to have enduring companionship attachments as there are couples. Underlying them all is the willingness to compromise with and tolerate a partner as well as to nurture each other.Attachment StylesAttachment styles emerge gradually over time. A child with a particular temperament makes bids for nurturance. A mother with a particular temperament responds or does not respond based on her mood; how overworked she is; or which childrearing expert she has been reading. Children with sunny dispositions and upbeat mothers are likely to develop secure attachment bonds. Still a dedicated mother can overcome her own and/or her child’s less pleasant disposition and foster secure attachment bonding.A parent’s capacity to respond to the emotional and mental states of a newborn baby is the foundation of secure attachment bonding. These mutual experiences develop a baby’s reflective capacity and create an internal sense of cohesion and interpersonal connection. Over time, babies and young children build what John Bowlby called internal working models of themselves, their parents and their relationships with others. This self-organizing internal model of a mother provides a sense of security when the mother isn’t present.Children of parents who are empathic, set firm limits and emphasize the rights and welfare of others show high levels of pro-social and compassionate behaviors. Genetic differences also play a role. In contrast in dysfunctional families, children can become frightened or angry. They can lash out or turn away from others. In steeling themselves against their own emotional pain, they become inured to the pain of others.The Developing MindWe don’t ordinarily think of ourselves this way, but each one of us is a complicated self-organizing system with self-organizing subsystems including the central nervous system… the seat of the mind. The development of a child’s brain depends upon communication between the minds of parent and child. It occurs through observation and interaction with more knowledgeable members of the culture throughout childhood. These connections involve an energetic resonance in which information flows freely. This learning process can be exhilarating for both child and adult.Stable mental images are formed in babies’ brains as they interact with their caregivers. A baby and mother recognize each other’s faces and smile, giving the baby a secure feeling. Babies form images of their parents’ bodies, personalities and behavior as their minds are shaped by their parents.A child learns to regulate emotional states in response to parental constraints. The orbitofrontal cortex in the brain operates like a clutch that disengages the sympathetic nervous system (the accelerator) and activates the parasympathetic system (the brakes). This part of the brain is especially sensitive to face-to-face communication.This is why eye-to-eye contact between parent and child helps set effective limits. The meaning of the word “no” is conveyed more clearly with eye contact than by shouting across a room. This is the basis for the parenting limit-setting maxim: “Use your feet instead of your mouth.”Learning that wishes are not automatically gratified and that one’s mind and a parent’s mind are separate helps a child learn self-control as well as modulate emotions and behavior in pro-social ways. The clash of separate minds and wills is essential to mental and social development.Self-generated play enriches personal growth and the capacity for enjoyment and creativity later. The world of symbolic meaning creates awareness that one has a subjective experience… a mind of one’s own. Creative imagination-stimulating pretending crystallizes a child’s ideas so that the ideas become thoughts that can be thought about. When children grasp the fact that minds are independent, they acquire their own minds. They expand their own creative imaginations.Then the insight dawns that the child is one among others. From this time on, a child can think about other people as individuals who have their own experiences. At this point, children enter society and culture. Young children who passively view television may well be less imaginative and empathic than those who engage in self-generated, creative play.Special Considerations in Father RelationshipsMost children enjoy affiliative and, to a lesser degree than with their mothers, succorant attachment bonding with fathers. Some receive inconsistent support while others are adversely affected by their father’s behavior. Still others lose their fathers early in life. Some children have high levels of involvement with males other than their genetic fathers like grandfathers and uncles.Fathers can provide emotional support to the mothers and participate in childcare whether they live with the mother or not. Fathers also can link children to their extended families and community resources. Fathers are more likely to engage children in physical and stimulating play while mothers tend to spend more time in verbal activities.Honoring Children’s RightsChildren have come a long way from when they were seen as miniature adults, and adolescence was not recognized as a developmental stage in life. We are evolving from a baseline of extreme prejudice and discrimination against children… especially against newborns, who still are murdered at parents’ discretion in some parts of the world. When children were regarded as property, they had no rights at all. Now they have moral and civil rights. Our society has taken decisive steps toward overcoming juvenile ageism.At the same time, the notion that babies need only feeding and diapering still prevails in popular thought and public policies. The facts that babies are interacting, learning human beings and that their development depends on enduring parental attachments are not fully appreciated.The development of the brain depends upon communication between the minds of parent and child. Babies internalize working models of their parents; in this way, their developing minds are shaped by their parents’ more mature minds and actions.Minors’ rights spring from human rights that specify the minimum standards of civilized behavior. They all hinge on the right to competent parents. Competent parenthood rests upon attachment bonds that promote self-respect, self-confidence and resiliency in both children and their parents. Although parental rights come from the Constitutional protection of the privacy of the family and individual liberty, they really are legal and physical custodial duties essential for the survival of our species and our nation. Parental rights deserve careful consideration.

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