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Delinquency Begins Early

"Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it." —Marian Wright Edelman


In an article, "Power Struggles: Early Experiences Matter," in the Beginnings Workshop section of the January 2001 issue of Child Care Information Exchange (available at, James Garbarino how the seeds of adult aggression can be planted in the earliest days:

"Why do some difficult babies become well socialized youth while others end up troubled or in trouble? One important reason lies in their early experience of power struggles. Chronic bad behavior and aggression are more than a simple matter of hardwiring the brain. They result from experience, experience that may start with the misuse of parental power in the early months of life, particularly as an adaptation to early mistreatment, rejection and inept parenting.

"In a study by psychologists Byron Egeland, Stuart Erickson, and Robert Pianta at the University of Minnesota, children who were maltreated at an early age were noticeably less cooperative than children who had not suffered harsh punishment at the hands of their parents or guardians. This is significant because the early badness of out of control children often starts with this reaction to maltreatment, that is being non-cooperative and resistant to parental directions and commands. This makes the task of anyone who would reform these children very challenging indeed.

"Children may start off on a negative path in part because parents mistakenly withdraw from them in the first months of life, perhaps because some mothers and fathers have been taught that leaving a young infant to cry in the crib is the best medicine or because they find the baby is too much to handle. The truth is, in the early months of life, the big danger is not too much attention, but rather inattention. It is only later that effective parents begin to shape their child's behavior by responding to desirable and undesirable behavior in different ways.

"Some parents believe that the way to encourage cooperativeness and obedience in a child is to be harsh and punishing from the very start, to use overwhelming parental power. But in her classic study of the relation between maternal responsiveness in the first three months of life and the child's compliance at 12 months, psychologist Eleanor Maccoby found just the opposite. Rather than producing a spoiled brat, she found that the more responsive mothers were in the first three months of life —for example, going immediately to pick up the baby when her cried —the more obedient the child was at one year."

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