The Parent Is the First Teacher

Jaden FlachFebruary 22, 2022LoveFeatures
The Parent Is the First Teacher

Artwork by Kael Banks

We are the product of our parents.

We are shaped by their experiences and molded by their values. The unique fabric that connects family is the way in which we are raised. The lessons that have been passed down from each generation to the next create family identity. But the crucial ingredient that truly makes us who we are is love. We can either be raised with love or with neglect and hatred. This is a defining aspect of who we become.

Parental involvement is crucial for children's development. Being closely and emotionally connected to one's child teaches them to connect to others and care for themselves. There are many different ways parental affection can be categorized. According to research connecting parental love to adult happiness, how parents convey their love, or lack thereof, can fit into four categories: “warmth and affection; hostility and aggression; indifference and neglect; or undifferentiated rejection.” Fall into any one of these categories and the trajectory of your life could be completely different from that of a child in another.

The bond we have with our parents is the first relationship we will ever experience. It dictates every one of our future relationships, whether with others or ourselves. It is proven that parental warmth and affection result in a multitude of benefits for children into adulthood. Just to name a few, children with a loving relationship with their parents are more likely to have higher self esteem, better academic performance, and better communication skills. Additionally, parental love can be linked with fewer physiological and physical ailments. Love from an early age can literally make our hearts and minds healthier.

Though these findings might seem obvious to some, it is the chemical evidence that is crucial to understanding how parental love can mold us. Researchers observing the effects of maternal affection on babies and later on adulthood found that the hormone oxytocin may be responsible for the relationship between parent and child. Oxytocin is a chemical in the brain released when a person feels love or affection. This chemical helps to form the bond between parents and children which, later, is responsible for more positive emotions in children.

In addition to emotional love, physical love can also have major impacts on development. Any new parent who has flipped through the endless number of baby books on the market has heard about the importance of skin-to-skin contact for infants. Simple touch between infants and their mothers can result in calmer and more well-rested babies. The stress hormone cortisol is significantly lower after a mere 20 minutes of skin-to-skin contact. The parents’ mature immune systems pass important antibodies through skin-to-skin contact with a baby. There are also connections between touch and brain development. Newborns' brains rely on safe sensations, such as the smell and touch of their mothers, to let them know they are safe.

Sometimes a loving touch can not only alter future behavior, but save lives. For newborns staying in the NICU, even a simple tap or a gentle blow of air can relieve the stress of undergoing countless procedures and constant overstimulation. Kangaroo care, a leading method for introducing newborns to touch, encourages parents to keep close skin-to-skin contact with their babies. In one study researching the effects of touch on babies born prematurely, scientists found that infants who received kangaroo care had improved functioning 10 years later. This research begs the question of how humans can develop when they are deprived of emotional and physical connections.

The negative effects of having a childhood filled with hostility, violence, or anger are just as long-lasting and present in every aspect of adult life. Parental rejection is usually expressed through cold, indifferent, or hostile action. This can be manifested through a multitude of different behaviors, such as hitting, teasing, putting down, or neglecting one's child. Children who are brought up without love in their lives are more prone to stress, insecurity, and problems with self-love and fulfillment. Lack of affection from an early age will follow you for the rest of your life and affect your relationships with others. Most devastatingly, children are taught that love means pain.

A lack of physical touch as an infant can also have horrifying effects. Without basic physical contact between a parent and their child, children are robbed of any real example of how to behave. A stark example of abandonment can be seen through the tragedy of orphaned children in Romania in the 20th century. Due to a population boost that resulted in approximately 170,000 abandoned infants, children, and teens, orphans were forced to live in grey, prison-like housing that was Soviet-funded. Following the Soviet “science of defectology” policy, children who had any sort of deficiencies were neglected and deprived of any physical touch or emotional love. Facilities were understaffed so that infants received barely any touch or comfort. When the Romanian children were finally discovered by Americans, the true severity of their neglect was uncovered. Jane Aronson, one of the doctors brought to Romania to treat these children, recalls how she “[didn't] know how old they were, [they were] three feet tall, could have been in their 20s. In other rooms we [saw] teenagers the size of 6- and 7-year-olds, with no secondary sexual characteristics.” As adults, the orphans were studied to see the longer lasting effects of their childhood. A little more than half still have trouble fostering connections.

Love or lack thereof makes us who we are. It holds the power to dictate how we grow and what impact we will have in our lives. Like a chain reaction, the love that is given to children in their youth creates a legacy, just like traditions passed down within a family. Children who are filled with support, love, and confidence pass down that love to their children for generations. In a way, the love we instill in our children makes us immortal. It's clear in childhood that love causes growth and neglect results in decay. Maybe if the future generation is raised with a little more love and a little less hate we will see the growth that is needed for real change.

Cikanavicius, Darius. "How Lack of Love in Childhood Robs Us of Love in Adulthood." PsychCentral, September 30, 2019.

Elsevier. "Loving touch critical for premature infants." ScienceDaily.

Greene, Melissa Fay. "30 Years Ago, Romania Deprived Thousands of Babies of Human Contact." The Atlantic, July/August 2020.

Pew Research Center. "Children" in The Decline of Marriage And Rise of New Families., November 18, 2010.

Rohner, Ronald P., and Robert A. Veneziano. “The Importance of Father Love: History and Contemporary Evidence.” Review of General Psychology 5 (2001): 382 - 405.

Seitz, JoLyn. "The Importance of Skin-to-Skin with Baby after Delivery." Sanford Health, July 18, 2017.

Jaden Flach is 15 years old and lives in Brooklyn, New York. Art might be her favorite thing in this world. Painting is her escape from reality, and she hopes you enjoy her paintings as much as she enjoys creating them.