Do Children Need Love?

The other day during my daughter’s therapy appointment, my daughter’s therapist mentioned Harry Harlow and the wire monkey experiments.  I went home and looked it up to understand more about what she was telling me.

It’s interesting and puts into perspective today’s seemingly still antique views in the family court system.  Dr. Harlow’s experiments were controversial, focusing on the powerful effects of love on young rhesus monkeys.  He sought to reveal the importance of a mother’s love for healthy childhood development.  This seems to intuitive to me, it’s hard to grasp that it would actually be in question at all.  However, there are many aspects of society where it is easy to see that children are still dealt with callously.

The experiments consisted of removing the young monkey’s from their mother almost immediately after birth and giving them mother alternatives.  The monkey’s could chose between a wire mommy monkey with milk for them, or a terry cloth mommy without milk.  The baby monkey’s spent considerably more time with the terry cloth monkey – showing that contact comfort is important for the baby monkeys.

In a further experiment, Harlow created a strange situation similar to attachment researcher Mary Ainsworth.  Harlow allowed the young monkeys to explore a room either with the presence of their surrogate terry cloth mother or in her absence.  Monkeys used the mother as a secure base to explore the room (returning to her as they explored). When Harlow removed the surrogate mother from the room, the baby monkeys would often freeze up, crouch, rock, scream, and cry.

What startled me most is that these experiments took place in the 1960’s.  The 1960’s!  This is a mere 50 years ago.  It is my father’s generation – the same generation who raised the parents of today, and the same age as many judges who are still on the bench in family court.  It reminds me of my ex, raised by parents of this generation, who cannot see the world as different than when he was raised.  He lives and breathes the “it worked for me and I turned out fine” phenomena.

When I consider this, it makes sense that as a world society, we are still trying to grasp and consider how all the impacts of childhood come into play in our development.  It also makes sense that the term “children are resilient” is so wildly used — despite the fact ‘mental health’ is a huge industry and so much of it comes down to things that happened to us as a child.  Perhaps in 100 years, society will marvel at how rudimentary our thinking is now, and have a clear grasp of how we need consistent love, nurturing and empathy as children and adults.  I hope so…



One Response to “Do Children Need Love?”

  1. Chantal says:

    Oh I hope so too… although I see things only getting worse 🙁 I hate that phrase- children are resilient. It’s only because they’re being forced to adapt! It doesn’t mean that because they adapt they aren’t marked psychologically! I am sure a lot of my son’s behavioral problems have to do with my ex and I splitting, getting back together again… then splitting again. We try and reason that there are a lot of split families these days so kids shouldn’t feel so ‘alone’ and different from others but it’s still so hard on these little people who are struggling to find a sense of security and consistency in their world… the court system doesn’t help. They claim they only want what’s best for the kids, but meanwhile they’re only trying to be ‘just’ to each parent, granting joint custody to the father if he puts up a fight for the kids. Never mind that his motivation is just to control and manipulate us and the kids! Augh it makes me so mad.

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