Developmental neglect is often closely associated with emotional neglect, and involves an environment where children are poorly stimulated or challenged. Developmental neglect could be sitting children in front of the TV all day. (More on this in chapter xx) It could be an environment where parents seldom interact with their children or engage them in conversation. It could be allowing too much computer/game time and not encouraging outside exploration. It’s any environment where something important to a child’s optimal development is either missing or inadequate.
The difference between a challenging environment and a lacking one can be quite dramatic. Research shows that the better a parents conversations (more words, longer words, complete sentences) between birth and three, the greater the child’s vocabulary. The difference can be as big as 80%-900+ words for those in the good environment versus 200 or fewer for those in the lacking one. (Huttenlocher et al., 1991) From birth to age 5, kids starting school with the weakest vocabulary had parents who on average spoke one thousand words per day, or two million over the course of 5 years. Yet when you look at those who entered school with excellent vocabulary, they had parents who spoke 2-5,000 words per day, several million more from birth to age 5. (Hart & Risley, 1992)
These are not insignificant differences. An 80% gap in cognitive development is HUGE, and when a child starts school, those kinds of disparities can make all the difference between thriving academically and struggling. Comprehending the material or falling behind. In short, it can make or break a child’s education right from the start. Then there are all the potential secondary stresses and conflicts that come with struggling in school. Again, while no one is going to follow you around with a tape recorder and word counter, a variety of traditional abuse experiences are likely to cause a lot less long-term adversive effects.
The same carries over into the general manner in which parents engage their children. Take reading a book, for example. Children who listen to their mothers read them stories experience greater gains in comprehension and vocabulary when their mothers interject the readings with explanations and analogies of how the story applies to the real world. (DeTemple, 1995) Reading a child a story is great, but engaging them in that story with thought provoking questions and comments are better.
Another common type of developmental neglect is academic neglect. The availability of public schools has lulled many parents into a false belief…namely, that it isn’t their job to educate their child. A child’s education starts in the home, and public schools aren’t equipped or designed to do everything for you. Educational responsibilities are something that come along with having a child. This involves assisting a child with homework. Getting them to class and ensuring they are taking their education seriously. It means motivating them for learning and doing what it takes to help them when they struggle. Public schools are a tool for parents, not a do-all. Since academic success is tied to numerous life outcomes, a failure to raise children who can succeed academically will generally mean a worse life-outcome in the long run than will abuse throughout their life.
Developmental neglect can occur in the environment, either in the environment itself or in its interactions and activities. Not only is growth stunted, but brain cells are actually thinned by boredom. (Diamond & Hopson, xxxx) An environment with a variety of stimulating experiences is key for optimal development. This means plenty of sensory input, such as walks in the forest, digging in the sand, experience with creeks, rivers, lakes, mud, leaves, animals, etc. The more they experience, the more time they have for exploring novel new things, the more neurons and synaptic connections are being born in their brains. A child who lives in a two bedroom apartment in the city and never gets out for anything else is going to develop grossly under their potential.
The same goes for the activities and experiences within the environment. Doing and playing with the same old things day after day after day doesn’t challenge a child or provoke new brain development and learning. New toys, new props, new subjects, new discussions; these are the signs of an optimal environment. In the preschool years children should be learning about dinosaurs and planets and space flight and animals and other cultures and everything else under the sun. Whether they retain any of it isn’t as important as the brain building that occurs because of it. It doesn’t take money for this. It doesn’t matter that children have the latest gadget. Just that they have a variety of novel experiences in an environment that promotes a love for learning.