What is the most important influence on child development | Tom Weisner | TEDxUCLA (2023)


If you could do one thing - the most important thing - to influence the life of a young child, what would that be (it’s likely not what you first bring to mind)? We want to improve the wellbeing of children - our own, in our community, and in the world, so thinking globally about this question is vital.

Tom Weisner is an emeritus professor of anthropology and psychiatry at UCLA. He studies and teaches about culture and human development; families and children at risk; and evidence-informed policies to improve the lives of children and families. He has done research in Kenya on the effects on children and parents of rural-urban migration; in Delhi, India on families and children with autism; supports for working poor families in Wisconsin; families with children with disabilities in Los Angeles; hippie and countercultural families and children in California; sibling caretaking and education in Hawaii; non-parental and sibling caretaking around the world; and gratitude and school achievement among Latino adolescents and families in Los Angeles. He has served on the Board of the NGO ChildFund International. He went to Reed College (BA) and Harvard (PhD). He is married to Susan Meade Weisner, and has two sons and four beautiful grandchildren.

This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at ted.com/tedx


What is the most important thing in cello development? This is something we should really care about, because we all want to improve the well-being in the lives of kids.

So what are the most important things in child development? I'd like you to help me to get started so think of a child really do it like bring up a child in your mind's eye, close your eyes.

Think of that child.

You got it now.

If you could do something the most important thing to influence the life of that child.

What would you do when I've asked this question? The Western audiences there's a whole litany of important things, provide attachment security, good nutrition, provide it with good playmates stimulation lots of stimulation, perhaps a religious or spiritual pathway, which will be important to the child, provide a trust fund so that the child will have resources as it grows older some of the parents in the audience, I mention other things like it's.

The toilet training just get me through the toilet, training or get my kid to sleep or they bring the homework sheets home and then they get lost.

So there are a lot of things that we think of as important things in child development.

All all those things are important and, of course, there's no one thing.

That would be the only important thing.

None of these, in my view, are the most important thing.

The most important thing you could do would be to decide or think about where in the world is that child growing up all the things that we think of about the child depend on the context in which the child and its family are living? What family? What neighborhood, what community? What nation state will that child's life pathways be determined in most of the things we think of nutrition, having a trust fund that religious pathway? Is there one religious pathway? Are there many? What is that religious pathway entail? All of these things depend on the child in some particular context.

Most of us, when we do this- and many of you probably brought up in your mind a child sort of floating in space now for analytic or research reasons, it might be useful to think of a childhood is an autonomous person, but that child does not exist.

The only children that exists are children in the world who really live there, and the importance of keeping the context in mind needs to be brought out more strongly in how we think about kids and how we try to improve their well-being.

I first saw this one.

As a young anthropologist, I went to Kenya I was studying the effects of urban migration on children.

There I've subsequently done many research projects to try to improve the lives of kids or at least understand that in different places around the world and in the US, and when you go to other parts of the world, or you know, people from there, you see the power of contextual and cultural differences on children's lives by learning about the rest of the world will understand better how to take care of kids here and everywhere.

The way when we think about kids is autonomous individuals, it's a way of thinking that we learn and it's no accident that we've learned that for one thing we live in a weird society.

Weird is an ironic but useful Afrin, ism acronym for Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic societies, now about 12% of the world, live in such a society and most of the research that we hear about, and the experts that we hear about in the context we're in come from other weird societies.

So we have learned to bracket the context out and just think about the child as an individual in a weird Society.

Research is in the same way, mostly from weird societies.

In psychology, for example, over 90% of the research studies are done in weird societies with samples from those parts of the world, if you're an undergraduate in a college or university in the West.

Like some of you here, you are four thousand times more likely to be in a research study than a randomly selected person from the rest of the world.

What if we take account of the other 88%, because by doing that, we'll see the importance of context much more clearly? Fortunately, there's a wonderful rasayan, TIFF, ik research, literature to help us do that they're also, increasingly people that we know who have grown up and lived in those societies, and we can go and visit them to see the importance of this now, even where societies are diverse in context and the rest of the world way more so, and so you can't possibly see or understand all of the differences but I'm going to mention a few that I have seen myself and that offer an important and useful contrast to weird societies.

One is the importance of social responsibility and collaborative learning and social intelligence that you see in so many cultures, and so many children around the world.

Unfortunately, the parent of one of the children you see in that slide from a rural school in Kenya has died and after lunch, all of the children are going to take those sticks of wood, which each of them have brought a few to school.

That morning, they're going to put the wood on their heads, they're, going to walk to the child's home, pay their condolences and bring the wood which is needed to prepare for the funeral.

That's coming in the next few days.

It's phenomenal the amount of Prentice Shipp, adult child, contextual learning that you see around the world.

Another is multiple care taking of children.

Kids are raised by a lot of different people.

Care is socially distributed.

Children are very securely attached, but they're attached to a social setting, a family and other members that help take care of them, they're likely to be part of a community of care.

Unfortunately, large numbers of children in the world live in very harsh environments, with oppression and uncertainty and deep poverty and inequality and toxic environments and chaotic family situations that often result girls lives are likely to diverge from boys as boys and girls get older, say after early childhood.

So the way girls lives play out very in way.

Boys lives very, but they're likely to be more divergent than differentiated than we find it here.

The institutions that children are living in and will grow into are different.

Marriage may be collectively a group arranged inheritance may only go to boys or may go to older children or that trust fund may not be available if you're a younger, born child compared to an older children, are more likely to grow up in large, extended families when are in single mother households that are very isolated and where there's a very harsh environment facing many children, so bring up the child again.

Let's do it again.

Think of the child.

Again, where is the child living? What is the world in which the child is living in and perhaps the most important thing? What kind of child or person is desirable and considered morally important in that community? That is one of the most important things about child development.

Well-Being is the ability of a child to actively participate in the activities that that society thinks is important and desirable so to help children around the world.

When we think about this topic, bring up in your mind the context, the whole world around the child and will do much better at improving the lives of children everywhere.

Thanks very much you.


What is the most important influence on child development | Tom Weisner | TEDxUCLA? ›

Professor Tom Weisner suggests that the most important influence on child development is where that child grows up.

What is the most important influence on child development Tom Weisner? ›

The cultural community a child grows up in is arguably the most important influence in a child's development. Culture and context should be incorporated into every research program in human development in our field.

What is the important influence on child development? ›

In the early years, your child's main way of learning and developing is through play and interactions with you. Other influences on development include genes, nutrition, physical activity, health and community.

What is the most important thing for child development? ›

Having a safe and loving home and spending time with family―playing, singing, reading, and talking―are very important. Proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep also can make a big difference.

What is the most important influence on cognitive development? ›

Lev Vygotsky's theory is based on social learning as the most important aspect of cognitive development. In Vygotsky's theory, adults are very important for young children's development. They help children learn through mediation, which is modeling and explaining concepts.

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