The last article in our day-care series takes a look at the effect of day care on parents' efforts to instill values in their children. The father winced when his four-year-old uttered an obscenity that youngsters used to hear only after seven or eight years in school -- or so this parent recalled.
Where had the preschooler picked up the objectionable language? Apparently from his classmates in day care.
Such experiences are sometimes used to bolster the contention that child care outside the home hinders parents' attempts to instill their own values in very young children. There's little doubt, according to a number of the specialists contacted for this series, that parents have to make a special effort to communicate standards and values if much of their offspring's time is spent in the care of others and in the company of peers whose own families have differing concepts of child-rearing.
But two points are emphasized again and again:
Parents should seek out the day-care center or family day-care provider whose values most nearly coincide with their own. When the values of providers are ``significantly different from the parents' values,'' problems can arise, says Bettye Caldwell, an education professor at the University of Arkansas. For example, if parents have a strong religious faith and ``want their children to say grace,'' she adds, ``they can search around for that kind of a center.''
The influence of the immediate family remains primary even when a child spends a hefty number of hours in day care each week. ``Generally, the parents' values come through more strongly,'' affirms Leslie Isler of Wayne State University in Detroit. Bad language or a fascination with guns, for example, may demand specific attention from parents, she acknowledges -- and perhaps at an earlier age than with past generations. But if there's trust and understanding in the home, children ``will t ry out other values, but they'll come back to their parents' values,'' Dr. Isler says.
Far from interfering with the relationship between parents and children, ``good day care and good day-care teachers will help build that relationship,'' says Isler. She points out that, ideally, the day-care provider ``works with the family,'' supporting parents and finding out how they want things done.
That's the ideal. In practice, the interplay between parents and care-givers can be tricky. Melissa Kaplan, a colleague of Isler's at Wayne State who is involved in training day-care providers, observes that conflicting values can be ``a real sore point.'' Care-givers she has worked with are often pretty disgusted by parents' norms -- particularly those of single parents -- with regard to language and aggressiveness. These day-care workers sometimes see themselves as trying to impose the only structure
kids have in their lives, Dr. Kaplan says.
On the other hand, Dr. Caldwell's experience has been that parents frequently criticize care providers for not being tough enough with children. ``In general, it's just the reverse of what the general public would think,'' she says, with parents asserting that ``if you'd just whip him, he would stop it.'' This attitude, she continues, is usually at odds with the values of the day-care provider, who is likely to be in that low-paying line of work out of a love for children and is often philosophically op posed to corporal punishment.
Being in the middle between parents' desires -- or lack of them -- and children's inclinations can be a thankless job, says Kaplan, particularly when the day-care provider has an unwieldy number of children to oversee and his or her pay is only slightly above the minimum wage. ``Burnout'' is common, she says.
If it comes to filling in for a dearth of values and structure in the home, the day-care provider may in fact have an impossible job, in the view of some observers. ``I think the evidence points clearly to the role six people play in a child's life -- the parents and grandparents,'' says Burton White, director of the Center for Parent Education in Newton, Mass. The emphasis should be on helping parents of young children do their jobs better through programs that can give them a more sophisti cated grasp of child development, he contends.
Dr. White states unequivocally that day care, outside the home, is ``just not the best way to raise a human being.''
The question of whether day care is better or worse than home care is a touchy one. ``That's very much a matter of personal tastes, ideology, and values,'' says Alison Clarke-Stewart, a professor at the University of California at Irvine and a longtime researcher in the day-care field.
Any discussion of day-care pros and cons can quickly get wrapped up in emotions that have nothing to do with day care itself, observes Jerome Kagan, a Harvard education professor. What the debate comes down to, he says, is an intensely emotional battle over the role of women in society -- specifically, whether mothers should be in the home with their children.
That, too, is a question of values. ``It really comes down to what's best for each family,'' says Dr. Clarke-Stewart. ``If you've got to have two incomes, there's no choice.'' The crux of the matter ``is finding the best day-care setting you can.''
Last in a series. Previous articles ran Oct. 7 and 10.