Reedy: ‘Babies’ vs. ‘March of the Penguins:’ Child Development Reaches Hollywood

By Purnell T. Cropper | October 26, 2010

Dr. Cindy Kennedy Reedy, Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Early Childhood Education Program, participated in an emotionally powerful conference last weekend focusing on the mental health of infants, toddlers and families in Pennsylvania. The Infant Mental Health Conference, with a sold-out audience of 275, was held at the University of Pennsylvania Friday and Saturday and was sponsored by Chatham University, the MOM Program at the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, and the William Penn Foundation. Additionally, Arcadia University was a workshop sponsor.

Reedy presented a breakout session workshop on “Babies vs. March of the Penguins: Child Development Reaches Hollywood.” Using the two movies, the session focused on family and cultural influences and attitudes and their effect on a child’s development. Specific age-appropriate developmental characteristics and milestones across all domains—physical, cognitive, social and emotional—were subsequently connected to practical applications within the participants’ professional fields: early intervention, behavioral health, social work, foster care, early childhood mental health consultants, nurse consultants, occupational and physical therapists, speech and hearing therapists, and child care providers. The session guided the attendees to think about whether Hollywood enhances or thwarts the challenge to support the growth and development of young children through popular films.

The recently released documentary “Babies” highlighted four newborns from Namibia, Mongolia, Tokyo and San Francisco during the first year of their life. Using brief vignettes of each child as a reference point, Reedy shared research across the various developmental domains.

“For example, research indicates infants carried on their mother’s back do not appear to crawl or walk later than infants who are not confined in this way and was exhibited in the film by infants from Namibia and Mongolia. However, infants who spend significant amounts of time in walkers and other infant equipment appear to begin walking later as was exhibited by the child from San Francisco,” says Reedy.

“Findings linked to cognitive domain show that in the United States parents tend to give specific verbal instructions to children and engage their child in conversation as a peer compared to Asian cultures where parents stand to the side, ready to help the child if needed during exploration and remain in an adult role rather than becoming engaged with the child as a peer. Through this cultural lens, Reedy guided participants in linking various findings to their professional roles and experiences.

“Lastly,” says Reedy, “the focus turned to what happens when stress and trauma are present during development. In Alice Honig’s book little kids Big Worries (2010) she feels many stresses exist for children in our rushed and technologically complex society in addition to children with continuing health issues, abandonment, and abuse. As was shown by a brief clip from March of the Penquins, perceptive awareness and close monitoring are needed from adults as a first line of defense to recognizing child stress.

“Jim Greenman stated in his book What happened to MY World? Helping Children Cope with Natural Disaster and Catastrophe (2001), ‘Every day, children everywhere are struggling with life’s darker side. The insights into children’s thinking and behavior, and what they need from the adult world in the aftermath of these events, apply to other calamities, both personal and social: death of loved ones; exposure to violence; the descent into homelessness; or even the sudden loss of a parent due to divorce or separation. Fear, grief, anxiety, and despair have the same disabling force, no matter the cause.’

The presentation ended by having participants discuss professional qualities they possessed that foster resiliency in children in addition to professional qualitites they needed to improve upon. They were encouraged to remember that caring for infants, toddlers and young children is hard work, physically and emotionally but their main goal is to enhance young children’s lives.