1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


David Shields 
February 14, 2010

New research presented in England a few years ago at a conference on the fetal and infant origins of adult disease found that baby rats licked a lot by their mothers turned out better than their counterparts who were licked less. That explains a lot! And I'm thinking Aldersonian readers would have more than a passing interest in this subject.

Turns out the licked rats grew into adulthood with lower levels of stress hormones than the lickless and were less anxious and fearful as adults. Moreover, the scientists reported, the mama rat’s licking caused the baby rat’s brain to crank up a gene thought to sooth the body in stressful situations. Best I can tell the scientists didn’t say whether or not the laid back rats were more likely to get whacked in the rat trap, but that’s probably a matter best left to future research. Seems all the excitement here was centered on the possible ramifications for human development.

After all, several human studies have found a correlation between a mother’s nurturing and the future social adaptation and mental health of her offspring. Out of such erudite, generally government-funded, research we have been blessed with scientific proofs that it’s a bad idea to beat your kids when they pee in the bed or, worse, on the floor beside the commode. Moreover, how else would we have ever known that reading with or to your child is a good thing; or that hugging and telling them that you love them bolsters self-esteem?

So let’s not scoff at this rat research. This is serious business. Michael Meaney, the McGill University professor of medicine who led this research, has for the first time ever “rigorously tested whether it really is the mother’s behavior that makes the difference and showed what happens in the brain of the offspring to produce the adult characteristics.”

The experts admit, however, that it’s unclear exactly how Meaney’s findings with the rats applies to humans, especially whether hugging, cuddling, kissing and so forth would be the equivalent human behavior. Never mind that any one of us South Georgia rednecks could explain the whole thing. Dr. Meaney will undoubtedly be driven to set up some control studies with humans where one group of mamas lick their babies into adulthood while another group employs the more traditional methods of child rearing.

Make no mistake, knowing that “the brain contains receptors for stress hormones such as cortisol, and that the more receptors there are, the more sensitive the brain is to cortisol and the easier it is for the brain to tell the adrenal glands when to stop cranking out the hormones, and that the receptors set the tone for how the body responds to stress” are all probably good things to know. But keep in mind that it was research such as this that spawned the New Age educational reforms and child development concepts and philosophies that we’re struggling with these days.

Look what all that has brought us. We’ve got a generation of latch-key kids at home alone smoking and snorting dope with a Smith and Wesson in their lunchboxes and an ample supply of condoms to sanitize their prodigious sex lives. We’ve turned them loose to ‘self-actualize’ because research has shown that the human spirit, left uninhibited, will fulfill itself in accordance with the natural order of things and will be free at last. Or so the ‘it-takes-a-village-to-raise-a-child’ crowd claim. There’s no room in this thinking for the possibility that there might be something to the concept of original sin and that man may be, just a little, basically bad, capable even of unspeakable evil all on his own at times.

No, there’s little doubt that we need to rethink some things. And licking our young may very well be something we want to consider. But we’re not talking about the kind of licking Dr. Meaney’s rats were doing. We’re talking about a board across their arses when they run amok outside the boundaries of basic rules of commonly accepted standards of behavior. That kind of licking in conjunction with plenty of hugs, kisses, cuddling and expressions of love and encouragement would do the trick we’re thinking, all rat research to the contrary notwithstanding.

I'm thinking most of us who grew up in Alderson got our fair share of licks which accounts for our exceptional disposition and good hearts.