Ancient Wisdom for Modern Parents

by Scott Noelle

10,000 years since the dawn of civilization is a long time, but on the scale of human evolution, it’s barely a tick of the clock.

So a baby born today is biologically adapted to the environment of our uncivilized ancestors who lived in tribal bands, in natural settings, with a very different worldview and none of our advanced technologies.

As Jean Liedloff wrote in The Continuum Concept, humans are born with “expectations” for certain conditions and experiences that were normal throughout the continuum of human evolution. If these expectations are not met, our evolved developmental processes are altered — for better or worse.

For example, human eyes evolved under conditions of ample exposure to sunlight as our ancestors spent most of their waking hours outside their dark shelters. Seeing an abundance of living things at varying distances under natural light gave primitive children a specific set of visual stimuli for countless generations — long enough for our eyes, brains, and developmental processes to adapt and optimize for those specific conditions.

When we spend most of our time indoors — seeing mostly non-living things, under artificial lights, with many hours of fixed-distance “screen time” — our brains’ visual systems can’t quite develop in the evolved way.

Are such breaks from the human evolutionary continuum “bad”?

Not necessarily. Modern humans are essentially experimenting with unproven developmental processes, the advantages and disadvantages of which are not fully understood.

The point is not to demonize or shun all things modern. What we need is a better understanding of natural development — knowing what our children’s biological and neurological systems “expect” to encounter in life — so we can honor nature’s wisdom as we explore new possibilities.

Liedloff observed that as children develop, they gradually become more capable of adjusting to “non-continuum” conditions and experiences without ill effects. The younger they are, the more they benefit from experiences that approximate their “continuum expectations.”

Improve Your Groove

Today, as you and your children go about your normal activities, imagine what you might be doing differently in the world of 10,000 years ago. (If you have no idea, watch the first few minutes of The Gods Must Be Crazy.)

Think of simple ways to create continuum experiences together, like walking barefoot in the grass, telling stories, picking wild berries, or just slowing down. How does life feel different in “continuum mode”?

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