Babies is a documentary that follows four babies from different regions of the world. Each baby is from a different culture, allowing the viewer to compare different customs of each culture and how they impact development. The film has no narration or talking, allowing viewers to focus on the babies howthey interact with their surroundings. The babies are: Ponijao from Namibia, Mari from Japan, Bayar from Mongolia, and Hattie from California. They are from very different cultures, which shows how each culture can impact the child’s development. The film watches as each child grows up, unaware of the cameras. It is unscripted, raw footage of each child in their surroundings. It shows the babies develop physically, cognitively, and socially as they grow from birth to age one. The infancy and toddlerhood period are “from birth to two years old, and it brings changes in the body and brain that support the emergence of a wide array of motor, perceptual and intellectual capacities” (Berk & Meyers, 2016, p.6).
The film allows viewers to get greater insight to the differences in child rearing practices in different cultures across the globe. Each culture is special and different, providing insight to the positives and negatives of each way of upbringing. It is assumed that the Western upbringing is the best, as it has access to Western medicine, but surprisingly that is not the case. Each culture has different methods of upbringing that reflects its culture.
Food and shelter are resources that are needed in every human life, and the right to that is protected through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Every baby also needs parental love and support, human interaction and care. However, there are some resources that some cultures deem invaluable and others find unnecessary. The two cultures represent the difference between material and non-material culture. In Western culture, for Hattie, toys, educational movies, baby classes, etc. are seen as resources that parents must provide for their children. In Western culture, many people think this is the answer. Hattie went to yoga class, for example, even though many adults don’t even bother with this activity. In Mongolia, Bayar was not given any plastic toys, movies, or yoga classes. Even though they were raised in different environments, their development was similar. They all crawled, began to walk, and talk. Some were faster than others, but they all were able to take steps and begin to speak. This showed how environmental factors impact a baby and their development rate, but it is not a very big significance. The children are still developing well and growing up.
Bianca Mendonça, Barbara Sargent, and Linda Fetters did a study to “investigate whether standardized motor development screening and assessment tools that are used to evaluate motor abilities of children aged 0 to 2 years are valid in cultures other than those in which the normative sample was established” (Mendonça, 2016). They performed twenty-three studies representing six motor development screening and assessment tools in 16 cultural contexts met the inclusion criteria: Alberta Infant Motor Scale (n=7), Ages and Stages Questionnaire, 3rd edition (n=2), Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development, 3rd edition (n=8), Denver Developmental Screening Test, 2nd edition (n=4), Harris Infant Neuromotor Test (n=1), and Peabody Developmental Motor Scales, 2nd edition (n=1). Thirteen studies found “significant differences between the cultural context and normative sample” (Mendonça, 2016). Two studies established “reliability and/or validity of standardized motor development assessments in high-risk infants from different cultural contexts” (Mendonça, 2016). Five studies “established new population norms” (Mendonça, 2016). Eight studies described the “cross-cultural adaptation of a standardized motor development assessment” (Mendonça, 2016). They found “that standardized motor development assessments have limited effectiveness in cultures other than that in which the original sample was established” (Mendonça, 2016). This means that it is difficult to assess how well a baby or toddler is developing between two cultures for their cultural traits, because each culture values different attributes. Bayar and Hattie were able to learn and complete the same tasks in the end, but it is difficult to say which was more effective, as the cultures are so different.
The babies’ “information processing, intelligence, reasoning, language development, and memory also developed throughout the movie” (Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, 2016), which is known as cognitive development. Each child lives in a different environment and interacts differently as a result of this. Their cultures both value socialization, but Hattie’s culture has more agents of socialization. While Hattie lives in a big city full of industrialized toys, Bayar had sticks, rocks, animals, and mud. They also formed their language skills through interaction with others. Hattie interacted with her mother a lot, but often Bayar was lying down by himself. Hattie began talking faster as she had that interaction. Bayar did not interact with his mother as much. He sometimes cried when he was by himself, but there was no one around to comfort him. This may have caused him to act aggressively. For example, when he petted the cat he was rough, and even pulled his hair. He was not shown kindness through human interaction. His brother also hit him with a cloth, making him to cry. His older brother tormented him, who repeatedly hits him with a scarf. Bayar wails, but at the same time, he waits eagerly for the next whack, proving that negative attention is better than none at all. He is often upset and angry. Hattie is an only child, so she was taken to classes, presumably to interact with other babies.
A study by Chun-Hao Chiu, Chu-Sui Lin, Gerald Mahoney, Shu-Fen Cheng, and Shu-Hui Chang found that “the relationship between mothers’ responsive style of interaction and children’s rate of development was mediated by the simultaneous relationship between mothers’ responsiveness and children’s social engagement, or pivotal behavior” (Chun-Hao, et al., 2017). They wanted to determine “whether children’s pivotal behavior might also mediate the relationship between responsiveness and child development in a sample of 165 typically developing toddlers and their parents” (Chun-Hao, et al., 2017). They observed the parents and their children and discovered that “parental responsiveness was correlated with children’s pivotal behavior, and that both of these variables were correlated with children’s symbolic behavior” (Chun-Hao, et al., 2017). This means that Hattie is more likely to show positive developmental results, as her parents provide her with more interaction. Bayar is provided with less interaction, so he is less likely to develop as quickly. This is important to their development because Hattie has a higher chance at succeeding. Hattie is not provided with any material items that are helping her, and it can be inferred that her faster development is related to her interaction with her parents, not Western cultural activities such as yoga. This puts Bayar at a disadvantage. This relates to the study done by Bianca Mendonça, Barbara Sargent, and Linda Fetters, as it isn’t about the cultural traditions. What’s being measured is the parental interaction with their children. Although it is the cultural roles that make Bayar’s mother do household chores, she could integrate Bayar into her daily routine.
Their culture was very evident through their interaction with family. Hattie’s parents both work, but they are “solidly focused on co-parenting” (Focus Features, 2010). They want Hattie to “trust them equally,” (Focus Features, 2010) so they are both with her as much as they can be. Her father said, “there’s not one parent that’s in charge and has all the answers” (Focus Features, 2010). They represent a culture where the mother and father go out and have jobs, the more modern Western way of life. Bayar’s family has contrasting philosophies, and execute them quite differently. They believe that instead of co-parenting and working together, their “responsibility is fifty-fifty raising childs” (Focus Features, 2010). They use the tactic of dividing the labour, instead of doing it together as Hattie’s family does. Bayar’s mother “takes care of things mainly in the household; that’s why there were more images of they i.e., she and Bayar being together” (Focus Features, 2010). This is more of the traditional male and female roles than the ones presented in Western society. His mother “stays more inside and his father stays outside” (Focus Features, 2010). This represents the male and female roles in their culture, and explains why Bayar is often seen alone. While he is outside, his mother is working inside, and his father is out “taking care of the other bigger part of their household business” (Focus Features, 2010).
This is reflected through Mongolia’s marriage laws, and how Mongols typically married young. Girls when they were 13 or 14 and boys a few years later, and marriages have traditionally been arranged. n Mongolia, “dictations of the nomadic state were intended to anchor social reforms for social benefit depreciated by new environment” (Dugarova, 2016). This leads to marriage and raising children to be more of an agreement and partnership than a labour of love. This means that they split the tasks, instead of working on them together like they do in America. This reflects the different social structures and how the family members interact with one another. This explains the different upbringing presented by Bayar and Hattie’s families.
Another cultural difference is their subsistence patterns. Mongolia is known for their nomadic traditions, with more hunter-gatherer societies. Nomads move with the seasons, raising and breeding goat, sheep, cattle (including yaks), camel and horse, migrating from place to place following the most favorable pastures and campsites. The United States has industrial societies, and the population is not part of the hunting process. The only gathering they have to do is going to the grocery store. This presents a very different society to Bayar and Hattie, and it shows how developed each of their civilizations are.
The two cultures are very different and allow Bayar and Hattie to lead very different lives. They have different values and traditions, as well as different tactics for upbringing a child. No one culture does it “better”, but instead both cultures value different things. The film allows viewers to observe the babies in their natural environments and grow up, and provides unscripted access to their culture. The viewer can compare different customs of each culture and how they impact a child’s development. Mongolian and American cultures are very different, and still the children are able to develop with similar skills and at similar rates. Their cultures are able to preserve tradition and raise children as they see fit. It is important that we have these differences and that children are allowed to be different.