TIME movies

Vin Diesel Spent His Childhood in an Artists’ Commune

Scott Garfield—Universal

But his old stomping ground of the West Village was a lot grittier back then

For a guy whose career has been built on the impressive circumference of his biceps, speed of his drawl and pack of his punch, Vin Diesel’s childhood was surprisingly artistic. He grew up surrounded by painters, writers and performers in the first ever federally supported housing complex specifically for artists.

Westbeth, located in New York City’s West Village, is a cluster of old industrial buildings that formerly housed Bell Laboratories. The building has a quite a history: it was where the first talking movie, TV broadcast, and binary computer were demonstrated. But Bell Labs moved out and in 1970, was replaced by 383 units of loft-style affordable housing and studio space for artists designed by a young Richard Meier.

To live in one of the apartments, potential residents had to prove they were both poor and working artists. (Their art was judged by a committee.) As a result, the place was crawling with creativity. The dance pioneer Merce Cunningham had studio space there, Miles Davis played at a friend’s apartment at Westbeth, and photographer Diane Arbus lived there—and, alas, died there, when she committed suicide in 1971.

Mark Vincent, as Diesel was then known, grew up there with his twin brother Paul, because his stepfather (he never knew his biological dad) was an avant-garde theater director, who later worked in TV and film education. His mom, Diesel says, was an astrologer. “It was an artist community, everyone was expressing themselves,” says Diesel, who is profiled in TIME this week. “Great painters, poets, sculptors, musicians and thespians all lived in this building. It was kind of a mecca for artists. What a magical place for a young artist to grow up in.”

Other kids who grew up in the building remember Diesel, or Mark Vincent as he was then known, being the kind of brotherly big dog that he plays in the Furious 7, the latest in The Fast and the Furious series. He would scurry around the former industrial complex with a gang of other little kids, getting into mischief. “He was definitely one of the ringleaders or alphas,” says Adam Davidson, a financial journalist who also grew up in the complex “I was younger and Mark would encourage us to go to parts of the building that were a little scary.”

Not surprisingly, the place was fantastically progressive. Davidson remember being shocked when he got to college in the ’80s to discover interracial marriage and homosexuality were frowned on in some circles. Equally unsurprisingly, families who moved into the complex rarely moved out. The once-gritty industrial neighborhood is now one of Manhattan’s swankiest. And yep, Diesel’s parents still live there.

TIME Research

A Rough Childhood Can Literally Age You Says a New Study

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Getty Images

Researchers say childhood adversity and psychiatric disorders may be linked to cellular changes that cause aging

Childhood trauma and psychiatric conditions may cause individuals to experience accelerated aging, according to research published last week.

In a study featured in Biological Psychiatry, scientists say they may have found evidence to suggest there is a link between aging at the cellular level and trauma or stress disorders.

To complete the study, researchers recruited 299 adults and separated them into different groups based on their experiences with childhood adversity, depression, anxiety or substance abuse.

The participants then had their DNA analyzed to study the lengths of their telomeres and any alterations to mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Telomere shortening and higher mtDNA content can serve as a yardstick to measure cellular aging.

“Results of the study show childhood adversity and lifetime psychopathology were each associated with shorter telomeres and higher mtDNA content,” read the report.

These effects were seen particularly in adults who had battled with major depression and anxiety disorders, along with parental loss or childhood maltreatment.

“Identifying the changes that occur at a cellular level due to these psychosocial factors allows us to understand the causes of these poor health conditions and possibly the overall aging process,” said Audrey Tyrka, associate professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University.

[Science Daily]

TIME Family

I Can’t Get Back the Thanksgivings of My Childhood and That Is OK

Thanksgiving dinner
Getty Images

I learned that food cooked with love definitely tastes better than food that isn’t

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of whipped potatoes with sautéed onions. I haven’t actually had them at a holiday meal in about two decades, but that is the dish that tugs at my heart when I think about Thanksgivings past.

Our day-to-day was tumultuous when I was a kid and we weren’t the sort of family where food brought us all together. Instead, reheated macaroni from three nights ago was often on the menu — and if it smelled or tasted a little funny, we ate it anyway. My dad would show up highly intoxicated midway through the meal and complain. Sometimes he’d make himself something to eat before passing out, but most times he didn’t. He usually had just enough energy to criticize my mother’s lack of culinary skills and my brother and I learned to just keep eating with our eyes on the television as dishes and pans banged around the kitchen.

But Thanksgiving was different — we spent it with my mother’s sister’s family. My father never came with us and I didn’t have to ask why. There was plenty of food and all of it fresh. The table was set lavishly with linens and glasses, a far cry from the paper napkins and plastic tumblers we had at home. My aunt and uncle weren’t wealthy but they were generous and loved to celebrate holidays with those they held dear. The rest of the year they were the paper napkin and plastic tumbler sort, but Thanksgiving was special and sacred and deserved cloth napkins. My mother could have never pulled off a dinner like this. It would have required weeks of work just to find the dining room table under the mountains of junk.

My uncle and I shared a bond in the kitchen. I’d stand and watch as he went from counter to stove to refrigerator and back again, simultaneously preparing various dishes. Everything was timed perfectly and he had a schedule to keep, yet he never hesitated to teach as he went so that I could maybe host the traditional Thanksgiving dinner someday. I learned the invaluable lesson that you can always add more of an ingredient and never take away, so never pour with a heavy hand. I learned that you have to be patient with food; it is art and it cannot be rushed. I learned that food cooked with love definitely tastes better than food that isn’t.

But the mashed potatoes were always my favorite part. He whipped them with the electric beater while adding the perfect ratio of cream and real butter. Just when they were at the tip of perfection, he’d add in the sautéed onions. They always came out just right and, topped with his signature pan gravy, they were heavenly. He knew I loved them and even if it’s not true, I liked to think he kept making them because I loved them and he loved me.

Thanksgiving dinners were special, a respite from daily life. They were a time to love and feel loved. I thought maybe this was what most families had year round and I was happy to catch a glimpse of it.

Life marches on though. Families change over time until we look back and everything is different.

My father left when I was ten and I no longer hoped he could clean up and make it to a holiday meal. My mother was stricken with multiple sclerosis and as she lost her mobility over the years, getting her wheelchair into her sister’s second floor apartment became unmanageable. I started spending holidays with my future husband’s family and my brother did the same with the family of his future wife. The strain of my mother’s illness from a chronic, degenerative and ultimately fatal disease was felt by all of us. Tempers flared and we backed away from one another. My grandparents died, my aunt and uncle moved away.

None of this happened all at once. Little by little, inch by inch, the distances grew. It seemed someone would always say next year, for sure, we’ll get back to the old way, all of us together. But those who left didn’t come back. And things kept changing.

I tried to recreate the big family dinner several times, looking to recapture the magic of the ones I remembered. The meals were nice with scads of relatives seated elbow to elbow at tables too small to accommodate them, laughing and eating piles of food. The feelings I had weren’t the same as the ones I had in my younger years. I couldn’t recreate it no matter what I did.

So I stopped trying. Our Thanksgiving dinners are smaller now but we still share our table with family and friends. I’m grateful when my son eats with us, despite his food aversions and flair for dramatics surrounding his pickiness. I whip the potatoes, but I don’t add the sautéed onions because no one would eat them except me and that’s just fine.

As I cook, I take a quiet minute and remember those holidays from decades ago. I can’t get them back but I can remember fondly the love and how good it felt to be together when the rest of the year wasn’t so happy. I can think about my grandfather standing on chairs trying to take candid photos of people eating. I remember my grandmother laughing so hard that she’d cry when, during the annual after-dinner board game, she’d accidentally answer an entire round of Scattergories in French instead of English. I am careful not to use a heavy hand with the cream or the butter or any other ingredient because, like memories, you can always add more.

I still cook food with love.

Even though those seated at the table aren’t the same, we’re making new memories ever year that we gather together. Expecting the magic and wonder of youth is a fool’s errand, and there’s no way to bring back those lost. Some fences are far too damaged to mend and sometimes the holidays mean acceptance that we won’t ever again be with those we’ve held dear.

There is significant pressure, I think, for Thanksgiving to be so many things. Now, I work to appreciate it for what it is — and also for what it isn’t, for what it could have been but might never be. I’m happy with what we have, even if it’s not what I ever expected.

Michelle Longo is a writer living in New Jersey.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Out There

Powerful Photos of Child Sex Abuse Survivors

Photographer Lorena Ros survived sexual abuse, now her newest project highlights the strength and dignity of other survivors.

Lorena Ros, a Spain-based photojournalist, has been documenting abuse of power in various countries around the world. Her first book, Unspoken, a testimony in pictures and words of adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, brings her home to a widespread human tragedy that has rarely been photographed.


In the car, on our way to the train-station, my aunt asked me if I had mentioned anything to my mother about the ‘incident…’ I was shocked. It was something that had remained unspoken for years and I had blocked it out of my mind. My uncle and my aunt were afraid that “the secret” was about to be revealed to the family and they were trying to persuade me to be silent – as I had been for the last 30 years…

It was the summer of 2000 – a bomb was about to go off in my life, a bomb that would forever change my relationship with my family, relationships within the family itself and, of course, the rest of my life.

Five years later, I was selected as a participant of the World Press Master class and asked to develop an essay around the concept “Ordinary”. I decided to photograph survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, starting with my own city. Over the years I had focused on stories related to “the abuse of power”- it was a recurrent subject -In my stories I was seeking the truth; there was a story that was very close to us and widespread and yet hardly documented – it was very much a taboo subject.

In 2008, Raquel’s photograph was part of an exhibit in Barcelona (she was abused by her father for years, her mother never believed her and she was forced to leave home.) Raquel hadn’t spoken to her mother in years but invited her for coffee that evening. And without telling her where they were going, brought her to the exhibition. When Raquel’s mother saw and heard other similar stories, it changed both their lives for ever.

As I begun my work on child sex abuse, what first struck me was how vulnerable and fearless my subjects were. Opening their lives, talking about it, was the only way, I realized to fight child sexual abuse.

As I met more and more ‘survivors’, I felt that my essay on ‘Ordinary,’ could, should be a longer-term project, perhaps even a book. Through bearing witness, I was also telling my own story – something which I had never done publicly.

It has been an eight-year journey of growth both as a photographer and as a woman. A journey of self-discovery. Through the survivors I’ve photographed, I found the courage to confront my own ghosts and tell my own story. I realized that I was not alone. It was my life and my work coming together. It has been an often a painful exercise in honesty, a cathartic process of knowing who I am; to understand why I was drawn to the subjects I was drawn to over the years.

In many ways, Unspoken, my first book has helped me to understand Who I am? Why I take pictures and why I do it well.


Lorena Ros is a photojournalist whose work has appeared in Newsweek, El Pais And The Sunday Times Magazine, among others. Unspoken is available now.


TIME Parenting

Maybe Orphanages Aren’t So Bad After All, Study Says

ranplett—Getty Images/Vetta

Author of biggest study to date says the institutions have been unfairly stigmatized

Orphanages, as we all know from Charles Dickens, studies of kids from former Eastern Bloc countries and the musical Annie, are bad for children. Except, as a few studies are now beginning to find, when they’re not. The latest study looked at children from five not-so-wealthy countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa over the course of three years and found that being in an institution did not necessarily make them much worse off.

Whether or not orphanages are a viable solution for children with no homes is no small issue. According to the most recent figures from UNICEF, there were more than 132 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean in 2005. That’s a scary number — more than the entire population of Britain and Italy combined — and figuring out the best way to look after that many vulnerable beings is a problem of significant complexity.

Even the definition of “orphan” is complicated. Not all of those 132 million-plus kids had lost both parents; closer to 13 million are what UNICEF calls “double orphans.” And 95% of all orphans, single or double, were over the age of five. So while the mental image of an orphan is of an abandoned baby in a basket, the reality is quite different.

There’s a reasonably heated debate over the best way to look after kids with no homes to go to. Studies out of Romania and Russia have found that kids raised in orphanages were vastly worse off than kids raised by foster families. A slew of studies suggest that children who were institutionalized as babies are much worse off than those who were not and that these effects remain through to adulthood.

But the new study, led by Kathryn Whetten, a Duke professor of public policy and director of the Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research (CHPIR), and published by PLOSone, is the largest and most geographically and culturally diverse study of its kind. It followed 1,300 kids, aged six to 15 who were in institutions and 1,400 kids who were in family care in Cambodia, Ethiopia, India, Kenya and Tanzania. Researchers kept watch on such measures as the kids’ physical health, emotional difficulties, growth, learning ability and memory.

And it concluded that closing down all the orphanages — now sometimes known in more fancy circles as residential educational facilities — and finding other options for the 2 million kids currently living in such institutions would be a significant setback in addressing the issue.

“Our findings put less significance on the residential setting as a means to account for either positive or negative child well-being over time,” Whetten said. Much more important is the kind of country, neighborhood or community the child lives in, and, even more crucially, the kind of kid he or she is. Age, gender, existing emotional and nutritional status, and what kind of life each child has had so far have a lot more impact on that child’s fate than whether or not she or he was raised in a group setting.

Whetten, who first released similar findings from a different cross-sectional study in 2009, believes orphanages have been unfairly stigmatized by studies that have focused in on the dire institutions in Romania and Russia. Many of them rely on data from the Bucharest Early Intervention project, which tracks kids from the notoriously bad Romanian orphanages of the Ceausescu era. “This is reminiscent of what happened to mental health facilities in the U.S. in the 1980s,” she says. “We have taken findings from some of the most emotionally and socially deprived orphanages and are assuming that those outcomes would hold true for all group homes. An analogy that a colleague used yesterday was that it is like if we were evaluating whether to send our daughter to a summer camp and, to make our decision, we examined data from a girls prison camp.”

Indeed while Whetten’s study focused in on less wealthy countries, she believes there are implications for America, especially with the foster care system in such crisis. “In the U.S. there is a movement to see long-term residential care as detrimental to all children and that only when no other options are available do we place children in residential care and with the condition that they stay for as little time as possible,” she says. “Yet many of the residential centers here in the U.S. provide family-like care with long-term caregivers/parents who are continuously trained and supported in how to raise children who have experienced significant chaos and trauma in their lives. The children have family meals and can consider the children in the unit to be like siblings.”

While the study does not go so far as to recommend a whole-scale return to the practice of sending orphaned kids off to institutions, Whetten does think they should be one of a menu of solutions, and chosen when it suits the kid. “We need to evaluate each child individually to see where they will best thrive given the available options,” she says. “For example, if a child has four siblings and they would be broken apart if placed in families, but can stay together in a good group home, the group home may be best for all of them. All children deserve a loving family, and the family can look different depending on the situation.”

TIME Music

Go Behind the Scenes of TIME’s Coney Island Photo Shoot With Jack Antonoff

The guitarist talks about the inspiration behind his latest musical project, Bleachers

Jack Antonoff isn’t timid when it comes to his wardrobe.

“I like to feel like a 7-year-old who’s allowed to dress themselves for the first time or something,” says the musician, who is profiled in the new issue of TIME.

It seems like a pretty spot-on description for the 30-year-old musician behind Bleachers — who rose to popularity as the lead guitarist of Fun. — as he nonchalantly played games and buckled himself into rides at Coney Island’s Luna Park during a recent photo shoot for TIME.

Though there’s a palpable nostalgia in Bleachers’ debut album Strange Desire, Antonoff explains that the record isn’t all about lingering in the past — it’s about looking toward the future.

“I feel like I think about that all the time — how to push on, how to not leave too many of the pieces in the past, how to not take too many of them with you and become strange,” Antonoff says, chuckling.

In the video above, take a behind-the-scenes look at Antonoff’s shoot with photographer Geordie Wood and hear more about the inspiration behind the album.

TIME photo essay

A Place I Knew So Well: Joachim Ladefoged Looks Back at His Childhood Homes

Shortly after 9/11 and the birth of his first child, award-winning photographer Joachim Ladefoged stepped away from conflict reportage and spent a decade revisiting the homes he knew as a child in Denmark.

With the week’s issue of TIME focusing on how smart homes are transforming lives, LightBox looks at a project that saw Joachim Ladefoged transform not only his approach to photography but his view of his own past, through a powerful photographic exploration of his childhood homes.


When photographer Joachim Ladefoged and his wife had their first child in 2001, it would change both of their lives. Just two months later, the 9/11 attacks took place and then-new father Ladefoged, known for his powerful reportage photography filed from 60 countries, decided to radically change how he approached much of his work.

“Many of my friends went to the war in Afghanistan,” he tells TIME. “But I didn’t want my kid to lose a father, so I didn’t go. I was thinking – like so many other parents at that time – ‘what kind of world are we going to face now?'”.

Instead of grabbing his camera and heading into a conflict zone, he returned to his native Denmark and started producing “slower, more introspective work.” After My Time, the project that emerged from this process, is his attempt to “take stock” of his history and to examine the personal, cultural and historical legacy he might pass on to his child.

Between 2002 and 2014, Ladefoged visited the many homes he grew up in (his family moved around a lot), the barns that sat out the back, the roadsides nearby. Access wasn’t always easy but he nearly always got in, and built up a rapport with the new residents. The project itself changed direction, too. In 2007, he scrapped most of the photographs he had made since 2002, because he found that despite slowing down he was still shooting in a “reportage style”. So he got out his tripod and slowed down even further.

The result is a series of visually dense, sometimes haunting images that hide as much as they reveal: We see portraits of the residents of his former homes, but can often barely make out their faces, we see roads that seem to vanish into nothingness, and bucolic-seeming houses that have been obscured by condensation on his lens.

After My Time is also informed, he says, by his crippling childhood experience with arthritis. In 1987 at the age of 16 – and with dreams of being a soccer star – he was diagnosed with the condition and was often confined to a wheelchair. Ladefoged became, involuntarily, a meticulous onlooker in a world moving around him. “Home” might be no rosy concept in this work, but nor is it something to be feared. It is, perhaps, something to be carefully observed.

“My meeting with the past turned out to be more difficult than I had imagined,” as Ladefoged says in an artist’s statement tied to a previous exhibition of the work. “It was worth it though. It was a journey back in time to find my own roots; a journey that taught me to look ahead by looking back.”


Joachim Ladefoged is a photographer whose work has appeared in TIME, The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, and Newsweek, among others.

Richard Conway is reporter/producer for TIME LightBox.


TIME Parenting

Sorry, Audra McDonald — My Kid Needs His ADHD Meds

Kevin Mazur—2014

Isn't being awesome enough? Do you have to start prescribing as well?

Dear Ms. McDonald,

I love your work. Who doesn’t? Clearly nobody, since you just won a record-obliterating sixth Tony for your performance as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill. Congratulations. That’s an incredible feat.

And don’t get me wrong, I love that you thanked your parents before anyone, the folks who got you your start in the theater. “I want to thank my mom and dad up in heaven,” you said in that seriously kick-ass red-and-white gown, “for disobeying the doctors’ orders and not medicating the hyperactive girl and finding out what she was into instead and pushing her into the theater.”

I have kids too. Should they happen to ever achieve a modicum of success, I’d like to think they might thank me one day. Not publicly from a podium or anything, but maybe just from their desk, or whatever place of work they happen to land upon. Here’s the thing, though: I really want them to have jobs. Unlike your family, of whom you once joked that if you were “tone-deaf they would have kicked me out,” I’m not musical. Unlike you, my kids do not have five aunts in a professional gospel-singing group. (My brothers did have a band. If memory serves, my mother called them the Unlistenables.)

But here’s the thing: one of my kids doesn’t learn very well without the meds. We’ve tried the theater, sports, music, wearing him out, getting him more sleep, meditation, diet, being super-disciplinarian, being not too disciplinarian, art, bribery and shouting. We even tried chewing gum for a while. Oh, man, that stuff is hard to remove. We tried a lot of techniques, some of them more seriously than others, because we are human and have jobs and other children. But the thing that worked best, that enabled him to learn to read and stopped him from getting into trouble at school, was medicine.

Since completing school and getting a job are pretty tightly linked, our options are limited. Since employment and having a family, or a home or a healthy mental attitude, have also been linked, the parent of a child who has trouble learning can begin to get very anxious. Nobody, as I’ve said before, is thrilled to medicate their child. It’s not what anybody considers a huge parental triumph. We have no trophy cabinet for the expired bottles of methylphenidate. But if you don’t have a child whose talents are as prodigious and obvious as yours, it can be tough to figure out what’s best for them. So you’re left with trying to avoid what’s worst; and clearly not being able to learn is pretty high on that list.

I’m sure that you were not personally judging me and other concerned parents when you thanked your parents for not putting you on Ritalin. I’m sure you weren’t trying to prescribe from the podium. And obviously, you have thrived, against some serious odds. But damn it, you’re not making it any easier to live with our hard decisions. There’s anxiety and then there’s Audra-induced anxiety, which is more dramatic and accomplished than the regular sort. I’m equally sure your parents also drove you to rehearsal a lot, or ran lines with you, or calmed you down if you had stage fright, or told you not to chew your nails. You couldn’t have mentioned that instead?

The chances of anybody winning six Tonys are extremely slender (again, bravo). If by giving my child medication, I have reduced his chances of getting that gong even further, so be it. He may not be Audra-level awesome, but he’s going to get through school. I’m O.K. with that.

TIME Childhood

These Kids Want to Show You Their Favorite Toys

From Fiji to Zambia, children showed Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberte their favorite toys

Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti photographed children all over the world posing with their favorite toys, from Alaska to India to Africa to South America. “For every photograph, I would spend the entire day with the family,” he says in the introduction to his book, Toy Stories: Photos of Children from Around the World and Their Favorite Things published by Abrams Image. “In some places, like China and the Middle East, the parents would push their children hard to pose for the photos, even if the kids didn’t seem comfortable. It could be a bit embarassing. I didn’t want to take pictures of crying children.”

Galimberti found that the fewer toys a child had, the less possessive he or she was about them, and that free-roaming children tended to be more likely to share their toys than city children who often play alone.

“My eighty-five year-old grandmother doesn’t know where some of the countries I visited are — places like Zambia, Malawi, or Fiji — but she remembers her favorite toys. Everybody does.”

TIME Childhood

Language Skills Improve When Parents Talk to Their Preemies

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Getty Images Baby in the intensive care unit

Attempts to engage babies in conversation led to better language scores

Language and conversation is our lifeblood. And that’s even true, scientists say, if one of the “speakers” may not have fully developed language skills.

Led by Dr. Betty Vohr, a professor of pediatrics at Brown University, researchers found that premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) benefited when their mothers spoke to them in attempts to engage them in conversation, compared to if their mothers simply stroked them or if the babies were primarily around nurses who talked about or around them but didn’t address the babies directly.

MORE: Preemies Face Higher Risk of Death in Early Adulthood

Vohr and her team studied 36 preterm infants and made 16-hour recordings when they were 32 weeks and 36 weeks old. The 32-week-old babies were born eight weeks before their mother’s due date, and the 36-week-old infants were delivered four weeks shy of their expected birth date. When the infants were 7 and 18 months old, the researchers tested their cognitive and language skills, including their ability to communicate by receiving and expressing themselves, first with vocalizations and eventually with their first words.

For every increase in 100 words that adults spoke to the preterm infants, the scientists found a two-point increase in their language scores at 18 months, and a half-point increase in their expressive communication score.

“To me, it’s amazing that eight weeks before their expected delivery, the role of the parent is so powerful in predicting language outcome,” says Vohr.

MORE: Incredibly, World’s Tiniest Preterm Babies Are Doing Just Fine

Previous studies have documented that hearing and responding to speech is critical for normal language development, and that premature babies are at higher risk of language delays compared to babies born at term. These deficits persist into school age and even into adolescence.

So the possibility that something as simple as having parents speak to their babies, even in the isolette in a NICU, can minimize such potential language delays is exciting. The results are intriguing because Vohr and her team were able to pinpoint what type of communication seemed to make a difference. They found that actually engaging the baby by addressing the infant – ‘Hi Joshua, mommy’s here’ – did better at 18 months than those whose mothers held them, but didn’t speak as much, or those who were cared for by nurses who talked mostly about their vital signs and other medical issues to other health care personnel.

Vohr says that although preterm babies can’t communicate with language, they do respond to attempts to engage them with vocalizations. Studies also showed that they turn instinctively to their mother’s voice after they are born, which presumably is familiar from their time in the womb. “Our conclusion is that it’s really important for moms to come into the NICU, and for them to talk to their babies,” says Vohr.

MORE: When It Comes to Preventing Preterm Birth, the U.S. Gets a ‘C’

What’s more exciting, she says, is that while most of NICU care involves the latest technology and expensive equipment, having mom or dad talk to their babies doesn’t cost anything. “This just really involves talking to moms and informing them that you have an important role here, and you can make a big difference for your baby,” says Vohr.

While the study was small, it’s results suggest that it’s worth investigating what role parents can play in improving their premature babies’ language development; Vohr says that the mayor of Providence, where she lives, is considering putting the program into practice in inner-city hospitals where preterm babies often go on to struggle in school. “We want to see if it can have broader impact on inner city school readiness,” she says. “That’s exciting.”

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