Of course, we must use car seats in some form to protect our children while we're driving, but what does all of that confinement mean for their behavioral and physical development?
Participating in a TEDx event at a nearby library, I heard one of the other speakers, the founder of our local Waldorf School, reflect on the hazards to a child's physical and mental development from confinement to a car seat. The issue really isn't car seats for actual automobile travel; there's strong evidence that they have have helped reduce children's automotive deaths dramatically. It's the convenience of the technology as an all-purpose transport, while running with a carriage, supermarket shopping, etc. Could there be perhaps subtle long-term effects of prolonged use of the seats outside automobiles? (The FAA recommends but does not mandate them for air travel -- a different, harness-type seat, incidentally.)
I started to wonder whether there is scientific evidence on the presence or absence of long-term negative effects from extensive child-seat use, whether in frequent, long auto trips or outside automobiles. And I was surprised to find nothing in PubMed and PsycInfo, the two most relevant databases.
The reasons are easy to see. Safety researchers study the rate of injuries. And child psychologists and human factors researchers who might be interested in subtle changes have no control group. Child car seats are mandatory in all states. Medical researchers have connected their use outside of automobiles to the rise of head deformation, but the people most concerned about the issue appear to be parents writing for websites and magazines like Mothering. One study cited there suggests that children transported in soft wearable carriers develop greater attachment to their mothers than those who remain in portable car seats.