By Melissa Ford
I’m new to the brain development and research scene, which makes me sound, well, kind of stupid, but science was never my strong suit! Nevertheless, I’ve been learning facts about the human brain that are astounding.
Current research shows that the human brain isn’t fully developed until around 25 years of age. Personally, I had hoped 18 was the magic number, yet it certainly makes sense when I watch my young adult kids make certain choices. But, I digress. What I didn’t know was that brains require more than just food, water, oxygen, and exercise to grow.
Here’s the skinny: brains needs to be nourished - by their environment!
According to Gloria DeGaetano, founder of the Parent Coaching Institute, author of the must-read book, Parenting Well in a Media Age, as well as writer and co-producer of Maximizing Your Child’s Potential: Healthy Brain Development in a Media Age - parents need to understand the ‘“impact of cyber environments on cognitive, emotional, and social development,” so they can help their child grow a healthy brain. Immersing myself in DeGaetano’s work, I now know a little bit more about brain development:
Here’s how brains grow:
A newborn’s brain contains 100 billion brain cells called neurons. Learning will only take place when these neurons connect; and these “connections” or synapses are only made when there is proper stimuli in a child’s environment.
What is the proper stimuli to grow a healthy brain?
DeGaetano explains that children need love and care as well as active interaction with their world. Interaction means playing, exploring, and participating in the 3-D world; it does not include passive TV viewing or video games. In fact, she points out that the American Academy of Pediatrics “recommends no screen time for kids under the age of two”.
What happens to brains involved with passive screen use?
When kids zone into a video game or TV show, their low and mid brains are being stimulated and the cortex, that area of the brain that’s responsible for problem-solving, decision-making, analysis, (higher thinking), is under activated. With kids (ages 2 and up) watching on average of 3 - 5 hours of TV a day (this doesn’t include other screens such as game systems, hand-held video games, computers, iPads, iPods), this continued use over time can lead to such problems as decreased ability to engage in self-directed activities, diminished vocabulary, difficulties sticking with challenging mental activities, and loss of concentration and focus.
Many experts (including DeGaetano) are concerned by kids being “saturated by visual media.”
As Dr. Donald Shifrin, an active member of the American Academy of Pediatrics, states in the video Maximizing Your Child's Potential, “TV has an inordinate influence on our kids. And, what they watch, how they watch, and how much they watch is extremely important both in developmental terms and. . . in terms of communication and social and behavioral interaction with their peers.” Shifrin simply states, “These youngsters are not engaged in the usual business of childhood, which is play, and play is how children learn.”
The good news? Parents are the architects of their kids’ environments.
Now, you might panic, wondering, “How do I limit my child’s screen usage?!” Instead of going “cold turkey,” why not consider taking small steps towards reducing screen time by focusing on activities that grow kids’ brains? Consider reducing your child’s TV time by 15 minutes each day and fill that time with some one-on-one interaction between you and your child.
Conversations benefit you and your child!
Conversations exercise a child’s cortex, and build strong connections between parent and child. By exploring your child’s inner world through asking questions, seeking your daughter’s assistance in solving a problem, joining your son in a favorite activity or asking your child for his/her opinion - not only are you getting those mental wheels turning but you’re sending messages to your child that you value him/her.
Create a connection because relationships, it turns out, are key to growing kids’ brains.
If you increase your interaction with your child by a mere 15 minutes a day that equates to an additional 105 minutes a week, 420 minutes a month, 91 hours a year of time away from screens and time creating deep, meaningful connections with your kid. With all that interaction - imagine the growth in brain power!
Design a new environment for you and your child - a mere 15 minutes a day - that will help your child increase problem-solving abilities, grow attention spans, enhance emotional, social, and behavioral development and nurture a loving connection. What an amazing gift for you and your child!