More Important Than Genetics?
Did you know that your child's experiences in his life are thought to be more important to his early brain development than his genes? The activities he does from running around outside to sitting on the couch playing video games shape his brain more than his genetics. That may be a bit hard to swallow for us parents, but it is true!
The puppy you got for Christmas this year was born with a fully developed brain and after a short time he became independent. But your child was born with a very immature brain, requiring far more nurturing to achieve independent function. The infant brain triples in size during the first two years, developing in conjunction with stimuli from the environment. Every emotional and physical experience triggers a specific pathway allowing him to process language, make friends, feel excitement, use his imagination or recall a memory. Like dirt roads on a map, these connections get stronger and easier to travel after repeated use.
Science tells us that exposure to many different activities is needed to develop strong neuronal connections necessary for exceptional balanced brain development. The more he practices his piano, the easier it will get. The earlier he learns a language, the easier it will be. What he does now will also increase his potential and build a strong foundation for future learning, relationships and life success. By age 18 his brain is fairly hard wired meaning that by this point in his life his environment has significantly modeled and pruned his neuronal pathways creating his unique personality. The final touches are complete in the frontal cortex (executive function) by age 25-27 when his brain is fully mature.
Video games have a very different effect on a child's brain compared to an adult brain. Screen entertainment does not provide a healthy balance of stimulation for the young child's brain. MRI studies tell us that gaming activates mainly one area of the brain, the limbic system, shutting down other areas of the brain after only 20 minutes of play. On the contrary, tasks like math, music, reading and exercise stimulate multiple neuronal pathways enriching many other areas of your child's brain development. Early video game use predisposes the child to gaming addiction, as the game is literally wired into his brain ... permanently. He may develop quick reflexes by playing (that can also be developed by hitting a baseball!) but he may be lacking in communication skills, form fewer bonds with people, exhibit little empathy, and show minimal self-control. Spending too much time gaming will not make your child smarter, more social or more academically advanced. Instead, it may prevent him from experiencing activities that will develop critical milestones, which after all is the important work of childhood!
For more information on technology and gaming overuse in children, email Melanie Hempe at Moms Managing Media.