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Childhood is a truly magical and life-changing time! With each new experience your child has in life, neurons fire and new neuronal pathways are created in his brain. As he learns a new skill, those neurons wake up and as he practices that skill those pathways get stronger and stronger. The newly activated pathway is like a dirt road that is difficult, hard to travel, full of potholes and a bit scary. But as your child practices the new skill the road becomes paved and more comfortable and fun. This is true for healthy activities like reading, learning to cook, riding a bike and playing sports, but it is also true for video gaming, texting and other not so healthy screen habits when overused.

We’ve all heard the saying “You are who you hang out with” but also true is “You are what you do.” What your child does becomes who he is and shapes his brain and his personality. What your child repeats over and over will become what he is good at and ultimately what he likes. For this reason it is very important to manage his activities because he is not mature enough to do that for himself. Make sure that what he is doing and repeating is in keeping with your goals and dreams for your child. Do you want your child to practice killing his best friend in Minecraft or do you want your child to learn how to talk to adults, learn real life social skills and problem solving skills while playing with his best friend in the real backyard? If you want your child to get more physical exercise, learn to ride a bike or love to read then you must get busy doing those things and working through the initial unnatural dirt road experiences. Yes, those activities can be hard, but ultimately rewarding as your child develops life skills and good habits and varied interests.

2 reminders:
Learning new valuable skills can be hard (at first). Language, reading, music, writing and math are hard for your child in the beginning but they get easier as your child practices those skills and ‘paves’ those neuronal pathways. Learning new skills allows your child not only to advance his knowledge but the learning process itself also builds “stick-to-itiveness” and grit and determination. The bonus is that as he makes it past the potholes he will experience real success that he will need to draw on as he grows into a healthy adult. Getting through the hard times lead to critical life success and can be more important than the actual skill itself. Parents, remember you can model this behavior as well, try something new with your child!

Tech roads are easy. If gaming and technology are introduced too early, your child may prefer paving those easy roads with his time and brain energy instead of the harder roads. While technology is still a dirt road for some parents, it is not much of a dirt road for children. Games are not designed to be hard, if they were your child would lose interest quickly. Rather they are designed to be very easy, exciting, fun and addictive for the player (so they will keep playing). And, does manipulating someone else’s software really develop creativity in your child? Not the level of creativity that he is capable of.

Childhood is a very impressionable time when the window of opportunity for learning and development is pretty short. While our brain is certainly able to develop after childhood, the neuronal pathways we set as children will be the foundation for the rest of our lives. Over time if you don’t keep it balanced, your child may end up developing the easy technology driven roads and avoiding the more challenging ones.

There will be plenty of time for your child to dive into technology once his major pathways are paved well! As my 16-year-old-daughter recently said, “Technology fixes everything so you don’t have to think so hard.” She nailed it on the head! How do you pave a dirt road? You use it often even when it is frustrating and not so much fun. Eventually it will get easier and the pay-off is awesome. Have fun finding some new non-tech dirt roads for your child to pave this summer!