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Some Important Facts about Brain Health and Brain Development

I was reading a couple of interesting articles about the brain from Live Science when I stumbled across these interesting morsels.

From 10 Things Your Didn’t Know About the Brain

Whenever Gavin acts out, I keep reminding myself that no matter how rational and grown up he can appear for his age, he is still a child. And, as a child, he is prone to all those childish things that annoy us like an itch we can’t scratch. And while we would like to say “he’s older now, he should know better”, in some instances, at least according to the science of brain development, that statement is somewhat flawed because:

Teen brains aren’t fully formed

“Parents of stubborn teenagers rejoice, or at least relax: That adolescent attitude stems, in part, from the vagaries of brain development.

The gray matter of the brain peaks just before puberty and is pruned back down throughout adolescence, with some of the most dramatic development happening in the frontal lobes, the seat of judgment and decision-making.

A 2005 study published in the journal Child Development found that the parts of the brain responsible for multitasking don’t fully mature until we’re 16 or 17 years old. And research presented at the BA Festival of Science in 2006 revealed that teens also have a neural excuse for self-centeredness. When considering an action that would affect others, teens were less likely than adults to use the medial prefrontal cortex, an area associated with empathy and guilt. Teens learn empathy by practicing socializing, the researchers said. So much for grounding them until they’re 20.”

So until they are literally grown up, we will still need to cut them some slack for some of those errors in judgment that they “ought to know better” about.

I also thought it was interesting that:

Brains never stop changing

Scientific wisdom once held that once you hit adulthood, your brain lost all ability to form new neural connections. This ability, called plasticity, was thought to be confined to infancy and childhood.

Wrong. A 2007 study on a stroke patient found that her brain had adapted to the damage to nerves carrying visual information by pulling similar information from other nerves. This followed several studies showing that adult mice could form new neurons. Later studies found more evidence of human neurons making new connections into adulthood; meanwhile, research on meditation showed that intense mental training can change both the structure and function of the brain.

Especially the bit “research on meditation showed that intense mental training can change both the structure and function of the brain”. This is not just good news for me my my “Mom brain” that appears to be ever so forgetful these days, but it also means it is never too late for us to “develop” our childrens’ brains. We might talk about the massive potential for the first 6 years in a child life (Doman, Montessori, Shichida, et al.), but for those parents who started late, it is important to remember that it is never too late. For those parents who have been asking about right brain development activities you can do for older children beyond the first 6 years, I have something coming up for you so stay tuned.

From 10 Ways to Keep Your Mind Sharp

Exercise is good for the brain

Again this one comes up. We know that movement is good for a child’s brain development. Well, it appears that it doesn’t stop there. Regular aerobic exercise is great for long term brain health, too, so it is a good idea to get our children involved in sports or some sort of physical activity to inculcate this beneficial brain activity for life.

Tease the brain

Whether crossword puzzles, sudokus and other brain teasers actually keep your brain in shape, has not been well-established. However, lack of education is a strong predictor of cognitive decline. The more you’ve tried to learn, the better you’ll be at mental sit-ups in old age. The key may be tackling something new; the challenge of the unknown is likely more beneficial than putting together the same jigsaw puzzle over and over again.

All the more reason so kick start a healthy learning habit from early childhood to inculcate a love of learning for life. Also all the more reason to expose our children to lots of “new” activities. The learning curve for learning something new has always been steeper than revisiting the same old material over and over again. 10,000 hours of practice might be necessary for getting really good at something, but that doesn’t mean we should neglect to exercise the brain with new challenges on a regular basis.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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