Preparing Young Minds for Future:
What more do parents and teachers of today need?
Preparing Young Minds for Future:
What more do parents and teachers of today need?
In this article, the author brings together perspectives and insights about the needs of growing children in their formative years. He also throws light on emerging evidence in the field of Neurosciences, its possible implications for parents and teachers to facilitate a holistic child development and today’s research needs to bridge the gaps.
Imagination, Creativity and Innovation are the three buzz words in today’s world. Corporate leaders look out for these qualities when they recruit staff for their companies as they believe these traits are critical to enhance the organizational efficiency and productivity. Governments seem to need them more than ever before, to solve the complex challenges faced within the countries. Even at an individual level, today’s man is grappling with challenges that he has never faced before. He is travelling much farther now than in the past for his career and work; he is communicating more often now with his colleagues, friends and family; he has lot more information and choices at his reach to make his decisions in his day to day life. In the midst of multiple tasks and roles that fill up his life, he needs creative and innovative solutions to solve his problems.
Educationists argue that most children are born naturally creative, intelligent and innovative and for various reasons, a lot of them lose these qualities as they transit into their adulthood. Ken Robinson questions if the schools and universities of the modern world are killing creativity during the process of imparting education. He says intelligent people of the past who contributed significantly to the civilization in various fields, be it Isaac Newton or Gautama Buddha, are still remembered today because they asked profound questions. But today’s schools and universities are busy training students to answer questions much more than asking questions. Penny Pierce writes that we are transitioning from an era of information into an era of intuition. Surrounded by vast amounts of knowledge and information, increasingly one will be dependent on his or her intuitive faculty to make decisions and solve problems that emerge in ones day to day life. Daniel Goleman suggests that the conventional intelligence measured as intelligence quotient (I.Q) is too narrow and that there are other areas of emotional intelligence (also referred to as emotional quotient, E.Q) that influence success in academic, professional, social and interpersonal aspects of one’s life.
On the other side we are already witnessing the consequences of poor coping abilities and low self confidence among the children. An increasing number of adolescents and young adults are succumbing to stress, anxiety disorders and depression now both in the developing and developed countries. W.H.O has reported relationship between stress, poor productivity and health status among the employees in the organizations. Marital disharmony and divorce and their subsequent effects on the children is well studied; these issues are reported as having related to poor communication, lack of flexibility and poor coping abilities.
Since the issues are seemingly more complex now and can get worse in future, it is time to pause and reflect on how we can respond now. Are our current day educational and parenting systems, at large, geared up toward equipping our children with abilities to meet complex challenges in their lives? Our heightened one sided focus on academics and career both in the homes and the schools seem to have created a huge vacuum that is hard to fill without conscious and planned efforts. It seems very critical now, for parents, teachers and educational entrepreneurs to explore solutions and tools to equip children with abilities that can complement academic functions and result in a more holistic development. Do we have these solutions and tools amidst us?
Let us explore what we know already. A growing body of research in the field of neurosciences suggest that the brains of the children can be shaped or molded, a phenomenon referred to as ‘Neuroplasticity'. This means we can create fresh neuronal connections and augment or substitute sensory pathways in the brain that can enhance specific abilities. Experiments have shown that neuroplasticity can be externally stimulated with the help of specific interventions such as brain exercises, music, and meditation and relaxation techniques. And this in turn can help children achieve better synchronization between different parts of the brain resulting in a more holistic brain development for a child. What does this actually mean to a parent or a teacher? It means that, with a focused training and input, we can nurture balanced development of a child i.e. a child that excels to the best of his or her potential in both academic (analytical, language, reasoning, mathematical, etc.) and non-academic, supportive functions (observation, to pause and reflect, be intuitive, seeing multiple perspectives in decision making, creative problem solving, etc.).
This sounds very promising; isn’t it? While there are intervention methods and tools available now, what we need is the right mix (package) of interventions that are scientifically tested, and that are simple and easy to administer by the parent or a teacher within their settings. Currently, there is dearth of studies that have rigorously evaluated short term and long term impact of these interventions on children. Research in future should explore how well these interventions can be integrated into the current educational and parenting systems and be scaled up without losing their effectiveness. All of us in the community i.e. parents, teachers, educational entrepreneurs and researchers have to come together, both to demand for and provide scientific interventions that can contribute to holistic development of children. A child that is intellectually and emotionally balanced and prepared to face life with confidence and heightened creative abilities, should be the goal of our endeavours. And it is time to rededicate and commit ourselves to a healthier and harmonious society through helping the parents and teachers access promising solutions to help children unleash their full potential.
1. Ken Robinson. Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative (2011)
2. http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity; accessed on 6th December 2016
3. Penny Peirce. Leap of Perception: The Transforming Power of Your Attention (2013)
4. Daniel Goleman: Emotional Intelligence; why it can matter more than IQ (1995)
5. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/prevalence/major-depression-among-adolescents.shtml; accessed on 6th December 2016
6. S Sahoo and C R J Khess. Prevalence of Depression, Anxiety and Stress Among Young Male Adults in India: A Dimensional and Categorical Diagnoses-Based Study. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, vol 198, no 12, December 2010
7. http://www.who.int/occupational_health/publications/en/oehstress.pdf; accessed on 7th December 2016
8. http://www.apa.org/about/gr/issues/cyf/divorce.aspx; accessed on 7th December 2016
9. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/yourtango/10-most-common-reasons-people-divorce_b_8086312.html; accessed on 7th December 201
10. Pascual-Leone A., Amedi A., Fregni F., Merabet L. B. (2005). "The plastic human brain cortex". Annual Review of Neuroscience 28: 377–401.
11. Shichida, Makoto. Children can change through right brain education (2012)
12. Yoon, J. Music in the Classroom: Its Influence on Children’s Brain Development, Academic Performance, and Practical Life Skills (2000)
13. Betty Edwards. Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain (2012)
14. Fink A, Grabner RH, Gebauer D, Reishofer G, Koschutnig K, & Ebner F (2010). Enhancing creativity by means of cognitive stimulation: evidence from an fMRI study. NeuroImage, 52 (4), 1687-95
SCREENTIMEHOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
SCREENTIMEHOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?
What is screen-time? Its defined as any time a child spends with a screen in front of his face. For example,TV, computer, laptop, tablets, theatre screen, smart phones, DVD player, hand held video games etc.”
With the recent advances in technology, the amount of gadgets and screens have drastically increased. This increase has no doubt made communication, access to knowledge very convenient and at fingertips but at the same time it has also slowly started to show its negative effects. There is now an overwhelming concern in the medical field that over use of screen time may affect physical and mental health, social skills and relationships. It may also affect cognitive skills, attention and brain development just like any other substance or drug abuse. We are increasingly getting aware of the neuroplastic nature of the brain and its ability to re-wire itself according to the stimulus it receives. The infant and toddler brain is the most neuroplastic, almost like a sponge which absorbs anything that comes its way. In my clinical practice , lately I have been observing healthy 2 year olds with no cognitive defects but having speech delays and just by reducing or removing screen time, there has been improvement in their speech. Hence it is vital for parents to be aware of the need for providing the right stimulus at the right age, and be aware of the ill-effects of screen-time. Talking and reading to the child cannot be substituted by screens, even if they are educational!
Though screen-time can be used in a productive way for learning, educating ourselves and our children, it is important to know that overuse of anything good can never be good. Lets take a mundane example of food. Food is required for growth and nourishment, it’s a good thing . But we are all aware how overuse of food can lead to obesity and its dreaded ill-effects. So, just because you can afford and it is good, will you want to put a refrigerator stocked with food in your child’s bedroom? I certainly hope not. So for the same reason no TV, computer or any screen should be placed in your child’s bedroom. In my clinical practice I have come across 1 year olds who have their own iPhones!
So, how much screen-time is okay? According to American Academy of Pediatrics (Pediatrics 2013;132:958-961), screen-time should be totally discouraged below 2 years of age and restricted to a maximum to two hours, above 2 years!
So, what’s the remedy or Quickfix?
1) Restrict screen time to max 2 hours a day ASAP!
2) Set certain home rules like, no TV in bedrooms, no TV with dinner, avoid screen before bedtime
3) Be role models, as parents restrict your own screen use. Encourage and participate in non-screen activities like outdoor play and board games.
4) Monitor screen use in terms of number of hours a day, websites visited or browsed. Know your child’s friends and their screen use or preference.
5) It is not enough to be vigilant and keep saying “turn it off”. Be innovative! For example give “screen–tickets” of half an hour each, like movie tickets which can be cashed in as needed by your child in the entire day.
We need to learn and teach our children moderation and balance in life. To learn to use anything that comes our way appropriately, in its right place and amount and to discourage overuse.
“Mens sana in corpore sano”
It’s a Latin phrase which means “A healthy mind in a healthy body”.
So, what do we mean by a healthy mind? To me, it means a mind that is not only free of physical disease or mental stress but one that is balanced ,open and in tune with one’s own self.
In the recent years there has been a lot of research regarding brain and mind . There is ongoing awareness that our brain, which anatomically has two hemispheres the right and the left, though are structurally similar but functionally quite different from each other. The right brain develops early, is holistic, intuitional, creative, imaginative, responsible for nonverbal communication, emotions and feelings. The Left brain develops later, is linear, logical, literal, analytical, responsible for verbal communications and intelligence. The right brain is dominant at birth till 3 years of age. So now, you may notice how infants predominantly communicate with nonverbal cues, why a toddler is more intuitional, creative and has “imaginary friends”. By the time you reach 3years, the left brain comes in picture, that’s when the “why?” the most common question becomes. And by 6 years, most of us become left dominant, thanks to the traditional learning system at our homes and schools, which teaches us to use logic and reasoning. A healthy mind stems not only from a well-developed Left logical brain but it also needs a well-developed Right intuitive brain and more importantly it needs a good balance between the two.
One of the most important stimulus for brain development is, love. Hence the need for a loving, caring, secure and warm environment at home and schools. Art, music, creative thinking, sports, exercise along with analytical thinking provide positive stimulus for a developing brain. Journal or poetry writing, tuning into one’s own feelings are some other ways to balance the right and the left brain activities.
So now that we have a healthy mind how do we get a healthy body? The most common question asked by most parents is” How do I develop my child’s immunity and make him healthy?” And my usual answer is “There are no magical pills to do that. All you need is a good food, sleep and exercise”.
A well balanced nutritious diet which is well spaced with 3 good meals 1-2 fruit as snack with 2 cups of milk products is good for most growing kids. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, which is unfortunately usually skipped in the fast –pace life that we live in and very often substituted with high calorie junk, easy to eat food.
The old adage “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” holds true even now. Sleep is the most essential period where our mind and body get to relax, unwind and detoxify. It’s the most crucial period for growth. Most kids need at least 8 to 10 hours of sleep per day.
Daily exercise for 1-2 hours in the form of running, skipping, cycling, swimming, dancing or any outdoor sports is essential for any growing child. It not only helps build physical strength, it helps to relieve mental stress and is also now known to create new brain cells and a healthy mind!