Help Your Child Build a Better Brain
Hunter Deal is a typical 13-year-old. The Richardson teen gets good grades as an eighth grader, he’s obsessed with video games and, well, he doesn’t open up about his feelings much. But his dad Fred says something started to unravel this year. He brought home B’s instead of A’s, languished for hours in frustration over homework and even submitted a single sentence in lieu of a developed argument on a take-home essay.
“Everything about him screamed lack of focus,” Fred Deal says. “He didn’t seem capable of filtering out the insignificant from the significant. There was so much going on and it was hard for him to concentrate.”
Worse yet, “it was obvious he didn’t care,” Deal divulges. “I’m not sure if it was because he didn’t feel challenged or he wanted to rush through his work to get back to his games.”
The Deals started to wonder: How can we boost our adolescent’s brain power? Is it too late?
Surprising Brain Facts
According to Dr. Cynthia Keator, a neurologist with the John and Jane Justin Neurosciences Center at Cook Children’s in Fort Worth, the majority of brain development (90 percent) occurs between birth and age 3. In fact, 60 percent of a baby’s energy fuels neural activity in the first month of life.
“If a baby’s body would grow at the same rate as her brain, the baby would weigh 170 pounds at one month,” Keator marvels.
Early experiences play a vital role in the formation of brain waves and neural pathways. Parents, therefore, can sculpt faster brain development with basic parenting skills, Keator stresses. It’s a simple, intuitive recipe that includes talking, reading, singing, caring, loving and giving ample affection.
“You don’t need any special toys or videos to stimulate a baby’s brain,” urges Keator, who adds that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns against any type of screen usage before age 2.
Even though more than 90 percent of brain development is achieved by the age of 5, the brain continues to mature throughout childhood as cells generate extra connections, notes Dr. Lori Cook, who oversees the pediatric brain injury research programs at the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas.
However, optimizing this intricate 3-pound mass of matter only gets more complicated as your child grows.
Research has shown that children’s brains are not like those of adults. The brain undergoes more change during the teenage years than at any other time except for the first two months of life. According to Cook, the human brain is still developing until 25 years of age, putting preteens and teens like Hunter in a vulnerable position.
Cook explains that adolescence is a critical time when the frontal lobe — often called the CEO of the brain — is primed to undergo rapid development of important, lifelong executive functioning skills, such as planning and organization, higher-order reasoning and decision-making, as well as emotional growth and personality.
And there is a major roadblock for a lot of kids on their way to better brains: addiction to technology. Cook cites recent research that indicates a child will have spent a full year glued to screens by the time she reaches 7.