People ask me a lot about how the brain “works” and I often smile before taking a deep breath and answering. The simplest answer I can give is that the brain is a whole bunch of wires linked together and surrounded by a bunch of glue to hold them in place. At the end of the wires are little antenna that release chemicals after an electrical current reaches that end and causes those chemicals to be dumped out. Depending on which chemicals are released, and how much gets dumped determines how we feel, or what we do, or what we remember, etc..
The first 5 years of brain development are the most critical, as researchers say that is when the brain is most “plastic”. Or in other words, when the brain is the easiest to shape. Remember those wires I talked about, during those 5 years (and beyond, but most during this time) those wires are extending, then pruning back, then reaching across, then pruning back, trying to establish their final destination. All of this wiring is taking place based on the experience of that child. So, for example. Let’s say a child is put in front of TV a lot during this critical time period. Through the child’s eyes and ears it is experiencing the world in a very bright, loud, 3-dimensional, fast moving way, and the brain (not knowing anything different) starts to wire to accommodate this experience. If done frequently, the brain starts reinforcing those connections thinking this is what the world is, and therefore, it is setting up to accommodate this type of world. Now, let’s fast forward to 2nd or 3rd grade where the same child is told to sit quietly at his chair, while the teacher reads softly, in a 2-dimensional world, with very to little movement. Well, because the child’s brain has wired to accommodate a very loud, bright, fast paced, 3D world, the child gets confused and can’t handle this “slower” environment. So, the child can’t sit still, has a difficult time focusing, and begins moving all around, because the brain thinks that’s the way the world should be.
The point here is that every single experience at an early age will affect the way the child’s brain wires into adulthood. If it wires to accommodate a loud, stressful environment, it will be prone to stress and anxiety. If it wires to accommodate technology, it will have a difficult time thriving it situations where there are no devices around. And remember, once something is wired, it is much harder to unwire it, to then re-wire it. That is why as parents and educators it is critical we do as much as we can to expose children to numerous experiences when they are young, to ensure a diverse wiring, to accommodate all that life will have to offer.
So, think about this every day when you approach your parenting techniques. Think about how you want the computer to wire, and know that what we expose our children to will determine how that wiring is set up, and how it will affect their mental health and ability to function as adults.