Saturday, January 30, 2010

Keeping Kids Safe

We tell children not to fear the dark because the world is really no different in the dark than it is in the light, and that the difference is only in their head. Whether or not this keeps kids from seeing predators in the dark where they aren’t, it helps them set aside the illusions from reality and deal with each as it is necessary.

Yet how often have you heard how we have to do "anything to keep our children safe" and been hung up on that word "anything?" Is anything justifiable so long as it promotes the cause of keeping children safe? Are children always left unharmed by anything that justifies itself on the pretense that it keeps them safe? Does harm itself become a part of that anything, or is the cause of keeping children safe more important than actually keeping individual children safe?

This is something I've given a lot of thought over the years, and I've come to a rather radical solution for how to keep both kids safe and our collective sanity:

If a threat to children is imaginary, deal with it as an imaginary threat, and if it is an actual concern, deal with it as an actual concern. It sounds reasonable doesn't it? Yet how often have we heard about everything from yo-yo's to play gyms getting put up on the same level as child rapists and kidnappers in some kind of flavor-of-the-month variety (along with whatever is popular among the youth, regardless of what it is)? Sometimes it's as if we're totally unsure what really is a threat to kids and what "can be." In reality, anything can be a threat, especially what we wouldn't expect, but is that any reason to loose good sense and deprive the kids whatever dignity they have left as a means to protect them from yet another one of our delusions? The world is not made of light and shadow, so it often is difficult to tell where realities end and illusions begin.

The question starts at the border between what is real and what is an illusion. An adult can expend great deal of time building an artificial fence and come away thinking that by doing so they are personally involved in looking out for the child’s best interests, regardless of how much of their personal responsibility is being divested to a device. Likewise, an adult can stand there administering a child’s behavioral medications thinking that by doing so they are taking an active role in educating that child about how to control their impulses; hold the leash and think they are instructing the child to not wander; program the television’s parental settings and think they are educating their children about the nature of the so-called objectionable content; serve food products with health labels plastered all over them and nothing organic in them and think they are fostering their children’s health; tag their children with GPS technology like cattle and think they are keeping their children out of harm’s way; block websites and limit their children's online usage and think they're teaching their kids how to use it responsibly;

Indeed, adults can actively do many things, purchase many goods and services, divest responsibility, all under the illusion that in doing so they are being good parents, but in reality only end up buying peace of mind for themselves and subjugation for the children. That is line between illusion and reality, it costs only the money the parent can afford to spend but its effects include a fearful society and sure financial gain for those who can manipulate the world inside the fence.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Risk Taking Matures Teen Brains

New research into how teen brains mature is blowing the lid off the age old myth that the teen brain is naturally immature and susceptible to turmoil. In fact, what we know as that so-called inevitable period of storm and stress is virtually unknown outside of the west and modernized world. According to a Scientific American article, over 100 cultures around the world exist devoid of the angst, depression, and so-called "moodiness" that forms our stereotypes about adolescence here.

Now a study by neuroscientist Gregory S. Berns and his colleagues at Emory University adds a new wrinkle to the gray matter findings, reporting that teens who are risk takers and drug users actually appear to have a more developed brain than their conservative peers.

This should only be a shock to those who believe teens should be locked into the cage of childhood until they attain majority status. It's really no surprise that if teens are actually put into situations where they have to use their brains as adults, that those brains are going to show more maturity than the supposedly "hard-wired" immature brains of the kids under city lock down.

Other researchers have found a connection between increased white matter and reduced impulsivity, Steinberg explains, which could mean a reduced likelihood of risk taking—the opposite of the Berns finding.

For those who don't know, white matter is the areas on the inside composed mainly of neuron connections and is useful for sending messages back and forth between areas of gray matter, which are typically on the surfaces of the brain where the major activity generates. The idea is that as individuals develop and form new experiences, they form connections in their brains that progress their overall intellect.

Nurture influences nature in this instance. Increased white matter would be a result of teens being exposed to more experiences, and it's then not a major stretch to conclude that having experienced more mature situations would decrease impulsivity as well. It's also no surprise that teens who can't do anything but sit around are going to be less mature, more risk-taking, and ultimately less satisfied with their lives (leading to angst, depression...etc.).

In less modernized countries, young people are heavily relied upon, here they are mostly infantilized. They don't need to be taking drugs to mature their brains, they just need a less paranoid society that's willing to grant them more adult rights and responsibilities.

A lot of our conceptions of childhood originated out of philosophical treatises on the subject that have little basis in modern developmental science. It was just assumed that young people are incapable of various adult things because the world was and still is very adult-centric. Back then they didn't understand that it's not that youth are incapable of adult things, it's that they are capable of doing developmentally appropriate things.

With recent developments like this, it may one day begin to change.