A Different Brain
Born this way. --Lady Gaga
“Thirty thousand years ago, we were wandering around in small groups and not thinking much about the future,” noted Robert Gifford, an environmental psychologist at the University of Victoria in Canada. “Everything that was important was within a few kilometers or so. And that is the brain we still have.”
Correction: once had. Giant leaps in brain development have already occurred in the twenty-first century, and more are coming. Demands and pressures are accelerating at rates so rapid that brain structure and function are forced to alter. The brain is being reshaped by the digital world and by a barrage of chemicals. The result? Quirky kids and pooped parents. The entertainer Lady Gaga is hot not just because she’s bold and brash but because of what the reporter Ramin Setoodeh noted in an article he wrote about her: “She’s become an evangelist of self-acceptance, preaching to an audience of outcasts.”
The new kids think differently, communicate differently, and respond to different cues. It has been said that they are the dumbest generation ever and have been stupefied by twittering and texting to the point that they no longer maintain a memory of things “past.” Really?
Okay, so multitasking is harder on IQ than pot smoking, and without rest and simple “time-outs” like staring into space or watching clouds drift by (flow states), the brain is unable to organize itself and process what it has learned. But a biggie we’re overlooking are kids who play dumb because they’re bored, don’t fit in, or are just plain uncomfortable in their own skin.
The Greatest Advancements
The greatest talent of the new children is the ability to abstract and function from the conceptual level. These children are not concrete thinkers. They are adept at the art of conceptualizing, dealing with broad ideas and notions. Forget thinking “outside the box.” For them, the box was never there to begin with. They can tie facts and figures and ideas together and rapidly produce solutions that fit, without having to go through conventional routines. Their minds leap instead of think. That’s why they buckle under “tried and true” methods that demand rote discipline. Kids who abstract get from here to there as if by magic; not because they are wise but because they do not recognize limits.
A two-year-old child was in a conversation with her mother. She stopped midway, impatiently stomped her feet, and yelled: “I don’t know the word for that yet!” Stop for a moment. How does a child of two know she doesn’t know the word she wants to use at the precise moment she wants to use it? We mistakenly think the new children are wise old souls. This isn’t wisdom at work here--it is the amazing, almost unbelievable ability to abstract knowledge, to know things without knowing. These children are conceptualizers, made to order for the Conceptual Age.
The greatest advancement of all advancements in our brain is the prefrontal lobes (both left and right). The prefrontals operate as the seat of judgment, morals, empathy, compassion, and well-being; they moderate social behaviors, decision making, and personality expression. The prefrontals developed late in the evolution of humankind, becoming a signature feature for distinguishing higher brain development. There are many scientists and educators studying the prefrontals. The best is Joseph Chilton Pearce; read his book The Biology of Transcendence.
What people like Pearce tell us is that the mother’s state while carrying her child determines the brain her child will have. Everything hinges on her perception of safety. If she feels threatened or if her environment is stressful, fearful, angry, her child will be more apt to develop the lower or reptilian brain (fight, survival). If she feels comfortable, safe, it’s as if the fetus gets an “all-clear” signal to go ahead and develop the prefrontals, the higher brain. The first three years are the most important for the “flowering” of the prefrontals. The second most important time is puberty. The brain does not fully mature until we are around the age of 25.
The study of prefrontal development in children will become a priority in the decades to come.
The Greatest Challenges
Brain disorders/learning disorders seem to be the “curse” of being a new kid. The stats are worth repeating: two out of every five children in our country has a learning disorder; one out of ten are mentally ill; cases of ADHD are up 600 percent since the early 1990s; autism spectrum is now so pervasive it is considered an epidemic.
Known causal factors for brain/learning disorders include:
- Metal toxicity, organic toxins, lead paint--especially in toys
- Pesticide exposure (including pre-birth exposure)
- Artificial food coloring, chemical food additives, hormones and antibiotics used in meat production
- Smart meters, cell phone towers, WiFi, and electronic grids
- Some vaccinations; multidosages in one shot; too high a dosage
Action can be taken to reduce these factors. You can insist that vaccinations be given in a series of shots instead of all at once. Question what’s in them. Also, check on what chemicals are in your food; switch to organic milk. Have paint and metals tested. Investigation pays off.
New research is showing that it is possible for many children to recover from autism, dyslexia, ADD, ADHD, and other brain/learning disorders. The brain is malleable. It is capable of healing and recovery: sometimes partially, sometimes all the way.
Nonverbal autistic people are responding to keyboarding on a computer in ways that are shocking scientists. It’s as if they “wake up” once they discover this way out. Sue Rubin, a film writer with autism, is one who made that leap once she began listening to the news and reading the newspaper thanks to her newfound keyboarding skills. Today she’s a history major in her junior year at Whittier College and lives semi-independently a few blocks from campus. “Tell everyone,” she types, “that nonverbal autistic people are intelligent!”