Sharp Brains: Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Neuroplasticity, Brain Fitness and Cognitive Health News

Icon

Cognitive Development in the first 20 years: A Child’s and Teenager’s Brain

(Edi­tor’s Note: What fol­lows is an excerpt from Dr. Robert Syl­west­er’s new book, A Child’s Brain. The Need for Nur­ture (2010) Cor­win. In this excerpt, Robert Syl­west­er syn­the­sizes the first 20 years of devel­op­ment and shows how it can be viewed as a “rhyth­mic four-six-four-six-year devel­op­men­tal sequence”)

.

Chap­ter 4: Devel­op­ment and Growth.

The First 20 years.

To sim­pli­fy a com­plex phe­nom­e­non, we can divide our 20-year devel­op­men­tal tra­jec­to­ry into two peri­ods of approx­i­mate­ly 10 years each. The devel­op­men­tal peri­od from birth to about age 10 focus­es on learn­ing how to be a human being – learn­ing to move, to com­mu­ni­cate, and to mas­ter basic social skills. The devel­op­men­tal peri­od from about 11 to 20 focus­es on learn­ing how to be a pro­duc­tive repro­duc­tive human being – plan­ning for a voca­tion, explor­ing emo­tion­al com­mit­ment and sex­u­al­i­ty, and achiev­ing auton­o­my.

The first four years of each of these two decade-long devel­op­ment peri­ods are char­ac­ter­ized by slow awk­ward begin­nings to a six-year nor­mal move toward con­fi­dence and com­pe­tence. For exam­ple, crawl­ing leads to tod­dling leads to walk­ing leads to run­ning and leap­ing.

We’ve designed our preschool, ele­men­tary school, mid­dles school, high school and ini­tial col­lege sys­tems around this rhyth­mic four-six-four-six-year devel­op­men­tal sequence. We tend to keep small chil­dren at home dur­ing their first four years to allow them to begin their devel­op­ment in a shel­tered fam­i­ly envi­ron­ment with­out state stan­dards and assess­ment pro­grams. They learn basic motor skills, how to talk, and how to get along with their fam­i­lies. In essence, they devel­op a basic under­stand­ing of how their shel­tered world works.

At about five years, we say, in effect, “You can do it with kin, can you do it with non-kin?” We then put them in a kinder­garten class­room with a non-kin teacher and a cou­ple dozen sim­i­lar­ly aged chil­dren, and this ratch­ets up the motor, lan­guage, cul­tur­al, and social knowl­edge and skills they have to mas­ter. For exam­ple, learn­ing to read and write are more com­plex than learn­ing to talk, the fac­tu­al infor­ma­tion they learn extends beyond their homes, and they have to learn how to get along with chil­dren who aren’t relat­ed to them. By the time they reach fifth grade (about age 10) and their sen­so­ry lobes are at a rea­son­able lev­el of matu­ri­ty, most have learned a lot about how the world works.

The mid­dle school and preschool years are devel­op­men­tal­ly sim­i­lar in that they both rep­re­sent the ini­tial awk­ward devel­op­ment of impor­tant brain sys­tems and cog­ni­tive func­tions: sen­so­ry lobe recog­ni­tion capa­bil­i­ties dur­ing the preschool years and frontal lobes response capa­bil­i­ties dur­ing the mid­dle school years.

We tend to be far more indul­gent of the inevitable devel­op­men­tal awk­ward­ness and errors of young chil­dren than of relat­ed ear­ly ado­les­cent awk­ward­ness and errors. Demand­ing adults tend to for­get that the mas­tery of some­thing as com­plex as reflec­tive thought or one’s sex­u­al­i­ty didn’t occur instant­ly and with­out errors in their lives, and it like­wise prob­a­bly won’t in an adolescent’s life.

Com­pe­tence dur­ing the first 10 years is char­ac­ter­ized by a move toward rapid auto­mat­ic respons­es to chal­lenges. For exam­ple, slow labo­ri­ous ini­tial read­ing tends to become rea­son­ably auto­mat­ic by age 10.

Lan­guage includes the auto­mat­ic mas­tery of a ver­bal tax­on­o­my of gen­er­al­ly accept­ed object, action, qual­i­ty, and rela­tion­ship cat­e­gories. Sim­i­lar­ly, moral­i­ty and ethics include the mas­tery of a social tax­on­o­my of cul­tur­al­ly accept­able behav­iors, such as to share and be fair.

Com­pe­tence dur­ing the sec­ond d10 years, how­ev­er, is often appro­pri­ate­ly char­ac­ter­ized by delayed and reflec­tive respons­es processed prin­ci­pal­ly in the frontal lobes. For exam­ple, the com­mon impul­sive, instant-grat­i­fi­ca­tion child­hood respons­es become less impul­sive as a matur­ing ado­les­cent learns to explore options and social impli­ca­tions pri­or to mak­ing a response.

In effect, cog­ni­tive devel­op­ment dur­ing the first 10 years focus­es on rec­og­niz­ing and under­stand­ing the dynam­ics of var­i­ous envi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges that are process­es prin­ci­pal­ly in the sen­so­ry lobes, and cog­ni­tion dur­ing the sec­ond 10 years focus­es on devel­op­ing effec­tive and appro­pri­ate prob­lem-solv­ing strate­gies for such chal­lenges as are processed prin­ci­pal­ly in the frontal lobes.

The cul­tur­al strat­e­gy for deal­ing with chil­dren with imma­ture frontal lobes is to expect the adults in their lives to make many frontal lobe deci­sions for them –where to live, what to wear, when to go to bed, and so forth. Chil­dren with imma­ture frontal lobes are will­ing to let adults make such deci­sions. Infants who can’t walk are sim­i­lar­ly will­ing to let adults car­ry them. But, just as young chil­dren gen­er­al­ly don’t want to be car­ried while they’re learn­ing to walk, ado­les­cents don’t want adults to make frontal lobe deci­sions for them while their frontal lobes are matur­ing.

The only way we can learn to walk is to prac­tice walk­ing, and the only way we can mature our frontal lobes is to prac­tice the reflec­tive prob­lem-solv­ing and advanced social skills that our frontal lobes reg­u­late, even though young peo­ple aren’t very suc­cess­ful with it ini­tial­ly. Ado­les­cence thus becomes a chal­lenge for both the ado­les­cents and the sig­nif­i­cant adults in their lives.

To learn more:
About the book: vis­it A Child’s Brain. The Need for Nur­ture (2010) Cor­win
About Prof. Robert Syl­west­er’s views and work: “Par­ent­ing, men­tor­ing, teach­ing, and mass media are exam­ples of the cul­tur­al sys­tems that humans have devel­oped to help young peo­ple mas­ter the knowl­edge and skills they need to sur­vive and thrive in com­plex envi­ron­ments.” Read Full Inter­view Notes.

Leave a Reply...

Loading Facebook Comments ...

One Response

  1. Vinod Mehra says:

    I have enjoyed your peri­od­ic emails and Blog. And would like to share four steps towards suc­cess in any sphere of life and i.e.

    Define the process = learn from gurus, books, men­tors
    Baby steps = suc­cess is mat­ter of com­pound effect
    dis­ci­pline = con­sis­tence and per­sis­tence wins the game
    Prac­tice = prac­tice makes you per­fect.

Leave a Reply

Categories: Cognitive Neuroscience, Education & Lifelong Learning, Health & Wellness

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

About SharpBrains

As seen in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BBC News, CNN, Reuters,  SharpBrains is an independent market research firm tracking how brain science can improve our health and our lives.

Search in our archives

Follow us and Engage via…

twitter_logo_header
RSS Feed

Watch All Recordings Now (40+ Speakers, 12+ Hours)