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Our Children's World, Our Future

Updated on July 26, 2015

Our Children’s World and Our Future

R.M. Nash MA CMHC © 2015

We parents regardless of our political or religious ideology generally want the best for their children. We sometimes strongly disagree about how we as parents and how we as a society achieve this. Today with the merging of behavioral science and neuroscience, we can begin to physically see the influence of our choices, individually and collectively as a society.

Social Cognitive Theory; the Experience that Behavior Shows

Social Cognitive Theory views life as being a mix of an individual and of influences in continually changing society. Societal changes, such as advancements in technology, financial increase, decline or disparity, as well as the effects of war, violence and political changes affect the direction of the individual’s development.

The influence of society on development is a combination of chance and a person’s reaction to this chance. An individual with confidence and faith in their effectiveness in directing their life direction typically have more motivation, optimism, goal setting and decision making process than those who sense having little control over their lives.

Social Cognitive Theory was developed by Bandura (1978). Bandura’s view is that you may not be able to see all the learning that is happening immediately. Learning may be direct teaching and that learning also occurs by watching others. The skill or information may be stored in the brain until a child has enough information and or life experience to make use what they have learned.

Social Cognitive Theory holds the view that people’s behavior can be changed through both what they think and feel (internal) and external influences. Internal and external influences affect one another as well as the environment in which one lives.

Research indicates that those who feel they have no control in their lives have increased anxiety, aggression and anger. Additionally, research suggests that stress during early development can lead to substantial changes in the functioning of various areas of the brain. Neuropsychology research indicated these changes may affect the biological structure and brain processes. These changes may impact social and educational development.

O.K., so we have, we want best for our kids. We have behavioral science telling us that what we say, do influence our kids. That our kids learn more than we think. That kids may have more information in their minds but don’t quite have skills to use them yet. As adults, we think ya, so tell us something we don’t know. This is where the field of neuropsychology can show us the brain images of what many of us believe we intuitively know.

Inside Image

Studies of brain activity and development using neuropsychology show that those who feel they have no control in their lives have increased anxiety, aggression and anger. Additionally, research suggests that stress during early development can lead to substantial changes in the functioning of various areas of the brain. Neuropsychology research indicated these changes may affect the biological structure and brain processes.

These biological effects of emotional trauma need to be taken into account when understanding the needs of children and adolescents. The child and adolescent brain is dependent upon windows of opportunity in their development. The consequence of youth not either having the developmental opportunities and/or success in these areas, has the potential to have negative consequences for the youth. The youth may experience symptomology or diagnosis of mental health disorder. Post traumatic stress disorder, mood, personality disorder and attachment disorders are among the most prevalent.

Neuropsychology

Neuropsychology Review, Vol. 14, no.2, June state that:

psychological trauma can have detrimental effects on brain function that are not only long lasting but that may alter patterns of subsequent neurodevelopment, particularly in children although developmental effects may be seen in adults as well. …” (Weber and Reynolds).

Resent neuropsychology has shown that levels of stress hormones, have a profound impact on the brain. The increase of these stress hormones has been shown to change the function of neurotransmitters. The changes in brain chemistry and neurotransmitter function ultimately change the anatomy of the brain. The pliability of the developing brain of children and adolescents may be more susceptible to these changes due to stressors.

Extreme stress, trauma and neglect are accompanied with high levels of glucocorticoids and other stress hormones. Glucocorticoids may adversely affect the hippocampus area of the brain. The hippocampus is the area of the brain associated with learning and memory. Other areas of the brain such as the hypothalamus, associated with emotions are also affected.

Stress has an adverse effect on both the psychological and physical health of individuals. Stress activates multiple systems including the immune and some areas of the autonomic system. The releases of cortisol, as well as hormones secreted from the hypothalamic-pituitary axis are released as the body enters a survival mode.

The longer stress state continues the greater the risk of the stress response systems becoming overactive and exhausted leaving the individual unable to fully relax. This may lead to change in neural systems. Symptoms of hyper-arousal in victims of trauma leads to changes in the brain that result in the individuals drive regulation that is exhibited in those with ADHD. Neuropsychology also shows that it can take up to approximately age twenty for the brain to be fully developed.

We now know the brain gets information, the brain chemistry and function is affected by information and emotion. We now know that if areas of the brain are not stimulate /used then the area of brain may not develop as we would like. We also know that if our child /teen is under stress …emotional or otherwise that the areas of the brain that are activated and affected by stress may become stuck and unable to return to pre-stress or pre-trauma state of relaxation. That this continuous state of stress can impact the behavior, emotional and cognitive (learning) of a person. A common comment is “kids are resilient, they’ll get over it.” Do they really or is this just something we adults say? If kids are resilient, do they just do it on their own or do we as adults need to help them? If kids need help with resiliency how do we assist them?

Answering the Questions

As we think about the questions raised in the previous section, let’s review some of the science for assistance. We have reviewed and introduction of Social Learning Theory, another developmental /learning theory echoes this view was developed by Vygotsky.

Vygotsky view of development sees each child as an individual with unique learning abilities and styles. Vygotsky’s theory holds that past experiences and prior knowledge in making sense of new situations or current circumstance. The roles of social and cultural relations are important influence on individual development. Vygotsky’s theory viewpoint holds that people adapted to their surrounding environment based on their interpretation and individual experience of it. These experiences impact future learning. (Dahms, Geonnotti, et.al.)

Howard Gardener’s multiple intelligences in and out of the classroom for developing holistic development of children and adolescents. Research has shown that active engagement in learning aids in the ability to understand, use and remember information vs. memorization with taking test or quiz. Having multi-sensory learning and process of learning a new skill whether in academic setting or not assist the child or adolescent in learning critical thinking skills, learn to self-assess own skills, learn ways to use current knowledge in new ways by having the confidence to something different. When our children and youth, indeed we are self are personally invested and have positive emotional experience to something the more we want to do it or at least continue trying. This echoes the Social Learning Theory and Vygotski Models. While we are not talking specifically about school, the knowledge about development and how our children and adolescents experience the world over all is influenced by these theories whether we are aware of them in the science base or not.

Neuroplasticity and Change

Dr. Tallal of Rutgers University is among the current researchers in the area of neuroscience of learning. Dr. Tallal research focuses on positive experience to assist children and adolescents change their neuroplasticity

(Changes in how brain functions). Research by Dr. Tallal and other neuroscience have found that there is no closure of development. This research has shown that using multimodal (multiple ways of learning) improves learning, “neurons that fire together or nearly together.” (WGBH)

Creating Resilient Conditions

Research indicates a belief from all adults in their lives that all people have an innate resilience. Long-term developmental research that includes children born into high-risk environments has found that 50-70% of these youth are confidant, competent and caring individuals. (Bernard, B.)

In addition to parents, family, teachers, community and mentors has a significant influence in the resilience of youth. (Bernard, B.) This insulation against risk is assist youth in reaching basic needs for safety, respect, love and belonging, accomplishment and learning, meaning and sense of control in one’s life. (Bernard, B.)

This insulation to risk and development of resilience is achieved through caring relationships, that hold the youth with positive and high expectations by recognizing the youth’s strengths, actively listening and validation the youth’s feelings and experiences, modeling kindness, compassion and respect while refraining from judgment. Additionally youth are given the opportunity to make choices, solve problems and encouraged to interact with community in a positive way (play/work/volunteer etc.). (Bernard, B.)

Traits of Resilient People:

(Based on work by Dr Kaiser Stern Living through Personal Crisis (2010).

  • Persistent in their search for answers and accept support from family, friends, counselors, spiritual community, books, healing activities and support groups.
  • Resilient people decide early on to begin life again.
  • Patients with self, realizing have to come to terms with the source of pain and that healing takes time. May take more time that you or others feel it should or would.
  • Come to a point where can leave resentments, grievances and axes to grind and guilt behind.
  • Seek out encouraging and inspiring people. Surround self with positive, hopeful and nurturing people.
  • Unwavering decision to build a new life for self.
  • Are willing and able to reach out to others while personally still hurting.
  • Able to live the best life that is within reach.
  • Doing the best one can, look forward more often than looking back.

Possible actions we can consider in order to make the Social Learning Theory, Vygotsky and Gardner’s development and learning information, combined with neuropsychology information into our family and communities. Create evidence based parenting classes and parenting groups. Create positive open dialog with schools, doctors, and community employers etc. to develop the respectful and supportive community for families. The truth of what is best, will be the middle ground, not the extreme of any group. Bringing various elements of a community, various neighborhoods, and interfaith and other community organizers, including policy makers that are still in sync with the people they represent. Have open respectful communication of how to serve their community…there by serving children, youth and ultimately ourselves.

Conclusion:

If all children and youth were given support and encouragement, positive guidance and mentorships; whether those mentors are parent, family member or others in the community. They will be happier and more confident today. The confidence in being able to handle what comes in life enables them to be more productive, more creative and more compassionate.
These strength will make them better leaders, innovators, teachers, trades of today and the future, doctors, engineers and others who create our society. They are our future caretakers, they are our legacy. How we treat them now, reflects on us in our future.

References

  1. Benard, B. (1997) Turning it all around for all youth: From risk to resilience. http://resilnet.uiuc.edu/library/dig126.html. Retrieved 6/21/2010 from: Intervening to promote resilience in school, home and community www.http://www.ssnh.samhsa.gov
  1. Bennet, N. Vygotski Developmental Psychology. Retrieved from google.com/scholarly 2009.
  2. Dahams & Geonnatti et al (2008) Piaget Developmental theory. Newfoundations.com/gallery/vygotski.html. Retrieved 8/22/09
  3. Gardner, H. Multiple Intelligence Theory. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iY908jZTFuQ. Retrieved 7/24/15
  4. Kaiser Stern, A. (2010) Living through Personal Crisis. Aired WGBH 2 Boston Ma. June 2010
  5. Neuroscience of learning. Public Broadcast services. WGBH; air date 8/22/09
  6. Neuroplastictiy: The substrate of learning and transforming. (2004) Mind and Life Institute. Dharmsala , India. Retrieved from mindandlife.org/confo4.html
  7. Weber & Renolds (2004) Clinical perspectives on neurobiological effects on psychological trauma. Neuropsychology Review vol. 14, No. Plenum Publishing Co.
  8. 9. Nash, R.M. (2010) Creating New Pathways: Impact of Interpersonal Violence on

Children and Adolescents. Brattleboro Vt.

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