(Part 2 of 2)

The Science of Teen Rebellion

Nancy Darling and Linda Caldwell from Penn State University conducted a survey among high schoolers. The topic was called “leisure time” which is something that the teens involve themselves in without their parents or any other adult supervision. Darling seems to remark that “when they are bored and don’t know what else to do getting drunk makes everything else very interesting”. Out of the 36 controversial topics that they asked of which 12 of them were something that they lied frequently. They lie about how they spend their allowance, their sex life, what clothes they wear outside home, which movie they go to and with whom. They also lie about alcohol and drug usage and how they spend their time in the afternoons when they are not supervised. Darling found out that 96% of the kids lied to their parents on these issues. They rarely outrightly lie sometimes to save them, but most of the time its providing them with half truths. Telling them only half the stories. Upon investigating the teens mentality many seemed to think that they lie only because they want to protect their relationship with their parents, they didn’t want their parents to be disappointed in them.

Some of the parents of these kids know that they are not getting to hear the truths so they begin to be permissive parents and avoid setting out rules. Darling and her team suggest that such parents don’t get to know any more. Infact the kids begin to see them as irresponsible and think of them as not caring for them and that “they hate the job of being a parent”. According to a Harris poll 78% of the parents think that their kids can talk to them about anything, however the kids disagree to that. From a teen’s perspective asking for help from the parent is an outright admission to not being able to handle the issue by themselves.

The kind of parents who enforce few rules consistently are the most effective. They seem to be more approachable and when they set the rules they explain the reasons behind them too. The kids may not entirely disclose everything but they have very few issues that they hide.

Can self control be taught?

In schools kids are subjected to many “well-meaning” training programs. Even though the school takes it on their onus to produce responsible citizens, they are not even merely effective. The teachers, administrators and parents love such programs but it hardly scratches the surface. Only a very few children seem to be have gained from it and long term improvement is even rarer.

This book talks about this amazing curriculum program called Tools of the Mind for pre-kindergarten and preschool kids. The teachers do things a bit differently in this program. The children make their own play plans. The teachers don’t actively interfere but nudge them when they get distracted. When children are given the authority to make their own play plans you are handling them maturely and it will sustain for a longer period of time.

According to Dr. Silvia Bunge, a neuroscientist at University of California Berkley, child’s regulation of focus is a kind of cognitive control. She researches a region called the rostral lateral prefrontal cortex in the brain. This is the part that is responsible to maintain concentration and setting goals. So when kids are given the authority to make plans for their play time they are actually developing towards making this region stronger. Cognitive control she says is something that the brain needs when it has to manipulate information, conserve memory and evaluate options. It also manages the process of getting bored or irritable because of lack of interest or anger.

Hence allowing freedom for kids to make their own decisions and not read instruction manuals on how to eat, when to sleep, what to do at what times gives them a chance to learn by themselves.

Why Hannah talks and Alyssa doesn’t?

This is a shocking finding and one of my favorite statistics that I love to throw at new parents. In November 2007, a journal called Pediatrics published a report by University of Washington which was about the so-called baby videos like Baby Einstein, Brainy Babies, etc. It was found that infants who watched them had a remarkably low vocabulary than those who had not. This report was like a slap on the face of the $4.8 Billion (annually) industry. Another research team started working on the efficacy of this report and called on hundreds of families who strap their babies in front of these DVDs. The parents were asked to complete a survey to figure out if this is making difference. They made a list of 89 common words that babies are known to know at this age. After they studied the responses they found out that every one hour of baby video watching every day the babies knew lesser 8 words of 89 words. For a typical 11 month old baby that might be 16 lesser words, might not be a big deficit but at that age every single word empowers them to express themselves precisely and clearly in the world surround by adults.

This is why language learning can not be delegated to watching DVDs. Majority of the times they learn to speak by lip reading. How a word ends and other begins is learnt by closely watching how the mouth and lips move. They learn also by the interactions that they have with the adults. In one study two kids of 9 months of age and same level of understanding, Hannah and Alyssa were compared in relations to their acquisition of language. Hannah’s mother rarely missed any opportunity to responded to her cues. She would constantly talk to her about the world around while she is walking down the road or shopping. While Alyssa’s mom did less than half. Hannah’s mom responded 85% of the time while Alyssa’s mom did so only 55% of the time. By the time they were 18 months Alyssa added on 8 new words while Hannah added a phenomenal 150 words to her vocabulary.

I have tried to gather all the key statistics and findings that I gathered while I read this book. While this book is much more than what I have described. It certainly is a revealing fact and an astounding find.

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