At age seven months in the womb, humans begin language coordination in response to what they hear through the mothers belly wall. Some 52 muscles learn to respond to the various phonemes (a basic language sound like ‘b’ in boy and ‘m’ in man) of the language surrounding that belly. There are also studies showing that the emotional state of the parent imprints as do things like music and other environmental conditions. Nutrition, drug use and pollution spill right through directly to the fetus via the placenta and umbilical cord. Parenting begins way before the bassinet.
At eighteen months, the child has a brain 1/3 the size of an adult but the same number of neural connections. These connections are called synapses and relay information outgoing from the nerve cell through axons, ingoing by way of dendrites. It is the number of connections of nerve cells that relates to intelligence, not the number of neurons.
As the brain grows, by age 6 we have about five times the neural connections we do as adults. These trillions upon trillions of connections are there waiting to be imprinted by the environment, parents and society. This is probably the reason, some 2000 years ago, the church started the sacraments at ages 6 or 7. (It is remarkable how so many ‘new’ scientific discoveries were anticipated by the intuitive traditions of, what we believe to be, unsophisticated minds of the past.) Beginning at about age 12, the fatty myelin sheath covering connecting neuronal tendrils not used, are literally dissolved, absorbed into the cerebrospinal fluid. Thus 80% of the neural brain mass present at age 6 is gone by age 14 as a result of disuse. Further belittling is the fact that of the remaining 20% of the brain, we only use 5%. That means, of our full potential, we only use about 1%! (For evolutionary materialists out there, please explain to me how something as complex as a brain infinitely more complex than anything humans have ever invented developed so that 80% of it could dissolve and 95% of what remains go unused.)
This ‘devolution’ of the brain applies to the neocortex, that big part of the brain with all the folds and grooves that humans are so proud of because that’s where all our smarts (are supposed to) come from. The more ‘primitive’ parts of the brain, the ‘reptilian’ brainstem and limbic systems responsible for stimulus-response sorts of actions and emotion-cognition, remain intact and do not experience this loss. In other words, our ability for ‘fight-flight’ (running from predators), self-awareness (me, I, look at me), sex (fun stuff and children hatching), eating (wouldn’t want to miss that) and road rage (essential in modern living) are never at risk, just our ability to be intelligent about all that base reptilian stuff is.
Nothing new here, right? Is it not clear which parts of the human brain are in full function today? Just watch a little television, listen to ‘with it’ music, go to some movies and pick up some of the tabloids at the grocery counter and you’ll see the human brain stem has suffered no melt-down. But that 3-pound blob on top of it, the seat of intelligence, is evidently just filling up space.
What is primarily responsible for making and holding neural connections is not what we can beat into our kids with rules, instructions and performance pressures, but what they experience around them. At least 95% of the imprinting a child receives, neither the child nor the parents are aware of. Who we are emotionally, ethically and intellectually at our core in our day-to-day routines as parents not what we pretend or preach is picked up by the child as its most important lessons and is then ‘neural connected.’ So telling a child to be something we are not doesn’t work. If we want better children, then we must be better people.
This also speaks to the importance of a loving and nurturing family nest. We learn love, in large part, by experiencing it. The erosion of the family in our libertine society thrusts the child into a peer group for imprinting. This begins with technological births in hospital wards, then continues with isolating infants in their own bedrooms, pseudofood in bottles with nipples, television, day-care, broken homes and on to public schooling you know, the ‘modern’ way to rear kids. The premature unfolding of development is accelerated through exposure to adult themes pressing in from everywhere in our society. Menstruation is beginning in 8-year-old girls (partly the result of hormone-type pollutants in food), there is an outbreak of pregnancies in 9-year-olds, and violent sex crimes among children under the age of 10 are becoming common. Children are being thrust into full operational adult thinking way before they are capable of handling it properly. That is why some 70% of teenagers are functionally illiterate: they may be able to learn, but cannot grant meaning. They have not been properly imprinted, don’t have sufficient life experience for context and don’t have the neural connections.
So yes, the home, family and parents are responsible for the development of children. On the other hand, there is a lot of nature involved too. Any parent raising a child into adulthood will see that the child at 40 is pretty much identical to the child in earliest infancy. So don’t be too quick to blame yourself for a child gone bad. Don’t spend your fortune in therapy either, whining about how your parents didn’t love you. We can lose important neural connections in childhood but once you realize who you are very early in childhood the ball is ultimately in your court. There are people with essentially no brain in their skull (compressed to a thin membrane from hydrocephalus) who excel intellectually and ethically. So, as an adult, buck up, take responsibility for yourself and make good use of the neural connections remaining. That’s in your court. You are not a victim.
But the present circumstances for children are a peculiar situation with no historical precedent. There is no solution other than for the adults to not be distracted by the veneer of civilization, its glamour of modernity, and its amoral and libertine pressures. Even though we are left with 1% of our mental potential, we can make a lot of good use of that. It means reaching inside for the goodness that is there in our hearts and extending that to our fellow humans. It means not following the conscience of others but learning what is already within and being true to it. Children don’t need money, videos, signature shoes and pressure for grades and sports performance. The inner needs of children don’t care about being raised in a pigpen so long as there is love. If that critical emotional relationship is not there, children will seek it in peers, including the perverted, money grubbing, media models. Then we have the ethically blind (other children, brainless idols and profiteering media) leading our blind children. This is the proper incubator for the adults of the future? What then, particularly when everyone has been indoctrinated into thinking they are victims and any failure in life is the fault of somebody else? What a formula for the collapse of society!
The answer is that greatest of all intelligences, love. That is not a platitude. Love requires an expansive and wise mind. Even with the puny 1% of our brain that we use, the capacity for love is infinite. In the end, what else really matters anyway? In the process, by being a person of goodness and reaching out in this way to others, we become the perfect model for the development of a loving and well-adjusted child. And hardly a word needs to be spoken in the process.