Did that tag line grab your attention? As parents, we're under constant pressure to do whatever we can to give our children a leg up. Millions of dollars are spent marketing to us, most of it without a whole lot of grounding in reality. For example, claims are continually made, yet there is scant evidence to date that "educational" software has much (if any) benefit for children.
What "new" product does promote brain development? Apologies if you find it a stretch, but new books come out every week. That may not sound flashy, but more than any other "product," time with books has been shown to build language and cognitive abilities. There is evidence to show that:
And, there is also evidence to show that:
For parents of young children, a vital fact to know is this: Habitual behaviors hard-wire themselves. The brain develops across our entire lives through a concept called 'neuroplasticity.' Anything we repeat enough reinforces itself by creating brain connections to support that specific behavior. Routines built early in childhood neurologically sustain themselves around nutrition, exercise, reading, technology and countless other aspects of life.
There's nothing wrong with well-managed computer use for entertainment, and technology can be a powerful tool when well-utilized. Someday, a specific product may even be proven to educate. Yet, screen habits develop early and built-in marketing is highly influential. In order to raise a generation of children able to manage media without allowing an intrusion on other vital activities or a push towards less healthy habits, we must promote and model a balanced lifestyle from the start.
Most parents want to encourage children to skillfully and willingly spend time with peers, reading and in physical activity, and to be able to fill down time with self-created imaginative play. If you teach a child to depend on constant screen entertainment at the first sign of fussiness and boredom, that pattern may continue through all of childhood. There may even be particular value to time spent daydreaming.
We need to go out of our way to emphasize activities such as reading, open-ended play, outdoor play and family time, all of which have been shown to promote healthy child development. For example:
Build a Better Brain
It is national literacy month in the United States. Get on board by going back to the basics. No one is going to spend millions of dollars to convince you that the most important product for your child's development may simply be a pile of books. Lots of people are going to try to sell you other stuff. Take special effort this month to bring books into your home, emphasize reading as a joint activity and make reading fun.
Reach Out and Read is a national organization that promotes early literacy by giving out books to low-income children during well-child visits with their pediatrician. Here are tips selected from its website for building a young child's relationship with books:
Follow Mark Bertin, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/markbertinmd