Did you know? The human brain does not mature until age 25 and you can’t speed it up!
This wonderful chart shows an MRI of the gradual development of the same brain images taken at different ages. The brain matures from back to front with the frontal cortex or expectative center maturing last (decision making, reasoning, problem solving, impulse control.) As your child’s brain develops it is organizing the neuronal pathways that it will use the rest of its life. Because of this, your child is very sensitive to outside life experiences and actions including screen time and gaming.
What does this mean for gaming?
*Repetition: Neuronal connections are made every time your child experiences a new activity and the pathway must be fired over and over during the development process to gain competence in that activity. How much gaming is really necessary for your child? Is gaming a skill that you want him to invest in and become an expert at?
*Release of neurochemicals with gaming: Gaming activates the limbic system in the brain and after just 20 minutes of play it reduces connections to the frontal cortex. In our house we call it the game coma when extended game play renders the child moody, glazed over and unable to easily communicate with others (and come to dinner when called!); brain science explains why.
*Pruning occurs during early childhood when neuronal pathways that are not being used
are shut down while pathways that are used a lot get stronger. Do you want your child to have strong reading pathways or video gaming pathways?
*There are rich windows of opportunity for learning and gaining new skills during the early development meaning that learning new things is easier during this period of time. If your child spends his time gaming will he have the time necessary to develop other skills and hobbies and achieve a good balance?
* Can’t multi-task: Since your child can only do one thing at a time, and since life and learning skills take time to develop, what childhood activities is he trading for his game time? Balanced brain development is best when your child engages in activities that activate the whole brain i.e. reading, language, writing, music, exercise. Gaming is not on that list.
The full maturation process is very gradual so while you can have high expectations for your child’s behavior, you also need to keep in mind that his brain is in the process of maturing and he cannot process outcomes the way you can. Your child will not always make good choices around screen content and time played and he does not have the ability to see ahead and ‘play the tape forward’. He will typically go for more high action low effort activities and gaming fits that bill. He needs you to help structure a safe pathway when he is young and then he needs you to equip him to handle media responsibly when he is older and his frontal cortex is more developed.
During childhood you have the greatest influence on how your child’s brain is wired. This early foundational wiring will effect his future more than his genetics. Too much gaming when he is young will effect his future hobbies, skills, interests and even his relationships. It may get in the way of developing a talent that would have brought future success and joy. Keep that in mind the next time you hand him the game controller or your laptop. Don’t rush his childhood. Exposes his impressionable, growing brain to rich activities that will benefit him in the future and limit the amount of time he spends on empty entertainment technology.
Once you understand the basics of early brain development, it is easier to choose balanced brain-healthy activities for your child. Your child is not able to always choose the best free-time activities to fill his day, and, by the way, he also can’t rent a car until he is 25. Now you know why!