Many of the problems affecting a student’s ability to learn can be traced to today’s home environment.
For example, yesterday’s home environment was quieter and some might say even boring when compared to today’s home environment. Parents and children did a great deal more talking and reading. Studies show that today’s parents spend about 20 minutes of quality time with their children daily. Talking and reading stimulates the limbic system and the child’s hippocampus, seat of emotional relationships, which can lead to greater intelligence, memory consolidation (episodic) and greater focusing skills. Moreover, the family unit was more stable, often eating meals together; thus, allowing parents and children to actually discuss the day’s activities. Family stability stimulates organization, predictability and supports the frontal lobes or executive centers of the brain, another necessary ingredient for greater learning potential and intelligence.
Also, TV was in a common area and controlled by adults. What children watched was actually monitored. Today’s child on average will witness 200,000 violent acts and 16,000 murders by 18 years of age. One study tracking more than 700 adolescents into adulthood, found that young people who were watching one to three hours of television daily were almost four times more likely to commit violently aggressive acts later in life than those who watched less than an hour of TV a day.
Family units are not as stable. That is, about 50% of marriages end in divorce, a statistic that has remained consistent over the past decade. Studies show that a child who experiences a divorce or separation loses almost a year of school learning. This study does not measure the psychological factors that can have lifelong effects on learning potential. Furthermore, less time to form positive family relationships can delay students from experiencing higher stages of moral development (conforming to family rules), which affects discernment of right /wrong behavior.
Dietary habits have changed along with home cooking. In the past decade childhood obesity has increased substantially. With this increase in obesity at young ages has come early onset of puberty for girls. That is, 10% of white, 15% of Latino and 23% of Afro-American girls are reaching puberty by age 7. For boys it is the opposite. Obesity affects self-esteem, which can affect a boy’s learning potential and intelligence as well, causing later maturation. In addition, additives in food can cause hyperactivity (ADHD), which affects classroom focusing ability as well as behavioral problems.
Electronic media surrounds students: cellphones, Ipods, TV, movies, video games, computers etc. Teens spend nearly 17 or more hours a week on the Internet and 14 or more hours a week watching TV. The many hours devoted to electronics can affect sleep as well as the student’s classroom focusing ability. Adolescents need at least 9 hours of sleep or 6 REM cycles (rapid eye movements) of sleep for the day’s school learning to be effectively transmitted to long-term storage and memory consolidation. Also, lack of sleep can cause a more serious problem, DSD (delayed sleep disorder), which carries over to classroom learning and focusing skills. Finally, this addiction to electronics feeds into our novelty seeking brains. Dopamine, a neuron transmitter often called the gotcha chemical, demands more and more stimulation, which can affect a student’s classroom attention span. I am bored, a common sentence uttered by teens could be no more than their novelty seeking brains demanding more dopamine. Lastly, when students’ brains are not getting enough stimulation, this lack of activity can motivate students to turn to other stimulants such as ecstasy or amphetamines which will feed the student’s dopamine seeking brain as well.
Teachers are more educated and well trained than ever before. Yet, today’s teachers are being judged on yesterday’s student home environments, which have dramatically changed a student’s ability to learn and a teacher’s ability to teach. Bottom line – education is the only profession that is asked to change the human brain on a daily basis?
*Dr. David Sortino is a psychologist and currently Director of Educational Strategies, a private consulting company catering to teachers, parents, students. Dr. Sortino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at his blog:davidsortino.com