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Your Brain On Childhood by Gabrielle Principe

01/11/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Your Brain On Childhood in the USA - or Buy Your Brain On Childhood in the UK

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pub: Prometheus Books. 325 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $17.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-61614-425-8).

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‘Your Brain On Childhood’ might seem an unusual choice of book to review but if you want to understand how people are changing to reflect in your story content then author Gabrielle Principe beings a lot to the table. If you want to ensure your sprogs develop an interest in Science Fiction, less is definitely more in their development.

The first info is a sharp reminder that Man is essentially a hodge-podge of all animals in its wake, right down to and including the brain before anything else is tacked on. More importantly, she makes a very valid point that your children using technology and even specialised toys much younger these days that they are not letting their brains develop enough and certainly not changed enough with such advances. When you consider that even computers and affordable really small mobile phones have been around for only a couple decades now you can see where she is coming from if they are preoccupied using them. Added to that anxieties and acts of bullying still exist but have shifted to a different digital plane, is it any wonder that kids are becoming a lot more obsessive? I do wonder if all kids are going to be on something like Facebook but when you see even schools over here want to ensure all kids have access to a laptop to have an equal playing field, you have to wonder if the option to avoid digital bullying by simply not going there is harder to avoid. As someone who was bullied at school, I found it easier to avoid the places where I was bullied than stay in the same place. This book is obviously centred on the American perspective but I suspect we’re going to find a lot of common ground here.

The more I read this book, the more interesting it becomes. Take chapter three with being ready to reward anything children do. Principe points out that the reward becomes the objective rather the activity and the wrong kind of conditioning. A consequence of this is it leads kids as they become adults to become underachievers going for the easy option just to get a level of success. Again, although this is very much centred on the USA, some of this has filtered into the UK and if you want to look after your sprogs and do the right thing this is a chapter to read. I would think it would make more sense to give kids more difficult than easy objectives if you want kids to develop properly but even over here, where even on a school sportsday, winners are avoided shows there is something not quite right.

Understanding how to stimulate your children as they are growing is logical and having a decent fantasy life hits our genre as being healthy for learning. Probably explains why so many of us within our genre are so smart but at my age, we didn’t have computers until we were in our 20s.

Chapter four is the longest of the book but considering that it deals with the exploitation of parents with all kinds of devices and odd thoughts that use their vulnerabilities and inexperience with what seems like ‘good’ advice from people who look like they know what they’re talking about. Such things don’t have such a strong hold in the UK but I can see the issues that Principe has with this and should be required reading for anyone among you having sprogs.

Chapter six illustrates the problem of giving your kids too much because it stifles their imagination. If you give them ‘Star Wars’ toys then that’s all they’ll play. Give them something a bit more generic and they’ll have to improvise more. ‘Sides, would you give your kids things from your prize collection to play with? Principe makes a similar argument against giving kids use of technology like computers and mobile phones too young as well. She also points out how using it affects brain activity in all ages, specifically with reasoning and decision making.

As to using the television as an electronic babysitter. I suspect most parents do this with their tots simply as a means to know that they are occupied than worry about any attention problems that this might cause later. Too much of anything can be a problem and Principe suggests developing control in your children so they aren’t too single-minded isn’t a bad idea to implement.

Chapter nine points out how not enough American kids don’t go outside to play any more. Granted that on both sides of the pond that there is concern for protecting kids from a variety of dangers but Principe also points out that this is also stifling kids development and could be causing more harm than good. She makes a very good point that statistically, a child faces greater dangers than being abducted but such crimes get bigger media coverage than falling off a tree and inverses the threats. Principe points out that parents are far too protective and are led by books that encourage this. Whether her book can reverse this, I’m undecided. I hope she’s not a lone voice over there.

Principe’s examination of breaks during the day and cutting back on them in chapter ten is also riveting reading, especially as she shows that reducing them reduces education absorption. When I was at college a few decades ago now, it was already known that the mind wanders after twenty minutes and the solution was to vary the subject matter through the lessons to keep pupil attention. Shame that it was never implemented, even in the UK.

Interestingly, Principe uses a lot of SF metaphor for comparisons. From our side of the genre, we just use it to look objectively at a problem. As humans, we are probably too close to the problem after all. She also points out something really telling that the smarter you are the more you rationalise the solutions you read about than rely on gut instinct as to what is right. We do know over here that Americans react differently to being told by someone in authority to do something than we Brits do, but even so, there are some things that have crept in over here.

If nothing else, this book voices an opinion on why you shouldn’t be over-protective and how to encourage your sprogs’ imagination with a sheet of paper and a pencil than a fancy toy, which is after all, the next SF generation. I found this book interesting even if I don’t have children. If you do have off-spring, it might make you think about the life-style your kids are getting and demand changes which isn’t a bad thing.

GF Willmetts

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