Neuroscientists have made fascinating discoveries about the architecture and function of the brain in the past 25 years. Their findings have led to significant strides in medicine, and our understanding of both the child and adolescent brain. For example, we now know a great deal of pruning takes place in a child’s brain between 9 and 13. This process is much like the pruning of tree – cutting back weak branches so that others can flourish. I always urge parents to pay close attention to kids’ exposure to screens in all stages of development, but in particular during this stretch of development. The period of leaving childhood and moving into adolescence is not only a heightened period of pruning, but also when puberty is happening. As puberty hits, the brain is consolidating learning and actively saying “I need to dispose of what I don’t need because life is coming at me fast and I have limited resources.”
Many researchers have concluded that this vital stage of brain development, sometimes referred to as the “use it or lose it” period, will influence the long-term hardwiring. If the primary activity for our sons and daughters is watching a screen, the pruning brain is retaining the “watch ability.” It will prune out the patterns of going outside, relating to others empathically, playing sports, and the nuts and bolts of social and emotional intelligence. This is a vital season to model and set healthy limits on screen time. How much time are we as parents glued to our phone or laptop, or parked in front a television?
Research would also remind us that kids learn more through observation than information. One of the greatest gifts we give our kids is an awareness of ourselves, of others, and of our need for God. To the degree that we are engaged in our own pruning – dealing with our fear, anger, sadness, or any lingering resentment, so the residual of those emotions doesn’t spill onto our kids, and giving way for our hearts to flourish - our kids see evidence of an emotionally and spiritually healthy adult. I often recommend parents tell kids when they spend time with a mentor, trusted friend, pastor or counselor. It’s important that kids grow up seeing evidence of adults seeking wise counsel.
Is there an area of life where you could use more pruning? An area you’d want to model more or less of something?