Are we failing our children?

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We hear an awful lot about the problems with young people today. The headlines tend to favour the negative stories such as the ASBOs, underage pregnancies, the increasing frequency of teenage on adult violence and so on, but I have some real sympathy for what children face today.

Consider what we now know about the adolescent brain. It is all but an alien environment to the one we adults are saddled with. Science informs us that in the period between childhood and puberty the brain is literally jam-packed with neural connections that it doesn’t know what to do with. There is something known as synaptic or axon pruning which occurs around the onset of puberty and then again after adolescence in which millions of neuronal connections are literally pruned away. This process effectively represents learning and is a necessary stage in the maturation of the human brain. It is not difficult to see perhaps how these extra connections whizzing back and forth might muddy the rationale reasoning processes and lead instead to illogicality, extremes of emotion and risk taking. They may as well have a sign attached to their head that says, ‘still under construction.’ Now, add in exam stress, digital media (an instant portal to all the world’s ills) and social networking platforms with their pervasive and relenting demands to be one thing or another and you start to imagine how the world might seem a pretty hostile place from a young person’s perspective. Indeed, the bullies of this world are no longer left behind in the playground. They are taken home in our children’s mobiles and tablets.

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