Two weeks ago, I watched a new video on brain development that was released by First 5;. In the video, one doctor mentioned that everything parents say and do to their children will surface some day, some way. It won’t always be in the way that one might expect, but as the brains of young children are forming, a fantastic amount of connections are being made. (No pressure, young parents, right?) The overall message of the video was about the extremely negative impact exposure to violence has on brain development. This is a serious issue backed up by PET scans of the brains of young children exposed to violence versus those who have not had such exposure. The results of these studies are shocking, even horrifying. Data like this explains in a tangible way why so many young children in the program where I work are lacking certain basic skills and understandings that we might expect them to have at their stage of development. Looking at the scans, you can see the areas of their brains that are dark. Areas that should be vibrantly alive with activity. More children than I would like to think of are exposed to violence firsthand (as one of my students mentioned the other day, “My dad, he push my mom and my mom she hit my dad in him face,”), but exposure can also come from inappropriate video games, movies, and TV shows. Children see and hear much more than we think and their brains soak it up like little sponges. It’s scary to think of the potential impact on individual lives and our wider society as the result of this exposure. What children experience at home becomes what normal is to them. No matter what they experience at home. That’s their baseline as they merge out into the wider world. It’s a sobering thought, isn’t it? If you don’t yet have children, I think (I hope), it makes you consider the kind of environment you might one day provide.
When I get new information on issues like these, or hear my students talk about things they see and hear at home, I sometimes feel defeated. It’s so sad. So overwhelming. It’s frightening. But I like to think that by sharing this information, we’re already several steps ahead of where we may have been a few years ago. And I like to think that each relationship we form (relationships we form as people, not just as parents and aunties and uncles and teachers and doctors) holds the potential for greater good: that the small things we say and do ripple outward and make a difference. In my Business Ethics class we talked about bystander apathy, which I think we have all seen or experienced in one form or another. But I like to think there is always potential for the opposite effect as well … that when people see someone do good, they will be inspired to do good as well, elsewhere. I see my students make those choices every day and it eases my feeling of defeat.