Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Book Review: "Ghosts From the Nursery"

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Book Review: "Ghosts From the Nursery"

Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny

If there is one book that could potentially change the direction of public policy regarding children’s issues, this could be it. The authors delve into recent research into brain development. They presents their findings in a clear, understandable form, which alone is one reason that makes this is a most useful book. This research is then associated with what this means to our society. A case study, regarding a 16 year old boy who murdered an 84 year old man, weaves its way through the book so readers can relate the data to a real person. The implications for public policy are potentially enormous.

This book examines what recent studies using PET and MRI scans and other methods allows us to better understand the human brain. Most of the crucial brain development occurs before a child reaches 3 years old. During these years, the human brain seems programmed to adapt to its environment. A lack of frontal lobe activity, which can be stimulated by parental involvement, can lead to lifelong depressed behavior. What a baby is exposed to, or not exposed to, determines how the brain forms and is apt to operate for the rest of life.
A child who does not find empathy by the age of three is likely to have difficulty showing empathy towards others. A person without consideration for others has a much greater tendency to drift towards anti-social behavior such as violent crime. A baby growing up in a withdrawn or hostile environment may begin life at a significant disadvantage.

Studies into violent behavior indicate a combination of factors, and not any one particular reason, serve as indicators of potential for such behavior. Genetic deficits are a potential indicator. Studies show that a pregnant mother’s use of alcohol and / or drugs can lead to genetic defects. Even after birth, a child’s DNA can be altered by exposure to great intense stress.

Lead exposure can create permanent brain damage. This can weaken the ability to learn and to control impulsive behavior. One study correlates lead exposure as the best predictor of school disciplinary problems.

These medical studies present serious policy questions. According to T. Berry Brazelton, the United States has become the industrialized nation that focuses the least on its children and families. Single teenage parent births have become much more common over the last 20 years and we are now into a second generation of such more common family situations. John DiIulio argues that increased numbers of children are being raised without proper guidance due to working parents or missing parents or stressed parents. More children have failed to accept social values. Violent juvenile crime has quadrupled over the last 25 years. Internalized violence has increased as well, as noted that the suicide rate of children age 10 to 14 has tripled over the past decade. One study notes that nearly all children who commit murder emerged from a chaotic or abusive family. (Note: This book was published in 1997, so dates should be referenced from then.)

The policy debate this creates will be enormous. "Liberals" may call for taking steps to see that baby brains are properly stimulated during the critical formative years. Outreach programs to pregnant women and families with babies should provide information on good parenting techniques. There should be high quality child care with programs that stimulate babies’ brain developments. Early education opportunities should reach the pre-school age. "Conservatives" may call for getting families to focus more of their energies on the children.

This is a fascinating book. It is one of the first books in this field aimed at the general public rather than professionals. Anyone interested in children should learn much from this book.


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