Monday, February 26, 2007

Time: A Marker for Change Part 2

OK… I was not dodging the first part of the last question (even though it may resonate with my life and I would probably feel better dodging it). “My child always did well in elementary school… but since about 5th or 6th grade, his performance has really deteriorated… he is disorganized, does everything at the last minute, makes repeated careless mistakes. I’ve been told that a lot of kids have difficulties at that age due to the transition into middle school along with the hormones kicking in. Is this just a maturity thing? Will it just get better with time?”

The first part… “is this just a maturity thing?”. The answer is most likely “yes”, “no” or “yes and no” (which philosophically-speaking should cover all states of the universe). Helpful? Let me expand. The collection of “coaching” functions including organization, planning, utilization of feedback to adapt responses (along with assumption of an “observer role” to perceive the world through the eyes of others, internalization of social rules and inhibition of lower level emotions), has been related to the frontal lobe. Studies indicate that this frontal lobe or “social” part of each of us shows a trend for progressive development or maturation throughout childhood. Existing social institutions (ala Erik Erikson) have evolved to mirror this maturation process. During the first few years of life, the frontal lobes play a very limited role…ergo the egocentric (“terrible”) under-socialized two year-old tramples social rules in service of self. At about age 3-4, children complete toilet training. Completion of toilet training reflects initiation of frontal lobe processing (and inhibition of lower level behaviors). At about 5-6 years of age, children start kindergarten. Initiation of formal schooling parallels a phase of rapid growth or maturation of the frontal lobes. At about age 12 years, children begin to change classes in school and manage social interactions independently. This time frame corresponds to a phase when the frontal lobe development has progressed beyond 50% development. This frontal lobe development also corresponds with reduced parental input (as the “external hard drive frontal lobes”). At about age 16 years, we (and other drivers) hope that the frontal lobe development has developed to at least about 85% to sustain executive driving skills and by age 21 years of age, frontal lobe processing should approximate the adult level or about 100%.

Children at age 12-13 years show very dramatic differences in rate of growth secondary to hormonally-drive growth spurts. As a result, children in this age range often show dramatic variations in the extent to which the frontal lobes are maturing. Children who are later maturing (with respect to the frontal lobes) often present with features of disorganization (ie., desk, backpack, outlines for writing, study notes, etc.), poor planning (ie., spur of the moment), failure to use feedback to adapt (ie., repeatedly make same mistakes), poor observer functions (ie., difficulties understanding how others may see the world, difficulties with peers, etc.) and limited control of basic emotions with resulting dramatic mood swings, irritability, acting out and rule violations. While “maturity” or growth results in changes, it is the quality of the environment (ie., parenting) that channels the growth into effective processing. Therefore, while maturity may result in positive changes, the positive changes are not a given unless the parents are able to establish and develop a good “frontal” lobe environment that includes: (a) high levels of organization (ie., desk, backpack, room, etc.), (b) high levels of planning (ie., schedule, daily planner, daily study times, etc.) and (c) consistent and predictable feedback (ie., require child to correct tests, study after tests to learn areas of weakness, well-defined rules and consequences, consistent and predictable consequences, etc.). Stability during this stage of instability is critical to positive growth.

No comments: