There are many things in the world over which we have no power and no control. Time and age are just two of those many things. We cannot stop time and life must continue. Yet, we have this wish and deep desire to avoid the inevitable, which is old age. The ideal age we desire is youth – a youthful age. The reason for this is obvious. The brain’s needs are met during these years: new knowledge, new challenges and most of all a healthy supply of blood flowing into the brain. Physical exercises ensure that a healthy supply of blood flows into the brain. This is what keeps the brain healthy and active.
A healthy supply of nutrients is another must that the brain needs. The brain consumes 25-30% of the energy or “fuel” created from the food that we eat, says Susan Archibald Marcus, the author of The Hungry Brain, (CORWIN PRESS, 2007, USA). Marcus argues that the “brain requires just the right amount of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, water and blood sugar flowing through it moment by moment to function optimally. If the amount of one of these nutrients drops, so does optimal brain functioning,” and I agree. “You are what you eat”, as the cliché goes. Her book is quite informative on both subjects, the food and the brain, and is appropriately titled, The Hungry Brain. I publish below some text from the book where Susan Marcus explains the hungry brain:
The youth is a time of new experiences. It is a time when we begin to recognise our place in this world. It is a time of learning and building our future. The skills we acquire during this critical period play a significant role throughout our life. The experiences and information we gain is stored in our memory. We memorize how we dealt with a given situation and later reapply the solution whenever a similar situation arises again. Even though each new occasion may provide a new opportunity for trying a different solution, we are inclined to choose a solution, which has been successfully tried in the past. We seek to make sense of our present and future by looking into our past, usually through knowledge gained during the youthful age.
I do believe in fate and fate does bring opportunities for changes, but we largely choose our own future. In fact, we design our future. The choices and decisions we make influence our future – so we can say we choose our future. Our life is in our own hands, and we can choose to live it, as we please. Is this statement accurate? Are all age groups given this liberty to choose? Well, no, of course not! For some strange reasons we feel that the youths’ brainpower must be caged. we are well aware that “Adolescence appears to be a critical period in brain growth, development, and learning – particularly in areas of emotional control, advanced motor skills, reasoning ability, and higher cognitive functioning,” as argued by Barry Corbin, the author of Unleashing the Potential of the Teenage Brain, 10 Powerful Ideas (CORWIN PRESS, 2008, USA).
But we remain adamant that the youths’ brainpower must be harnessed and caged. We do this because our own brainpower is caged. Therefore, we demand that the youth bow down to conformity and dogma. We disallow emancipation of the mind, because we never experienced it. Since we never experienced it, we have no concept of it. We have no idea of the benefit or cost of it, but we fear the unknown, and are willing to go to any length to prevent it from happening, at any cost. We find any change threatening to our well-being, and to our world. This is because we lack power to change, so we fear change. Instead of challenging ourselves, we discourage others from bringing a challenge.
We become the guardians of dogma and conformity, we try to uphold the status quo at any cost – and the cost is heavy. It is heavy for the youths, whether they are introverted or extroverted. The extroverts tend to rebel when pushed against their wishes, but still suffer the consequences. We try to put down any rebellion and break the will of the youth, in the belief that status quo is the only solution and therefore must be protected at any cost. Not realizing the damage caused to the brain, “many teenagers appear to be motivationally impaired,” admits Corbin. In my view, the damage is much more extensive, for most youths the consequence is they tend to lose their sense of instinct.
Depriving the youthful brain of self-direction is no different than locking up the brain in a cage. Most affected adults go about later in life with no sense of awareness and not knowing what exactly they want from life. They appear lost and clueless. The damage to their brainpower is apparent when talking to them. Their sense of instinct is nowhere to be seen. Yet, everyone wonders what is wrong with them. It is like plucking the eagle’s feathers and then scratching the head wondering why the eagle is unable to fly. I am not surprised when Corbin refers to the youthful age as a “critical period in the development of the brain (i.e., the teen years) as a use-it-or-lose-it time.”
The loss of sense of instinct combined with the lack of self-direction makes the person become unconscious, lost, and with feelings of failure that overwhelms the psyche. What we often do not realise is that over a long period of time the perception of failure, our sense of failure, becomes a disease and starts damaging the psyche. It is such a destructive disease, which given the chance can destroy much of the individual’s life if not the whole life, leaving a big vacuum. Nevertheless, the brain is resilient, extremely resilient, and can recover from almost any ordeal given the right opportunities and help. The youth no doubt need guidance but there is a clear difference between guiding them and disallowing self-direction. It is only by allowing self-direction that we can unleash the potential of the youths’ brainpower.
There are lots of pressures on the youthful brain, and no doubt the “teenage brain is undergoing tremendous changes during adolescence and .... the teenage years may be one of the most vital times for brain development,” and I agree with Corbin. But life is life, and life is about making choices. We choose what lessons we wish to learn in life. We choose whether we want to unleash the potential of the brain or whether we want to cage it. And also we choose what we wish to feed our brain.