From my Catholic Weekly column last week.
We have a three-year old boy and so every day my husband and I are reminded that three year olds are the sweetest, funniest, craziest, and most loving human beings in the whole world.
Isaac makes the most of being the baby of the family, but he often comes out with sage little phrases and looks. It’s hard to keep a straight face as he intones with a slow nod, ‘I see’, or ‘Yes, you are correct’.
Our five year old is making new friends and is learning to read. Every afternoon in the after-school pick-up line he’s bursting with news about what he’s learnt or what little prize the teacher has given him.
His excitement is so infectious that no one protested when he made us listen to him make his way through his first reader, A Cat (and a rat and a bat on a mat etc.) five times in a row one afternoon.
The eight year old’s world is all about his new school, playing with Lego, pranking his family members, and long weekend walks with me.
We sometimes catch him reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or one of his Golden Book Encyclopaedias after bedtime with a torch. All of our boys and girls look forward to their weekly X-Box game playing session.
We know that these relatively idyllic years will pass quickly and we’ll need to be prepared for the more challenging ones we see our friends with older children go through.
We were reminded of this when we attended a talk for parents at the school that our eldest son goes to.
It was on the impact on growing brains of different harmful environmental influences such as alcohol, drug, and pornography use, and high impact sports.
Dr Robin Choong, a paediatric ICU doctor, showed several images of scans of healthy brains versus the brains of people who had been affected by these environmental factors.
Every year parents can help to delay their children’s exposure to these factors is a huge boon, he said. The ages 15-17 are when the bulk of risky behaviours occur that compromise good brain development. But our brains aren’t completely developed until around the age of 20-25.
Teenage alcohol consumption is a huge problem because it’s so common and causes permanent cell damage in the growing brain at fairly low doses.
It was hard not to feel despairing when he spoke on pornography, which so many children (boys and girls) are viewing from as young as 11 years of age.
It’s been an accepted part of our culture (at least tacitly) for a long time before the Internet, but its impact is much more severe, and on much younger people, since the advent of live streaming Internet.
Dr Choong explained how people can become chemically addicted to pornography, and that it has become the most potent drug humanity has ever seen. That’s because it’s highly addictive, unlimited in supply, easy to access with any digital device (or a friend’s or classmate’s), and free to use.
All the traditional barriers to access to drugs don’t apply to pornography. But its effect on the brain (not to mention relationships and mental health) is arguably as dangerous any other drug.
The structural damage done to a pornography addict’s brain is shocking. The brain scan we saw showed that this particular pornography addict’s brain was so badly cratered that it was half gone. We were told that the damage is comparable to that done by a cocaine habit.
No wonder the state of Utah in the US recently declared pornography to be a public health hazard.
It was a little jarring, but wonderful, to come home from that talk and return to the sweet, little-boy and pre-teen girl world we have at home right now.
It is a shame that we have to navigate these waters with our children so much sooner than our parents did with us (if they had to at all).
It’s a shame, but it’s our reality, and we’ve been promised by Jesus that he will be with us always. We can plan, and proceed, and hope in that promise for our sake and our children’s.
Neuroscience is a great help but will never be able to explain the way in which each of is a body, mind, and soul and how these three things are somehow one, and a person. It’s a mystery which reflects God’s three-in-oneness.
We don’t know exactly how much of the way our children’s brains soak up information is due to ‘nature’ versus ‘nurture’. We won’t know how much of what they will experience in their lives will be due to the sheer grace of God either.
But we will do our best to make sure we get them to womanhood and manhood as healthy in every way as possible. At least we know that as their parents we’re well-placed to be powerful intercessors in prayer for them as they grow up!