Humans are the slowest to mature
Parents have the hardest jobs on the planet. They are responsible for the humans they bring into this world so that children mature and take charge of their own lives and make something out of them. And complicating their job is the fact that humans are scientifically known to be the slowest to mature relative to other creatures. This means that parents have their job cut out for them.
You have matured when you have reached a point where you do not act only based on your initial feelings. No mature person just blurts out what initially comes to their heads. Maturity is a desirable state that enables humans to deal with situations with a range of emotions other than just purely fear, anger, sadness, happiness, disgust or surprise. It also means you can calibrate these emotions so that you can deal with situations more productively other than just blowing your head or someone’s head off or release a shotgun fire series of curses that make you feel that it was an achievement.
An article from Nim Tottenham, a neuroscientist who studies emotional development laid out the long rocky road of human emotional development and it had deep implications as to how we look at children and how we as adults have more to be accountable for, as we help children to mature. It also made me less optimistic about immature adults.
Compared to other creatures, our childhood is prolonged and our teenage behavior seems to stay even longer with humans. This is seen in our behavior but neuroscientists have also seen this reflected in the structures and connectivity of certain brain areas.
The prefrontal cortex is generally the “university” area where we get training and diplomas for emotional courses. The prefrontal cortex houses “colleges” like the mPFC (medial prefrontal cortex), the amygdala, the hippocampus and the basal ganglia - that play major roles in emotional development. But sharing the center stage for emotional maturity are two areas: the mPFC and the amygdala. The amygdala is the college which contains the hydrant of emotions while the mPFC is the college which has all the ways and means to deal with emotions including suppression, nuancing and language.
The minute we are born, we become truly fair game to the world – its gifts and hazards. And because we are not born mature and that we take our sweet time to do so, there are “windows” in our lives where we can be pounded on by what the world and other people do to us, that will determine the adults we become. This is not just a philosophical statement but a conclusion based on what the research has yielded so far about brain scans of children and adults. The “colleges” of the mPFC and the amygdala hold the major cross-courses that shape the mature adult we will become.
Brain scans of adults show that increased activity in the mPFC shows decreased activity in the amygdala. Simply put, this means that if you are an adult, the more you think and reflect on how you feel, the more your inner emotional hydrant does not go off in proportions that cause a mess in your own life and other people’s lives. However, in children, this is not the case. The activity in the mPFC could not yet, by itself, plug the uncontrollable leaks of your inner hydrant when you are a child. This is because the mPFC is not yet structurally developed and also because there are not enough connections yet between the mPFC and the amygdala.
Included in the article is a revelatory image showing the differences in the density of connections in the prefrontal cortex at birth, 6 years old and 14 years old. We grow over one million neural connections per second at these stages. Even if you don’t care to look at scientific images of the brain, all you have to know is that each of those connections represent a path to expand the way you can look and respond to a situation and you will know that children still need a lot of inner work.
So how can these connections be forged when the brain parts are not yet connected? Adults help to forge these connections from the outside. They do this by constant guidance and more importantly as examples because children watch adults. It becomes a tricky complex game between when to protect, mediate and let go but this is the role that adults have and there are no substitutes for it. Adults, not technology, are still the main shapers of children.
This is another scientific reason why charging children as adults Is not the mature thing to do. Maturity enables us to widen the range of our perception and problem-solving as facts require us to do so. And presumably, mature adults are the ones legislating and enforcing this. Children, by their very nature, are not yet equipped structurally and functionally in their brains to regulate their own emotions so, unguided and unsupervised, they will act based on raw and pure feelings of fear, sadness, disgust, happiness and surprise.
When I was a child, the most fascinating thing for me was adults. I always wondered why they had so much power over children. I would always sneak in to eavesdrop on adult conversations until my parents would catch me and send me to my room. I really thought they had meetings where they planned how to dispense their superpowers over us children. At some point, my parents decided they were going to train us to face our feelings. When we had an “event” during the day, our parents would let all of us sit in a circle with the and go over that “event” and ask us how we felt and explain to us why they had to act the way they did. They did this until before we were tweens. We 3 siblings think that however we are now as adults came from that and we always still thank our parents for that. We learned how to communicate with each other, with our parents, more importantly, with our own inner fire-hydrant selves. – Rappler.com