Teaching Kids (and Adults) About How Their Own Brains Work

I've always thought we should be teaching kids more about how their own brains/minds work. It has never made sense to me to teach kids about so many things in life, and how they work, and even how to use that knowledge to their advantage, and not teach them about the very thing that plays such a big role in their day to day life, how it works, and to use this knowledge to their advantage as well. 

The best part is that we can use their prior knowledge about computers to help do so. So many functions and operations of the human brain are analogous, if not identical to those in a computer, and other electronic devices or equipment they are already familiar with. 

For example, I've always used the metaphor of a filing cabinet to explain why anxiety can impair their performance on a test. Being anxious about getting answers on a test is like rushing through files in a filing cabinet looking for something. In your haste, it's easy to go right past what you're looking for, only to realize it was right in front of you all the time. It's not uncommon for kids to "get" an answer after a test when they've calmed down. 

I think it's vital that we also teach them a formula for how feelings really come about: EVENT + THOUGHTS = FEELING. Most kids, and adults wrongly believe that the EVENTS of their lives actually cause them to feel the way they do. This needlessly puts them at the seeming mercy of such events and other people, and makes it more likely they will feel worse than they want to, than is helpful or necessary. 

I also teach kids about "ruts". That everything we think, feel, say and do is ultimately the product of connections we make between neurons or nerve cells in our brains. And that if we use one repeatedly, it's like them walking across a lawn or field the same way day after day. A well-worn, obvious path, or even rut will develop. They are more likely to use either a "rut" in their brain, or a real path because of this. "Ruts" make thoughts, feelings and actions automatic. They can be good or bad things to have (i.e. a good golf swing vs. using the f-bomb when angry) Ruts are why people recreate their pasts, and their histories become their destinies. That can be good or bad as well. 

Once we create "ruts", we can't get rid of them. We can only make new ones and hope they'll compete for use with old ones. 

To change, we have to first make a new connection, or pathway to think, feel, say or do something differently. Then use it repeatedly until it becomes a rut. But we can always slip into old "ruts" at any time, and most people do. 

I even included a discussion of the brain in sex education. Most young people wrongly place an overemphasis on the “HOW” of having sex. In young males, this is often encouraged because they indulge in pornography. I often jokingly pose the question “What is the biggest or most important sex organ in the body?” in an effort to dispute such a belief. You can imagine what young guys are quick to say. But the answer is really the brain. Everyone knows there are sex organs that have nerve endings that pick up sensations, but the brain still has to decide whether that’s a good or bad thing. Someone could do the same exact “move” on a stranger and get a much different reaction than they would if they did it on a loved one. 

This goes to that idea that eyes don’t see the brain does. Ears don’t hear, the brain does. Eyes and ears are the equivalent of video cameras and microphone. But you have to have a monitor or recording device to see what the camera or microphone picks up. The optic and auditory nerves are like the cables that run from cameras and mics to a monitor or recording device. 

Really, when you think about it, all our electronic devices are really mimics of our PNS and CNS. We could tap kids prior knowledge of such devices to help them understand the brain better.