Have you seen the very funny scene in Rush Hour 3 with Chris Tucker in the martial arts school talking to the master, whose name for comedic effect is Yu? (If you haven’t, click on the link www.youtube.com/watch?v=OAVnOz7i-JA, it is worth it). It is a typical example of miscommunication, which in this instance can provoke the audience to laugh, but the participants in the conversation are not. Miscommunication is a major cause of many arguments, and we have all experienced it, most of us every single day. It starts from the moment we have will, desires and needs that have to be met. A baby cries out of frustration many times because it cannot have what it wants and neither can it communicate it. Eventually crying will be the baby’s communication pathway and the parent has to make an educated guess, at best as to what the baby is after.
Why is miscommunication so prominent in our lives? Is it the communicator, the listener or the medium? And by medium we mean all the possible ways of communicating. Verbally, from the language we use through to the words we use, from the tone of voice to the quality of the voice and diction. Through our body language, by the way we present ourselves, the position of our hands, where our eyes are looking. Even our facials expressions down to the eyes that “never lie” are paramount to communicating our message.
So the words we use, our body language, and facial expressions are all systems of transferring information. Often they convey messages irrelevant to the actual words we are using, but relevant to the context of what we are attempting to communicate. Often, we are unaware of all the cues that we give out, and we can give out mixed signals. Often, the listener is not paying enough attention to pick up all these cues. And often enough, like in the movie extract mentioned earlier, everything goes awry.
Unfortunately, there are many more things to go wrong and the analysis we portrayed was overly simplistic. There is no mention of emotions, and no mention of cultural differences, or even the setting of where the communication is taking place. More importantly, there has been no mention of the difference seen in different age groups, stages of development, and relationships, like those between a parent and their child. However, this very rudimentary analysis does highlight the issue of how many things can go wrong.
It is a real wonder how we tend to generalise things. It is a vital skill and one that has benefited human kind since, well, forever. By generalising we are able to condense a huge amount of information into manageable chunks, something that we can get our head around, a little bit easier. And this is beautifully illustrated by what our eyes take in and what we perceive. It has been estimated that each frame that the eye sees is equivalent to 1.6 gb of information. For those who watch movies online, a movie lasting around 90min with good quality audio and visual is around 1gb. That is less than the eye captures in one frame, in less than a second, a lot let than a second. So our brains had to find a way to condense, organise, ignore and try to make sense of all the information we receive. The same applies in pretty much all aspects of life. And so do we generalise about the diets of our children, pretending that they can eat what the adults are eating, maybe just change the portion sizes.
However, this approach is erroneous, and our children are worth the effort of finding out how to get it right. For example, a fully grown male that is involved in very intense weight lifting and is trying to add as much muscle as he can to his body, is only able to process approximately 2g of protein per kilogram of body mass. In simple terms, an 80kg bodybuilder can effectively use, at most, 160g of protein in a day. The average male adult who is not involved in any muscle building activities is recommended to take about 0.8 g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. If we consider the token 75kg average male, that would equate to 60g of protein a day. A male child aged around 13-15 years will require about 45-60g of protein per day, or around 0.7-1g per kilogram of body mass. This though is not true for children who are going through a growth spurt. They require up to 2g of protein per kilogram of body mass, equivalent to what the fully grown male bodybuilder requires. Can we afford to not provide our child with the necessary amount of protein? That effectively would mean that we are not aiding our child to fulfill his potential, and no parent would want that.
As parents, guardians, coaches, and minders, we aspire to prepare our kids as best as possible for the challenges of adulthood, just like our parents did with us, and their parents with them. The human race’s and the animal kingdom’s survival depends on the passing on of knowledge to the next generations. So we learn from each other’s experiences, failures and successes as if they were ours. It is essential that we learn from each other’s experiences as much as ours, as everything and everyone around us is our teacher. Benjamin Franklin has been quoted to have said that “Wise men learn from others’ harm, fools scarcely by their own”. And we see that humanity has been continuously applying the principle of learning from others, for example, children listen to their parents, pupils listen to their teachers, and athletes listen to their coaches.
But before we even discuss where the child learns from, we might need to answer the following question first, “When does a child start learning?”. This would give us a better perspective of what the child is learning as it grows older, the parameters the child will set, what is acceptable, what is tolerable and what is enjoyable. All these are linked to early childhood, possibly even to the fetal stages of development, as recent research demonstrates.
Then we can attempt to categorise where children’s influences come from, we can determine that family, friends, school, and other extracurricular environments are all influential. Questions that arise include: What are the primary and secondary lessons a child gets out of each situation? Or alternatively, what are the obvious and not so obvious teachings of a child? Are there any specific situations that influence the child more than the other? If yes, is this a ubiquitous phenomenon or does it apply to specific knowledge acquisition? Very complicated questions arise, with even more complicated answers. There are more and less obvious explanations and influences, there are things we know, things we are still learning, and things that we will eventually learn. For example, it is common knowledge that doing sport may help the child develop into a healthy individual and that it is a great way to regulate body mass. It is also well accepted that the child can benefit psychologically and sociologically. It is also transpiring that being an active child, either by doing sports or some form of performing art, such as playing musical instruments has an effect on the way the brain develops.
The Adolescent Brain
Teenagers! Who understands them? We have all been there, yet it is so difficult for us to understand the younger generation. Is it the way they talk or communicate? Can it be the new fashions and trends? Is it just that the generation gap is too big?
It is a movie cliché listening to the child saying that they do not want to be like their parents in some respect or other and that they want to become a cool parent. However, when the child becomes the parent, history is repeated. Being responsible for your child may overcome your initial plan of being a “cool” parent and of course that is expected of you. But why don’t we “get” the younger generations? After all, we were where they are.
As we all know, kids don’t come with an instruction manual. But if they did, a new version will be coming out as soon as we get to grips with the previous version. Such is the pace of the changes and upgrades that an adolescent has. This can be clearly seen by changes in their shoes and clothes, one moment they are size 6 and 3 weeks later they are size 7.
Science was naïve enough to assume that the rapid body development did not apply to the structures in the brain, advocating that the brain is fully developed from a young age. Thankfully only until recently, as advances in brain imaging techniques have given us a lot of interesting new information that can help explain the changes in the behaviour of adolescents. It started to emerge that the adolescent brain was a “Work in progress”. That is not to say that all the areas of the brain are under development, indeed, it is believed that 95% of the brain is fully developed by the age of 6. For example, the areas that mediate spatial, sensory, auditory and language functions appeared largely mature in the teen brain. Only some regions are not fully developed but possibly more importantly, the connections between areas may not be fully formed.
So the new observations may offer explanations of why adolescents are underperforming compared to adults in certain mental skills such as planning, self-organisational and some lack in ability to control their actions due to their impulsive nature. Encouragingly though, the evidence amassed has showed that some mental skills of mid adolescent individuals, such as working memory, and verbal fluency, are equivalent to those of adults.
Coaching Parents would like to make this knowledge accessible to parents, coaches and all individuals responsible for the development of children. Our objective is to provide the sometimes perplexing scientific information into easily digestible sound bites, and also to provide ways in which the parents can use this information to guide their offspring to a successful adulthood.