Good news for parents: your child’s brain development is mostly a matter of environment. As with health in general, environment is a bigger factor than genetics. Genetics do count, but the expression of genetics is environment! You, as parents, have a lot of control over the environment of your children. Your mission: give a great environment to your kids.

A study from the Karolinska Institutet looked into approximately 5000 genetic factors, compared with environment, for 551 adolescents tested at age 14, and then again at age 19 to focus on how the area of the brain vital to math skills, reasoning, and memory increased. They determined that the environmental impact was 50% to 100% stronger than genetic components. The study could not find any cases where genetics explained observed cerebral changes; rather, environment was the clear factor.

What is your child’s environment?
As important as they are, your child’s environment is not just the nurture that you provide. Here are some elements of the childhood environment:

  • Diet
  • Boundaries (or lack thereof)
  • Training
  • Education
  • Friends and associations
  • Media

In other words, everything surrounding and being absorbed by your children is their environment. They are taking in not only food, but also ideas, emotions, values, and everything that surrounds them for 24 hours each day. Their brains are developing in reaction to that environment. If they are at home most of the time, that is their environment. If they are in daycare, school, or at a friend’s house, that is their environment. And they are taking it in.

All of these environmental elements deserve special attention — let’s look at highlights:

For some kids, the Standard American Diet starts off almost immediately. Instead of God’s provided food, some babies are given “formula” instead. Mother’s milk is designed to provide what babies need right from the start, and it even changes as the baby grows. God designed a perfect start in life. Substituting for this perfect food, or switching to solid food too soon, causes stress that can lead to allergies and poor health early on.

The Journal of Pediatrics studied the impact of various nutrients on infant brain formation and summarized with, “Nutrition plays an important role in brain development from conception to 3 years of age.” This is a critical time period, but the brain continues to develop throughout childhood. As children progress, their bodies, including their brains, are building — don’t build them on a bad foundation! They learn early to eat good food, or junk.

In many generations past, education was mostly given by the parents. They didn’t have institutions to take over that task. Formal education is now the norm, and it extends back into kindergarten and even daycare. Education is less individual and more by institutional group. Kids spend much of their time outside the home, and this is now part of their growing up environment.

With formal schooling, the state may be educating your children more than you through the most formative time. Since the environment influences brain development, if the school environment is poor, what is “education” doing to intelligence? The National Home Education Research Institute cites multiple studies showing home-schooled children typically score from 15 to 30 percentage points over those public-schooled on standardized academic achievement tests. The studies show these positive results regardless of the parents’ level of education. Environment is key.

Friends and associations
The saying, “You are the company you keep” implies that we are influenced by our friends. The brain is listening to everything around it, and that includes input from others. Like it or not, the brain is picking up good and bad from the environment.

If the adult brain is influenced by associations, how much more are children, who are in their most formative period? How much time is their brain receiving input, good or bad?

Remember the brain hears everything, and not just consciously. Take modern music they are hearing and just note the lyrics — what messages are pounding into developing brains? How about news media, which has as its first goal to increase ratings by getting you so emotionally involved, with or without truth, so that you come back for more? Movies input a tremendous amount of information as they intensify stories into a couple of hours, and even kid’s shows intentionally impart values which you may want to check out. Then there is the whole world that the cell phone opens up, often at a very young age these days. Media has become a huge part of the child’s environment.

Dr. Nemec’s Comments:
Environment controls which genes turn on and which genes turn off. Environment is the biggest factor that keeps one in health in mind, emotions and body; or makes one sick. The family environment is the most crucial environment there is. It develops or stunts the call each child has within. So which environment is shaping your child’s or teen’s brain and mind? How much time is spent in each environment? With the cell phone/pocket computer age many youths and adolescents are aligning to the environment that they receive from their phones. Children are a precious gift meant to be nurtured until they are strong enough to withstand the disguises and facades of the world.

The second wisest man who ever walked the earth also said, “Train up a child in the way he (or she) should go…” Training means to teach the child that he or she is a unique person, a special creation with gifts and traits that are quite individual. Parents are in the best position to support their child’s call — only when they do not impose upon them the parents’ call. But for this to happen there must be a “letting go” of self. Not my will but your will be done in my childrens’ lives.