Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Parent Brain -- Do Kids Make Us Better Geeks?

A recent early morning walk through the Wall Street Journal led me to an article, "This is Your Brain on Motherhood," by Katherine Ellison, author of a book called The Mommy Brain: How Motherhood Makes You Smarter.

Now I rarely write here on personal topics, but this one caught my eye. As the mother of a 15-year-old, I've been a little concerned to see the recent portrayals of moms just barely clinging to reason. See a recent Newsweek, Mommy Madness, and there is apparently a new reality talk show called Moms Gone Mad. (I think I'll pass.)

Ellison's premise - such a relief - is that while we may be just a tad stressed out, parenting is keeping our brain cells tuned:

This is, in fact, what some leading brain scientists, like Michael Merzenich at the University of California, San Francisco, now believe. Becoming a parent, they say, can power up the mind with uniquely motivated learning. Having a baby is "a revolution for the brain," Dr. Merzenich says.

The human brain, we now know, creates cells throughout life, cells more likely to survive if they're used. Emotional, challenging and novel experiences provide particularly helpful use of these new neurons, and what adjectives better describe raising a child? <...>

And there are other ways that being a dedicated parent strengthens our minds. Research shows that learning and memory skills can be improved by bearing and nurturing offspring. A team of neuroscientists in Virginia found that mother lab rats, just like working mothers, demonstrably excel at time-management and efficiency, racing around mazes to find rewards and get back to the pups in record time.

(Some days I feel like that lab rat.)

An aspect that Ellison's article fails to examine is the correlation between parenting and tech savvy. Kids are inherently early adopters, and I'm convinced that having a child has helped me stay au courant. I confess that my Palm Pilot is my son's hand-me-down. (He had to upgrade to the color interface, of course.) He introduced me to instant messaging, which has proven an invaluable medium for quick queries to clients. (Of course, he's now got me blocked; having Mom on your buddy list is not cool.) He's also introduced me to the low-cost joys of text messaging - save those Verizon minutes! And would I have iTunes on my PC, if I didn't have a teen? Methinks not.

Of course, I did get to gloat that I'd used Skype before he had even downloaded it. That was a great day.

While he accepts my use of current technology, I've learned that I can't get away adopting his language. After recently trying to weave "off the heezy" into a sentence, I asked, "Whassa matter? You don't think I can pull that off?"

His reply: "You're a middle aged Mom. No, you can't pull that off."



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