When I think about it, I feel both surprised and lucky that I’m still alive today. A lot of the kids I grew up with in the Projects, and about half my graduate school classmates are no longer embodied on this planet. My premature ending could have come from any number of Darwinian Award exploits: from drinking the rat-infested “home brew” that I concocted with a high school moonshiner-wannabe friend; from three motorcycle accidents; from riding shotgun with several teen drunk driver buddies; to being unexpectedly confronted by a half dozen New Haven police officers – with guns drawn – intent on apprehending me, the mighty squirrel-hunter with a .22 rifle in West Rock park. Most of those “near-death” experiences were the result of simply not having adequate or effective adult supervision. So, that’s one tasty way to kill off your kids early: fail to supervise them.
Fatten Kids Up
Another way to insure kids die young is to over-feed them fat food. Fat turns out to be the perfect hideout for inflammation-causing cells, a kind of greasy gatepost from which to launch insulin resistance attacks on unsuspecting, otherwise healthy bodies. How does inflammation shorten a life? Besides promoting insulin resistance and diabetes, according to Len Harrison, an Australian scientist, heart disease resulting from hardening of the arteries and liver problems additionally results from the inflammation that occurs in fat tissue. A truly tasty way to kill your kids off early.
Fail to Teach Kids to Flirt
The brain develops best, and optimizes oxytocin, in the company of others. It works wonderfully well as a “social organ.” Research shows that having lots of friends – making authentic social-emotional connections with people rather than Playstations – improves mental functioning. Improved mental function makes kids better able to navigate the real world. Teaching kids how to flirt helps facilitate those navigation skills. Failing to teach such skills inhibits kids’ social neural development. The result: people make them unnecessarily anxious. According to Jeffrey Hall, a communications professor at the University of Kansas, there are five kinds of flirting styles that we can neglect to teach our kids: physical, traditional, polite, sincere and playful. You can take a test of your own flirting skill here: Flirting Test. If you fail it, there’s a good chance your kids will, too.
Nourish Kids Poorly
Good nutrition regulates the messenger amino acid arginine. Arginine signals the body that it is under attack by infection. Unregulated, arginine proliferates, constantly crying wolf, and produces chronic inflammation. Mal-nourishment produces the same problems with inflammation that “over-nourishment” does: diabetes and heart and liver disease – all recommended for a shortened life span.
Scream At Kids
Don’t Optimize Kids’ Brain Growth Early
We know that certain windows of brain development, such as language, facial recognition, vision and motor skills are maximally open for brief periods early on. How the brain unfolds shortly after conception, through the first three years is critical. Besides those developmental windows above, my guess is there are windows we simply haven’t discovered yet that profoundly affect development of many of the multiple intelligences. Fail to provide kids with a solid early foundation and you can pretty much guarantee that they will join the ranks of the short-lived.
Encourage Spacing Out
From cool, creative recent research by Dan Gilbert and Matt Killingsworth at Harvard using TrackYourHappiness.org, we know that most people already space out during 47% of their waking day. “A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind,” the researchers write. “The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.” If parents can increase their kids’ spacing out by just a few unhappy percentage points, odds are they will significantly decrease their life span!
Ignore Kids’ Depression and Stress
Stress tends to narrow one’s focus. Under stress we miss a lot, as parents and as people – both the big picture and the details whiffling right under our nose. Stressed parents often fail to notice when their kids are under stress until some sort of “accident” or acting-out behavior grabs their attention. By then it’s often too late. Fail to recognize and effectively manage our kids’ and our own stress and there’s a high probability your kids will be making great strides in joining the ranks of the good who die young.
Fail to Model Growth and Learning Yourself
And now for the bonus, as we once again under-promise and over-deliver … Kids don’t really learn all that much from what parents tell them. What they do learn a lot from is what parents show them. What are you showing your kids? Are you showing them how reading to them and with them, insures they hear at least 11 million words a year? The famous Hart and Risley, Meaningful Differences research shows hearing that many words appears to grow the brain in professional families more than three times the rate it does in non-professional families. A three to one return seems like a tasty, odds-beating investment, insuring that our kids might actually not die young.
Ahh! Appreciating investments. That’s a column for when we’re pretty sure our kids will be around long enough to benefit from them …