Children's Brains, Media, and Nurture

By Melanie C. Gordon

Our brains shape and reshape themselves in ways that depend on what we use them for throughout our lives. Learning stories is an example of how experiences contribute to each person's unique pattern of brain development. The ability to connect with stories requires reciprocation that allows children to thrive in a way that supports their learning through experience and play. Their opportunity for these encounters happen when they engage fully with their senses of smell, touch, sight, hearing, and tasting, and with the God-given sense of wonder.

Fortunately, the church is a place that can facilitate healthy development of children by supporting parents, providing quality faith formation opportunities, and providing a space for children to feel loved and nurtured. Building relationships through communication and language as the brain develops deepens relationship. Talking to children and sharing our story is the most important thing that we can do to lay a strong foundation of faith for our children, and providing this opportunity to go deeper into the story is our responsibility as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Children in the formational stages of life are going to be formed, but it is up to us as to how that formation is going to happen. If a child is exposed to media fifty-six hours a week, this will most certainly have a bearing on the child's formation. In the baptismal covenant, we promise to "surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness… we are one in Christ Jesus." A community of love and forgiveness requires relationship that extends beyond texting and social networking. Children need our time, our touch, and our attention – the kind that is achieved "in person" – in order to develop spiritually and cognitively.

Reciprocation from the parents and caregivers encourages positive brain development, and the church can serve children by providing opportunities, resources, and experiences in a loving and nurturing environment, while supporting parents of young children in a media-driven world.

  • Children learn by observing our behavior, and it is important that adults make every effort to limit media use in favor of face-to-face communication with young children. When children see parents and caregivers model setting healthy boundaries, the opportunity to make their own healthy boundaries is enhanced.
  • Adults in the lives of children should make every effort to fully engage when communicating with children. Remember that media is a tool. Tools allow us to facilitate communication, but do not replace the human touch that children need to thrive. As we engage with children, we have the opportunity to share our faith stories using all of the senses and multiple intelligences. Relationships are built through these interactions, and the brain learns the meaning of love and trust.
  • Media is a rapidly changing industry; and it is imperative that the church, teachers, parents, and caregivers stay informed about the newest media developments. Because children are exposed to screen media so much earlier in life, they learn early how to maneuver around media. Because children's brains are able to process more information than adults' brains, children tend to understand more about how media works than the adults who are around them. This makes it even more important to stay informed about developments in media.
  • A child's community expands beyond the family to the church family and educational settings. These groups should find ways to work together to create safe environments for children to engage and learn.

Read more at Sharing Jesus Across the Generations.