Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Visit from JoAnn Deak


I attended a Parent Information Series at Eve's school last night and the speaker was
Dr. JoAnn Deak
. She is a psychologist who has done some amazing studies on the brains of adolescent girls and has written extensively on her findings. I discovered one of them a few years ago on my own, but was turned on to her most recent book by the headmaster at Eve's school, never knowing that JoAnn is actually on the advisory board at the school.

Monday, she spent the entire day with the teachers at the school, talking to them about how to recognize, validate, and work with the unique structure of the adolescent female brain. She then spent two and a half hours in the evening presenting her findings to parents and fielding questions of all types.

Some of the highlights:

The lubrication of nerve cells and brain cells is largely made up of water. When children are not drinking water or other fluids throughout the day on a regular basis, they are literally not thinking as well as they could be. It has been shown that even with 1-2 oz. of water every hour, children's brains perform far better than if they only drink during lunch breaks.

Between the ages of 10 and 20, the emotion center (the amygdala) of a child's brain is literally swollen. The information they receive through their senses travels first to the amygdala and then through the logic/thought processing portion of their brains.

The brains of girls are designed to choose flight over fight, theoretically because of their role in caretaking of the young of the species. It is our job to help build their self-esteem by encouraging them to take risks despite their fears in order to prove to themselves that they are capable. They no longer need to run from saber-toothed tigers to protect their young. They can choose to take on difficult tasks without risk of dying.

While testosterone is the prevalent hormone in male adolescent brains, oxytocin (the tend and befriend hormone) is most prevalent in girls. Want to spur them to action? Threaten something they care about. They are more likely to protect a pet or a loved one than stand up for themselves.

Self-esteem is affected by actions. The more girls do, the more capable they feel, and the better they feel about themselves. Girls tend to do more with their fathers and talk more with their mothers. Fathers have the single biggest affect on an adolescent girl's self esteem when compared to anyone else in her life. Make one snarky comment about her weight and you're setting her up for an eating disorder. ONLY ONE REMARK. Spend more time with her just hanging out or building something and she will feel capable and loved.

Girls have two language centers in their brains and boys only have one.

If a girl is not making eye contact with you, she is not processing what you are saying.

If a boy is making eye contact with you, he is not processing what you are saying. He is probably obsessing about that mole on the side of your nose.

Information intake and information processing cannot take place simultaneously in the brain. Talk for a bit and then ask your child a question about the content (even if you have to pretend to lose your train of thought and say, "where was I?"). This switches the activity from the intake to the processing portion and they are more likely to retain and assimilate the information.

For more, check out Dr. Deak's books. She is a lively speaker and a brilliant researcher.

4 comments:

Carrie Link said...

I totally agree that one snarky comment by a parent (but I think either parent) about weight can set up an eating disorder. Interesting info.! Thanks for sharing!

Deb Shucka said...

Wow, what a lot of great information. Dr. Deak sounds amazing. So glad you had the chance to experience her first hand. And that Eve gets to be in this exact place.

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Kathryn Grace said...

Wonderful information. I will remember this as my grand daughters grow. Already the five year old has lengthy conversations with us, so good to keep this in our minds during our exchanges. You provide such a wealth of information, in addition to soul nurturing.

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