Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Future Project - iMind: Our evolving mind

Last night I went to The Kings School for their forum on Our Evolving Mind. It was part of a series of forums and presentations for The Future Project which is a collaboration between Kings and Macquarie University and the winner of NAB Schools First grant for Seed Funding in 2012

Professor Ian Hickie Executive Director of the Brain and Mind Research Institute and Associate Professor Jane Burns from the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre spoke about the adolescent brain and the impacts of technology and social media on the brain. 

The introduction asked one main question, is the teenage attraction to social media, alcohol and sleep deprivation bad for the brain?

The night was split into a section for presentation and then Q and A. Professor Hickie was first. He outlined the new thinking of neuroplasticity that shows that the brain is able to grow and change and learn throughout our lives. However he points out that the majority of connections are made in childhood. As a constant learner I was slightly upset to hear this (slightly obvious) news because I think I don't have enough time left to learn everything I want to learn and I wish I had some wasted adolescence left.
He then showed data on the tops 20 mental health issues for teens, both girls and boys and of these three categories are very highly represented. They are anxiety (number 1 for girls), psychotic disorders (higher for boys) and substance abuse.

I loved that Professor Hickie came with a positive message on technology. He sees the possibilities of technology in addressing teen positive mental health. He sees technology as an important medium for reaching teens because that's where they are but also for overcoming some of the isolation associated with being a teenager and feeling misunderstood. He addressed some of the concerns on gaming but feels that isolated gaming is far more worrying than social gaming because there are positive mental health stimuli coming from social gaming.

He pointed out that of the three dangers for teens raised in the introduction overuse of alcohol and sleep deprivation are far more dangerous for mental health than social media. He showed that binge drinking has a negative effect on the brain even over short periods of time, not necessarily after extended periods of overuse of alcohol. He also showed that sleep deprivation was very detrimental to learning. To all of our HSC students staying up all night before an exam to study, according to Professor Ian Hickie you might as well not have studied at all for all the good the all-nighter did you. Our brains need sleep to process information. As someone who only got through university three times by staying up all night to finish assignments, I stand by the fact that it you don't have to recall anything, the all-nighter has its place (I am willing to conceded, however, that planning life so that the assignment is complete before the due date might be marginally better but in my case so far unachievable).

Associate Professor Jane Burns showed us some data hot off the Young and Well presses. There is a new species called Technosapien. They released the results of their survey of 16 -25 year olds and showed the following info-graphic:
The thing that Jane drew our attention to was the fact that young people don't make a distinction between socialising online and offline but that it's just socialising. She also said that some of the common myths, such as that online gambling is rife amongst young Australians, is simply not true. Only 6% of young people apparently gamble online. She said that the power of technology comes from what it allows students to do. She used the example of her own son who has special needs and his ability to communicate through an iPad. The only concern she raised from the data is that it seems that too many young people are using technology after 11PM and that that contradicts the recommendations for brain performance.

The best thing that came out of the night was the agreement between the two experts that we should stop telling teens what we define as use and overuse. We should sit down with the kids themselves to determine the rules for what is reasonable in a given situation rather than imposing draconian, top-down guidelines on them. Especially as the teens probably know, more than the people trying to impose the rules, exactly how to bypass them.

My key take away was Jane's wrap-up comment "Technology is not to e feared and ignorance breeds fear".

I'm thinking our parents need to know some of this stuff, now how to get the information to them...

The night was well compered by Matthew Jacob.

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