Mental Growth and Development

“Mental Growth and Development”

        I.            Preface.

Child development refers to the biological and psychological and emotional changes that occur in human beings between birth and the end of adolescence, as the individual progresses from dependency to increasing autonomy. Because these developmental changes may be strongly influenced by genetic factors and events during prenatal life, genetics and prenatal development are usually included as part of the study of child development. Related terms include developmental psychology, referring to development throughout the lifespan, and pediatrics, the branch of medicine relating to the care of children. Developmental change may occur as a result of genetically-controlled processes known as maturation, or as a result of environmental factors and learning, but most commonly involves an interaction between the two. It may also occur as a result of human nature and our ability to learn from our environment. Human beings have a keen sense to adapt to their surroundings and this is what child development encompasses.

There are various definitions of periods in a child’s development, since each period is a continuum with individual differences regarding start and ending.

Some age-related development periods and examples of defined intervals are:

However, organizations like Zero to Three and the World Association for Infant Mental Health use the term infant as a broad category, including children from birth to age 3.

The optimal development of children is considered vital to society and so it is important to understand the social, cognitive, emotional, and educational development of children. Increased research and interest in this field has resulted in new theories and strategies, with specific regard to practice that promotes development within the school system. In addition there are also some theories that seek to describe a sequence of states that compose child development.

      II.            Developmental Milestones.

Milestones are changes in specific physical and mental abilities (such as walking and understanding language) that mark the end of one developmental period and the beginning of another. For stage theories, milestones indicate a stage transition. Studies of the accomplishment of many developmental tasks have established typical chronological ages associated with developmental milestones. However, there is considerable variation in the achievement of milestones, even between children with developmental trajectories within the normal range. Some milestones are more variable than others; for example, receptive speech indicators do not show much variation among children with normal hearing, but expressive speech milestones can be quite variable.

A common concern in child development is developmental delay involving a delay in an age-specific ability for important developmental milestones. Prevention of and early intervention in developmental delay are significant topics in the study of child development. Developmental delays should be diagnosed by comparison with characteristic variability of a milestone, not with respect to average age at achievement. An example of a milestone would be eye-hand coordination, which includes a child’s increasing ability to manipulate objects in a coordinated manner. Increased knowledge of age-specific milestones allows parents and others to keep track of appropriate development.

    III.            Mental Growth.

Adolescence Is a time of rapid mental development. Childish reasoning is gradually abandoned as adolescents begin to think in more adult ways. To understand how this happens it is necessary to look for a moment at the type of reasoning common when children are younger. Adolescents are able to tackle more complex schoolwork as they develop mentally.

   IV.            The Growth of Thought.

Young children find it easier to understand actual situations, objects, and events, rather than imaginary ones, Science, for example, will therefore make more sense to them when they can see the materials upon which a lesson is based. In a history lesson, children will understand more about a castle or fort if they can either visit one or refer to a drawn picture.

Adolescents gradually develop the ability to think about ideas. When asked, for example, to discuss voting, an adolescent will not simply talk about pressing a lever in a voting booth, but will be able to think about the fuller implications of voting, for example in a secret ballot, and what exactly this implies for a political system such as democracy. When asked to comment on societies where voting is illegal, adolescents should be able to imagine a situation like this and then assess it. This type of thinking, known as abstract though, occurs after adolescents have development the wider vocabulary necessary for this complex reasoning. Young women demonstrating in London. Adolescents often hold strong views on issues that affect them.

Adolescents also become better at the step-by-step type of reasoning known as logical thought. This is something that is often beyond younger children. Take the situation of two cars racing each other. A young child will say that the one passing the finishing line first is the faster, even though this car may also have been given a massive start over the other one. But adolescents will take this advantage into consideration when they are asked to make their judgment about the toy cars’ speeds.

In this way an adolescent is able to take many more factors into account when reasoning. This ability to suspend immediate reactions and make more considered judgments is usually well beyond the capacity of younger children.

Using logic allows adolescents to think more efficiently in other ways. They may now be capable of nothing that society does not always practice what it preaches. Such awareness of the differences that often exist between what people claim to believe and what they actually do sometimes leads adolescents to condemn society as hypocritical.

These changes in thinking mean that many adolescents become argumentative, sometimes feeling so convinced that they are right that they become impatient with any opposition. Experience of changing their own minds, and seeing others change theirs will eventually persuade most of them that no one is right about everything.

     V.            Mechanisms of development.

Although developmental change runs parallel with chronological age, age itself cannot cause development. The basic mechanisms or causes of developmental change are genetic factors and environmental factors. Genetic factors are responsible for cellular changes like overall growth, changes in proportion of body and brain parts, and the maturation of aspects of function such as vision and dietary needs. Because genes can be “turned off” and “turned on”, the individual’s initial genotype may change in function over time, giving rise to further developmental change. Environmental factors affecting development may include both diet and disease exposure, as well as social, emotional, and cognitive experiences. However, examination of environmental factors also shows that young human beings can survive within a fairly broad range of environmental experiences.

 Rather than acting as independent mechanisms, genetic and environmental factors often interact to cause developmental change. Some aspects of child development are notable for their plasticity, or the extent to which the direction of development is guided by environmental factors as well as initiated by genetic factors. For example, the development of allergic reactions appears to be caused by exposure to certain environmental factors relatively early in life, and protection from early exposure makes the child less likely to show later allergic reactions. When an aspect of development is strongly affected by early experience, it is said to show a high degree of plasticity; when the genetic make-up is the primary cause of development, plasticity is said to be low. Plasticity may involve guidance by endogenous factors like hormones as well as by exogenous factors like infection

One kind of environmental guidance of development has been described as experience-dependent plasticity, in which behavior is altered as a result of learning from the environment. Plasticity of this type can occur throughout the lifespan and may involve many kinds of behavior, including some emotional reactions. A second type of plasticity, experience-expectant plasticity, involves the strong effect of specific experiences during limited sensitive periods of development. For example, the coordinated use of the two eyes, and the experience of a single three-dimensional image rather than the two-dimensional images created by light in each eye, depend on experiences with vision during the second half of the first year of life. Experience-expectant plasticity works to fine-tune aspects of development that cannot proceed to optimum outcomes as a result of genetic factors working alone.

In addition to the existence of plasticity in some aspects of development, genetic-environmental correlations may function in several ways to determine the mature characteristics of the individual. Genetic-environmental correlations are circumstances in which genetic factors make certain experiences more likely to occur. For example, in passive genetic-environmental correlation, a child is likely to experience a particular environment because his or her parents’ genetic make-up makes them likely to choose or create such an environment. In evocative genetic-environmental correlation, the child’s genetically-caused characteristics cause other people to respond in certain ways, providing a different environment than might occur for a genetically-different child; for instance, a child with Down syndrome may be treated more protectively and less challengingly than a non-Down child. Finally, an active genetic-environmental correlation is one in which the child chooses experiences that in turn have their effect; for instance, a muscular, active child may choose after-school sports experiences that create increased athletic skills, but perhaps preclude music lessons. In all of these cases, it becomes difficult to know whether child characteristics were shaped by genetic factors, by experiences, or by a combination of the two.

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