Can You Really Make Them Smarter?

ByDr. Marshall

Can You Really Make Them Smarter?

I just read a most fascinating article by Jenni Ogden on the Flynn Effect. As most psychologist know, the Flynn Effect refers to the small but gradual increase in the average IQ score of the American children. As it turns out, IQ tests are revised about every ten to fifteen years. They are then administered to a new group of children. And what Flynn discovered was that the average score of the new group of children tested with the new tests is about 3 points higher than the average score of the children tested 10 years before.

Now, the interesting thing about this effect is that it does not occur because of changes in our genes or because of evolution, because genetic and evolutionary changes take longer than 10 years to manifest. The only thing left is environmental influences. But before you run out and buy a bunch of at home tutorial materials, read on.

In his recent research, Flynn found that a family life rich in conversation, reading, and problem solving improves a child’s intelligence; a bright ten year old with bright siblings will have an IQ score 5 to 10 points higher than a child without bright siblings; being in a high quality school with intelligent classmates increases IQ. There are other benefits, but you get the point. There is something about being in an enriched family environment and attending a high quality school with other high achieving students that stimulates brain development.

There are several important messages in this article. First, we should remember that it is the average IQ score of a large group of children that increases. That means while the group average of children tested in 2016 is higher than the group average of children tested 10 years ago, it does not mean that every child will have a higher IQ. Some will, some won’t—it’s an average.

Second, although all stimulation is good for the brain, it takes constant stimulation to change neurons. Doing a little tutoring for a few hours a day is helpful, but it doesn’t compare to living in a highly stimulating family environment, every day for five years. For example, Sally Shaywitz writes that when a child is immersed in a language-rich environment, being “smart” is a way of life, not a short math tutorial. Being tutored for three or four hours a week will enhance an already stimulating environment, but it does not replace it.

But keep in mind—it’s not that you’re making you child “smarter” by providing extra stimulation. Rather, by providing your child with a rich language environment or with games and puzzles you are stimulating the brain’s neurons. Remember, the brain is like a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it gets. And variety also helps. Just like a mixed exercise routine activates more muscle groups than repeating the same routine every day, it is best to expose a child to a variety of activities.

That’s the problem when children become too attached to their electronic devices. There is nothing wrong with playing video games, but if you spend all of your time playing video games, you will get good at video games. We can say the same with reading. If all a child does is read all day, she will get very good at reading. That seems like a good thing. It is good for her reading. But what about problem solving? What about social development? What about muscle development?

The message here is that there are things you can do to make the brain work better and faster, and it is not surprising that these things will show up as increased IQ scores. But these changes do not occur quickly and they don’t happen because you are using some sort of brain training program. As I stated above, if you play Minecraft® all day, your brain will get good at Minecraft®. But we want to stimulate all the brain’s regions, so it takes a daily foundation of constant stimulation, the kind of thing that exists in enriched family and school environments. So rather than looking for just the right brain training program or app this Christmas, spend some holiday time making your home and family an enriched environment that encourages your children to develop all of their abilities.

About the author

Dr. Marshall administrator

Richard Marshall earned an Ed.D. in reading and learning disabilities at West Virginia University in 1982. While completing his doctoral studies he served as an educational specialist in the Pediatric Neurology. Upon completion of his degree he became an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the WVU Medical School. After moving to Florida in 1983, he joined the faculty in the Department of Pediatrics in the College of Medicine at the University of South Florida and worked for five years in the Neonatal Developmental Follow-Up Program. In 1993, he completed a Ph.D. in School Psychology at the University of Georgia with an emphasis in Child and Adolescent Neuropsychology. Upon degree completion, he taught courses in the biological bases of behavior and neuropsychology at the University of Texas in Austin. He also served as developmental psychologist at the Children’s Hospital of Austin. He and his family returned to Florida in 2001 and he once more became a faculty member at the University of South Florida. He is presently an Associate Professor in the College of Education and he is an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at the USF College of Medicine. In 2008, Dr. Marshall co-authored the Pediatric Behavior Rating Scale; in 2011, he co-authored The Middle School Mind: Growing Pains in Early Adolescent Brains (2011) and is currently revising the Handbook for Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child (2012). In addition to writing and a busy schedule of workshops and presentations, Dr. Marshall also maintains a private practice in Lakeland, Florida where he specializes in the assessment and treatment of children and adults with emotional, behavioral, and learning disorders; parenting; family therapy; and couples counseling. As part of that practice he maintains a daily blog and he co-hosts The Mental Breakdown Podcast (iTunes, Google Play Music, and YouTube) and the Psychreg Podcast. He has spoken to professional and community groups throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and South America.

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