Little Neha’s hips gyrated seductively to a sensuous bollywood number. The ease with which she alternated pelvic thrusts with thrusts of the torso would have put bollywood’s leading ladies to shame. Neha, barely eight years old had been learning Bollywood dancing since age of 4 years. Being her Pediatrician, I had been forced to attend this show of hers. I cringed inwardly as I watched the poor little child’s attempt at a provocative pout and seductive glance. To me it represented a ghastly massacre of childhood innocence.
Several years rolled by. The family moved to a different location and I lost touch with them. That fateful day, I had attended a very sick child in the hospital and had just returned home in the wee hours of the morning. Just as I was getting ready to grab some sleep, my phone began ringing incessantly. It took me a while to figure out that the incoherent lady at the other end was Neha’s mother. Neha, now an 18year old drug addict had apparently attempted suicide. The mother told me how Neha began getting in one affair after the other at around the age of 11 to 12. The last one was with a handsome car driver with whom she had tried to elope.
It was apparent that Neha had been trying to live through one bollywood romance after the other in real life but had failed to find the” happily ever after” ending. Out of sheer frustration and lack of meaning to life, she had resorted to drugs and suicide.
I was filled with overwhelming sadness and guilt. I wished I had warned the family not to expose their young child to bollywood stuff which is loaded with sexual content. But I was not sure how the parents would have taken it at that time. They had seemed so proud of what they perceived as their daughter’s talent.
The Kaiser family foundation report notes that 68 percent of the material the children watch contains sexual content which include physical flirting, passionate kissing, intimate touch, sexual talk. Long before they can read, today's children are bombarded with sexual images in their music, on television and in movies. "The kind of increased sexual images that children are seeing in the media and in their toys has a parallel with when they get a little older," education professor Diane Levin says. "They start becoming sexually active earlier."
Neuroscientists have shown that environmental experiences significantly shape the developing brain because of the plasticity of its neuronal connectivity. Thus, repeated exposure to any stimulus in a child's environment may forcibly impact mental and emotional growth, either by setting up particular circuitry ("habits of mind") or by depriving the brain of other experiences. This implies that the activities that children engage in can influence the wiring of their own brains.
Srila Prabhupada explains how today’s sophisticated modern scientific civilization is in fact a polished animalism as it is directed towards improving eating, sleeping, mating, and defense. A man may eat varieties of lavish food stuffs with spoon and fork, and a dog may eat rotten food from the roadside or from the pile of garbage, but in either case they both satisfy their hungers and maintain their bodies. A man may sleep in a nice bungalow on a cozy bed whereas a dog sleeps on the street; yet the business is the same—sleeping.
Once asleep, neither the man knows where he is nor does the dog know where it is. Man has discovered atomic weapons for defense, and the dog has teeth and claws for the same. But again, defense is there. Yet man cannot say that because he has the atomic bomb he can conquer the entire world or the entire universe. That is not possible. Man may indulge in mating in a luxurious apartment and a dog may do the same on the street. But ultimately the activity is the same. The packaging by the humans is definitely superior and dazzling but the fundamental actions are very much same as of the animals.
This gives us parents much food for thought as to what ideals we should raise children with so that they do not end up being polished animals.
In a broad sense there are two important parts of the brain related to behavior. The limbic system or emotional brain that we have in common with the lower animals like dogs, cats and apes. It is a group of brain structures located deep within the cerebrum, involved in the expression of emotions and motivation, particularly those related to survival including fear, anger, the “fight or flight” response, feelings of pleasure that reward behaviors such as eating and sex.
It is evident that in present world our children are bombarded with stimuli that will develop strong neuronal circuits in this part of their brain which will make them impulsive, unable to control feelings and emotions, eat excessively and many other things.
Human brain is different from all other species in that it has a layer called neocortex. The prefrontal cortex sits just behind the forehead and acts as the CEO of the brain. Is responsible for planning, organizing and sequencing behavior for self-control, moral judgment and attention. Research has shown that "mindless" television may idle and impoverish the development of the pre-frontal cortex American Academy of Pediatrics – Understanding TV's effects on the developing brain, Jane M. Healy, Ph.D. (From May 1998 AAP News).
Today we are confused on how to raise intelligent children so that they become successful in life. Researchers now claim to have found a more fundamental aspect of human intelligence –spiritual intelligence (SQ) which is actually a reflection of the extent to which the prefrontal cortex has matured. The transformative power of SQ distinguishes it from IQ & EQ. IQ primarily solves logical problems. EQ helps us to manage emotions appropriately but SQ enables us to ask and seek answers to fundamental questions. For example, say you are trying to climb a wall. You may want to consider the height of the ladder, the angle of inclination and so on – the aspects that deal with how to get the job done constitute IQ. EQ is required to manage your emotional state like fear, impatience, etc. while you climb the ladder. You may use IQ and EQ and finally manage to climb the wall. But what if, on reaching the top, you realize you have climbed the wrong wall?! It is SQ that enables us to ask the most fundamental question here:”Which wall to climb?”
“Then what is the special advantage of human life?” Srila Prabhupada entreats us to introspect. “That advantage is athato brahma jijnasa: You should be inquisitive to know the value of life, the Absolute Truth.” Says Srila Prabhupada. This human form of life is a unique opportunity to establish our lost relationship with the Supreme Lord. Srila Prabhupada elucidates it as, “Krishna is personally instructing Bhagavad-gita to understand about Him, so we should take advantage of this, otherwise we are missing this opportunity of this human form of life. Krishna is not teaching Bhagavad-gita to some cats and dogs.” Instead of wasting this valuable life by indulging in animalistic activities, the scriptures direct the human beings to re-establish their lost connection with the Supreme Lord and eternally get liberated from this miserable world where at every step there is danger. This connection is possible through the process of dharma says Srila Prabhupada.
Dharma means surrender to the Supreme Lord, dharmam tu sakshad bhagavad pranitam Srimad Bhagavatam 6.3.19
By accepting the real dharma, upadharma automatically develops:
yasyasti bhaktir bhagavaty akincana
sarvair gunais tatra samasate surah
All the demigods and their exalted qualities, such as religion, knowledge and renunciation, become manifest in the body of one who has developed unalloyed devotion for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vasudeva. Srimad Bhagavatam 5.18.12
Thus it is evident spiritual training moulds the consciousness of a child in such a way that exalted qualities of the devathas develop i.e. they develop a strong prefronatal cortex. Dr. Jay Giedd, a neuroscientist at the National Institutes of Mental Health says that good parenting is all about developing a strong prefrontal cortex in our children.
Dr N Kavitha Bhat serves as a pediatrician in one of the leading hospitals in Bangalore. She has been practicing Krishna consciousness and is regularly reading Srila Prabhupada’s books.