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How are Developments in Neurobiology Changing our View of Children? 7 Child-raising up to Ten Critical for the Future

Dialogue between Noboru Kobayashi and Toshiyuki Sawaguchi

7 Child-raising up to Ten Critical for the Future

Kobayashi: I have a question about the ability of children to adapt to the world around them. Until the 1970s, we thought the problem behavior in children would naturally come to end at a certain stage of development and this was due to an innate capacity. When children had problems, we just let the problems get resolved on their own. But after the mid-1980s, children's problems, those having to do with violence and sexuality, escalated to a point of no return. There were children who shut themselves up in their rooms, playing video games all day. To parents, it must seem like the brain can adapt itself to any situation. Is it possible that brain has a plasticity that that enables it to keep adapting successively new situations so that it ends up over-adapting to an extreme degree?

Sawaguchi: Children's brains are capable of considerable adaptation. As you state in your book, the important thing is to provide them with a solid foundation as they grow.

If I may risk being misunderstood, in my view or shall we say, in the view of neurobiology, children's problems are the result of their upbringing up to the age of ten. If children are given a good foundation by the age of ten, problem behavior will resolve itself. It is necessary to raise and train children properly in each year of life and in each situation to prepare them for the next one. This means, for example, training them when they are seven to be able to handle situations that arise they are eight. It's been confirmed that if parents do this, there won't be any need to worry about how their children will turn out.

When I was in the United States for three or four years, there were what I would call "well-educated people" among my classmates. They were gentlemen, very respectful of women, positive, intelligent, and personable. I wondered why they turned out that way. Generally, these kind of people had been brought up well. They had good parents who taught them good habits and manners.

When I visited these friends, I noticed that they were conscientious about how they raised their children, too. The children were well-disciplined and brought up with definite principles about how one should behave. This doesn't mean that the parents had their children under strict control. When the children were given freedom, the parents stood back and let them enjoy it. But, at other times, the parents took control. This sort of variation is very good. These children will do fine whether they go to high school or on to university.

From the perspective of neurobiology and psychology, we should increase what makes up the general aspect or the G of general IQ. The IQ itself doesn't matter to me. I'm interested in the G of general IQ. The G refers to general intelligence, and recently this has been found to be a function of the prefrontal association cortex. This area becomes very active when a test is given to measure general intelligence.

People with low and high general intelligence show a huge difference in their problem behavior. In the United States, they say that people with high general intelligence do not cause social problems and are socially successful. In other words, it is not enough to have good spatial, mathematical, and language abilities. It is really the prefrontal association cortex that is important.

Naturally, general intelligence is affected by genetic factors, but it undergoes constant change due to the environment. If the prefrontal association cortex is developed, general intelligence will also increase. Such children do not cause problems when they reach puberty or in adulthood because they are able to control themselves.


Pediatrician and Director, CRN
Born in Tokyo in 1927. Doctor of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, The University of Tokyo, 1954. Books include Human Science, Kodomo wa mirai de aru (Children are Our Future), Kodomogaku, Sodatsu sodateru fureai no kosodate (Reciprocal Development Through Child-raising).

Toshiyuki SAWAGUCHI, Ph.D.
Professor of Neurobiology, Hokkaido University School of Medicine
Born in Tokyo in 1959. Majored in biology, Faculty of Science, Hokkaido University. Doctor of Science, Kyoto University. Specializes in cognitive neuroscience and primatology. Research interests include mechanisms within the brain related to thought and self and evolution of the brain and cognitive function. Publications include Wagamama na no (The Selfish Brain), Watakushi wa no no doko ni iru no ka? (Where is the Self in the Brain?), and Yoji kyoiku to no (Early Childhood Education and the Brain).
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