Author Archives: nfe5014

Risk Aversion in Parents

Depending on your age and what generation you grew up in, your childhood may have been very different in comparisons to someone else’s of another generation. I am over 30 years old and as a kid (age 8-12), I remember playing outside for hours with friends without any adult supervision. We would ride bikes around the neighborhood with other neighborhood kids, we would play at the park digging for “Indian clay”, or we would simple be playing a sport or running around. The main rule was to go home for dinner when the sun started to set or you heard your mother calling your name outside. Very few kids of younger generations can say they experienced the same. Risk aversion has changed over time with parents. Risk aversion is the tendency to make decision to avoid risk. Our book used examples based on economics and finance but our risk aversion in how we live our lives can also impact how we raise our children.

A new term on categorizing certain parents has been created within the last decade that did not exist in my generation much; “Helicopter Parent”. A helicopter parent is described a parent who pays extremely close attention to a child’s experiences and problems; hovering over them like a helicopter would. There is a correlation with risk avert parents and helicopter parents. They both are potentially making the mistake of not allowing their own children to take risks which will negatively influence the type of adult they will become. An article by Tim Elmore on Leading the Next Generation pin pointed 3 main issues; We Risk Too Little, We Rescue Too Quickly, We Rave Too Easily.

Being around my sisters and their children, I often observe the behavior of different parents they associate with. It’s a constant, “be careful, don’t do that, you’ll get hurt, don’t run so fast etc.” Parents with risk aversion are passing the torch down to their kids. These kids will start to portrait similar behaviors taught and observed by their parents. Elmore’s article mentioned that a study was done by Sarah Brown at the University of Sheffield in the UK and the results showed that “children of risk-averse parents have lower test scores and are slightly less likely to attend college than offspring of parents with more tolerant attitudes toward risk.” Parental risk aversion can directly influence their child’s future.

With risk aversion, there is a will to want to rescue or help out too quickly as well as a tendency to overpraise each step your child takes. We want to do everything for our kids. We want to help them with each homework assignment so that they pass their classes. There are parents that complete entire projects for their kids in effort to make sure they get into a good college. I can understand that education has become competitive but such behavior from the parent won’t help the child in the long run. The risk of the child not being accepted to a particular school is far worse than the child learning on their own and going to a school more suitable based on his/her education level. Everything our kids may do is “amazing” but we have a tendency to magnify small accomplishments. Parents definitely need to make sure that their child’s self-esteem doesn’t drop but there also needs to be recognition that not everyone gets a trophy and that it is ok. Strength, motivation to try harder and working to overcome challenges is learned through hardship and failure. Risk aversion parents are attempting to protect their children from that failure.

I agree with Elmore’s article in the message he is trying to convey. Risk aversion in parents has substantially increased in the last few decades since I was a child. I don’t know if it has to do with added pressure from education institutes, seeing more missing or hurt children from different media outlets or increased fear from other outside influences. Risk aversion is mainly used in examples of monetary situation but children can also be seen as our investment to our futures and we want to protect them.


Elmore, T. (2013, February 15). Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids…and How to Correct Them. Retrieved December 2, 2014, from


In the United States, 21% of school-age children (ages 5-17) speak a language other than English at home. (Hanen) When I was that age, I was included in that statistic. Friends have always asked me why my older sister has an accent and doesn’t speak English as well as I do. I never really knew what to say. My family is a first generation immigrant. I was born in Afghanistan but moved to Germany at age 2. My siblings and I grew up speaking Dari (our native language) and German. My family and I moved to the US when I was 10. All my siblings and I had to learn how to speak English. Learning a new language after the age of three years old is called Sequential Acquisition. (Hanen) By age 12 I spoke 3 languages fluently. According to the NALDIC (National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum), sequential bilingual learners don’t start speaking a 2nd language at the time of birth but afterward which allows them to be able to use different learning strategies. For some adult, the thought of learning a 2nd language difficult to swallow but what about children? What is happening in a child’s brain while they are learning a 2nd language?

The two most important “language areas” of the brain include Broca’s and Wernicke’s areas. According to the research on brain activity (Washington), people who learned a 2nd language at an early stage in life where showed using overlapping regions of Broca’s and Wernicke’s area when speaking both languages. People who acquired a 2nd language as adults also used overlapping regions of Wernicke’s area but used different adjacent regions of Broca’s area when using different languages. “Some studies have also suggested that late bilinguals are more likely to use the same cortical areas for understanding what the words mean (Wernicke’s) but different areas for grammar and syntax (Broca’s).” (Washington) Does this mean it more challenging for your brain to learn a 2nd language as an adult versus at early childhood stages?

We use different memory procedures for language as children than when we are adults. Amy Finn at MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research states we have a “free memory” that we get as infants that allows us to process information and remember things like riding a bike unconsciously. As we mature into adults, we develop another memory system that is more based on exploratory processing and it controls the language learning process. We try harder than we should to learn a language. It doesn’t come free flowing as we hear tones and mimic them when we are children. There is research being done on a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation to allow us adults to “turn off” certain brain areas to allow us all to better accept new language rules and sounds. Hence, why some people don’t do too well in pronouncing words in different languages.

Researching language development has allowed me to better understand why I always wondered why my older sister has an accent and I didn’t, even though we both learned English at the same time. One side note that would make it completely different for her is that she was 16years old when we moved to the US and I was only 9 years old, turning 10. My brain wasn’t as challenged in picking up a third language like my older sister’s (who was going into adulthood) was. Children at the early stages are sponges and enough research has been done that our communities are more aware of language development that Disney has developed shows like “Dora the Explorer” that teaches Spanish or “Ni Hao Kai-Lan” that teaches Chinese. More and more adults are more accepting of their children becoming bilingual than ever before. In the world today, more opportunities are waiting at the doorsteps of bilingual individuals than mono-lingual individuals.



Bilingualism in Young Children: Separating Fact from Fiction. (n.d.). Retrieved November 20, 2014, from–Separating-Fact-fr.aspx

Bilingualism and Second Language Acquisition. (n.d.). Retrieved November 21, 2014, from

(n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2014, from

Want to Learn a Language? Well, Don’t Try Too Hard. (n.d.). Retrieved November 24, 2014, from


No longer feel Smarter than a 5th grader?

What did the hippocampus say during his retirement speech? Thanks for the memories. (Hudler) The “Hippocampus is a cured elongated ridge that extends over the floor of the descending horn of each lateral ventricle of the brain, that consist of gray matter covered on the ventricular surface with white matter, and that is involved in forming, storing, and processing memory” (Merriam-Webster). The Hippocampus is involved in the formation of long term memories. Memory is part of our everyday lives and challenges in our daily tasks would occur if we had to live without it. The hippocampus can also be described as a memory “gateway” through which new memories must pass before entering permanent storage in the brain. (Myers) This is a key process associated with learning as well. We have all spent a large portion of our lives learning information at school. What was going on inside our brains as we were young children learning?

Most of us probably don’t recall when we were learning math as kids. We may recall the elementary school we attended, the teachers, our friends or what the classroom looked but specific details may be hard to recall. Dr. Vinod Menon generated a study at Stanford University where he analyzed the math learning process in 28 children (ages 7-9) and the changes that occur within the hippocampus. He used magnetic resonance imaging brain scans to assist him with his research. Menon’s study involved brain scans while the children did simple math problems. Adults ages 19-22 and adolescents ages 14-17 were also involved in the study and asked to complete the same type of math problems. During the time of the study, the children were studying math in school. The researchers were not involved in the education process of the children. 1.2 years later, the children’s brains were scanned again while they were completing simple math problems like they had done so before.

The result indicated the children were becoming faster and more accurate at answering the questions. Looking into the brain scans, results showed the hippocampus was more activate since the last brain scan. The children were answering math problems based on memory and not counting. (Digitale, “Stanford Medicine”) In comparison, adults and adolescents portrayed little change to their hippocampus. The adults and adolescents were pulling math facts from within the neocortex. The Neocortex is cerebral tissue consisting of grey matter that covers the two brain cerebral hemispheres. The Neocortex is involved in higher functions such as sensory, perception, motor commands, spatial reasoning, conscious thoughts and language. Recent cognition studies show evidence of specific neocortical regions store information that was initially processed in the hippocampus (Neocortex, Wikipedia). According to Dr. Menon, the adults in the study had hippocampi that were not as strongly engaged as the children’s were after those 1.2 years but there was evidence that the adults kept a backup copy of the math information in the neocortex.

Having nieces I’ve helped with homework, I’ve often wondered how children brains process long term memory for learning purposes. I’ve asked myself if their brains go through the same retention process as mine. Their ability to be faster or more accurate in solving mathematical problems by pulling more information using their hippocampus demonstrates an advantage over my own brain or even other adults. The research Dr. Menon was working on was only part one of what his goal is. He is now interested in comparing these brains scans to the brain scans of children that have math learning disabilities in order to find what occurs within their hippocampus in effort to aide them.



Digitale, E. (2014, August 17). New research sheds light on how children’s brains memorize facts. Standford Medicine News Center. Retrieved October 13, 2014, from

Hippocampus. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster online. Retrieved October 13, 2014, from

Hudler, C. Brain Jokes. Retrieved from

Myers, C. (n.d.). Memory Loss & the Brain. Retrieved October 17, 2014, from

Neocortex. (2014, October 16). Retrieved October 13, 2014, from

Wiltgen, B., Brown, R., Talton, L., & Silva, A. (2004). The Role of the Neocortex in Consolidation. New Circuits for Old Memories, 44(1), 101-108. Retrieved October 15, 2014, from

I heard a joke, did you?

An estimated 25% of the US population speaks a second language (McComb, 2011). Our educational institutions encourage learning a 2nd language. As we advance through the learning process of learning a new language, our perception of it changes over time. The additional knowledge transforms sounds that we can’t initially comprehend, into meaningful thoughts and ideas. Your perception of the noises is different than someone else’s perception who is hearing the exact same sounds. A few areas that correlate with the process of perception changing with knowledge are speech segmentation, feedback signals, and the top-down process.

I recently went walking through a flea market with my friend Jenn. It was a combination of loud music and different languages being spoken between merchandise owners and their customers. For the most part, I didn’t understand a lot of what was being said as I was walking around, except for when English words were being used. I was mainly hearing Spanish. Since I don’t speak Spanish, it all sounded like really fast unfamiliar noises being said in an order that have no meaning to me. Speaking a language and recognizing when a word starts and ends is defined as speech segmentation. I lacked speech segmentation when I was listening to Spanish being spoken. I didn’t recognize the noises as individual words, so it all sounded like one long word to me. Knowledge of a language enables or “turns on” speech segmentation in our minds to help us put meaning to the sounds which wouldn’t be possible without feedback signals.

As I continued walking around the flea market, I heard a woman speaking Farsi. My ears suddenly perked up. I understood everything she was saying. She was mixing English words and Farsi words within the same sentences but I was able to follow along easily and smoothly without having to stop to think about it at all. The perception that I had was very different than that of my monolingual friend Jenn who was standing beside me. Jenn and I were hearing completely opposite noises. The reasoning behind this relates to feedback signals. Receptors (neurons that pick up information from the environment, such as neurons on your skin, eyes, and ears) allow for information to be sent to neurons in the brain. At the same time as the receptors are sending signals, feedback signals are being sent down. Feedback signals are additional signals that are traveling down from higher parts of the brain and are providing information. My sense of hearing is allowing me to hear the sounds and feedback signals being sent down are allowing me to translate the sounds. This is only possible with prior knowledge of me learning the language. Having that prior knowledge be the starting point of how information is processed is known as the top-down process. The top-down processing plays a key part in my perception. It’s the additional knowledge that I bring to the table that allowed me to perceive the sound differently.

I heard the woman at the flea market tell a joke at the exact same time as Jenn heard low and high frequency sounds coming from her vocal cords. For most of us (not including individuals with hearing loss/damage) we all hear the same noises. With added feedback signals in our brains based on the top-down process, we can perceive and interpret sounds differently. In the case of language, we are able to use speech segmentation if prior knowledge allows us to. Both Jenn and I were at the flea market physically doing the exact same thing as our senses were picking up similar receptors but this particular experience described allowed us both to experience completely opposite perceptions.



Goldsteing, E. B. (2011). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience. California: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

McComb, C. (2001). About one in four Americans can hold a conversation in a Second Language: Spanish is by far the most frequently spoken language.

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