Solving some of our children's problems


t seems that, once again, I am taking issue with something that the scientists are promulgating as penetrating knowledge.


We are now being told that "children's brains are growing at a slower pace than their bodies." No less an expert than the estimable Dr. Phil says this on almost every program of his that deals with the problems of young people in trouble. And he is backed up by the NIH.

The following excerpt is from an article online called The Teen Brain: Still Under Construction and is it on the website for the National Institute for Mental Health.

"The research (on brain growth) has turned up some surprises, among them the discovery of striking changes taking place during the teen years. These findings have altered long-held assumptions about the timing of brain maturation. In key ways, the brain doesn't look like that of an adult until the early 20s. … [Y]oung people at this age are close to a lifelong peak of physical health, strength, and mental capacity, and yet, for some, this can be a hazardous age. Mortality rates jump between early and late adolescence. Rates of death by injury between ages 15 to 19 are about six times that of the rate between ages 10 and 14. Crime rates are highest among young males and rates of alcohol abuse are high relative to other ages."

Far be it from me (she says just before she does it) to argue with such accomplished persons. However it does occur to me in some small humble part of my brain, which I can assure you is way overripe maturity-wise, that the kids whom I know who have been given and assumed a great deal of responsibility don't seem to have the problems.

I don't know any kids who are drug-addicted, alcohol abusers or criminals. Of course the only kids I know are those who work with animals. I admit freely that I do not have a wide experience of children. I don't have a lot of patience with people who go looking for problems to incur upon themselves whether they are youths or adults.

In fact, and this may sound like it is against my general principles, I do admire the lady of my acquaintance who bought a farm, imported her horses to care for herself and then got hit with one of Maryland's worst and most snowy winters right off the bat. When I last saw her she was walking the two horses out of her unplowed farm road to a trailer waiting on the plowed county road and cursing out loud the idea of owning and caring for her own horses in that weather. I don't know if she sold the horses but she sold the property and that was that for living on the farm. She realized right away that she was not the person to be doing what she thought that she wanted and she got out. I can admire that approach. Why suffer if you don't have to?

But the kids that I know are dedicated to the welfare of not only their show animals — horses, mules, cattle — but also the welfare of whatever other animals are on their farms. The cattle, the goats, the cats, kittens and dogs all are incorporated into this care as a norm and very lucky those animals are indeed.

As an example, a quite young pony rider who comes home, gets the ponies in, feeds and waters them and grooms the ones that will be ridden, all in advance of her parents getting home from work so that she is ready to ride when her parents are there for safety's sake.

Another example, two young girls whose father came home and found them working their mules in January with a freezing wind making the snow a horizontal blizzard. OK, they did get the indoor riding ring after that but with the costs of medical care these days probably it was cheaper than two cases of double pneumonia.

This goes for youth show riders, high school rodeo contestants, farm kids and serious dog, rabbit and cat owners. Something about the responsibility of caring for someone (something) greater than yourself gives these kids the ability to understand the importance of their actions not only now but also in the future.

It could be that kids who are raised with the expectation of reliability can expand their recognition of the viability of their actions beyond the immediate future. I think that the words "inculcated values" have a lot to do with it. Who knows? Maybe it is more important to offer your child the gifts of responsibilities and values than other far more tangible things. Be nice if it was just that easy, wouldn't it?

Hope Holland is the Times' equestrian writer. Her column appears every Sunday. Reach her at 410-857-7896 or