Can the size of your social network make your baby smarter?

Social Network Size Linked to Brain Size

Can the size of your social network make your baby smarter?

As humans, we aren't born with formidable armaments or defenses, nor are we the strongest, fastest, or biggest species, yet despite this we are amazingly successful.

For a long time it was thought that this success was because our enlarged brains allows each of us to be smarter than our competitors: better at abstract thinking, better with tools and better at adapting our behavior to those of our prey and predators.

But are these really the most significant skills our brains provide us with?

Another possibility is that we are successful because we can form long-lasting relationships with many others in diverse and flexible ways, and that this, combined with our native intelligence, explains why homo sapiens came to dominate the planet. In every way from teaching our young to the industrial division of labour we are a massively co-operative species that relies on larger and more diverse networks of relationships than any other species.

In 1992 British anthropologist Robin Dunbar published an article showing that, in primates, the ratio of the size of the neo-cortex to that of the rest of the brain consistently increases with increasing social group size. For example, the Tamarin monkey has a brain size ratio of about 2.

3 and an average social group of size of about 5 members. On the other hand, a Macaque monkey has a brain size ratio of around 3.8 but a very large average group size of about 40 members. From this work Dunbar put forward what is now known as the “social brain hypothesis.

” The relative size of the neo-cortex rose as social groups became larger in order to maintain the complex set of relationships necessary for stable co-existence.

Most famously, Dunbar suggested that given the human brain ratio we have an expected social group size of around 150 people, about the size of what Dunbar called a “clan.”

Now, in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Dunbar and his colleagues have shown that the size of each individual’s social network is linearly related to the neural volume in a frontal region of each individual’s brain, the orbital prefrontal cortex.

This provides strong support for Dunbar’s original conjecture at the individual level for what was previously proposed species-level data: Our brains are not as large as they are in order to provide each of us with the raw computational power to think our way a sticky situation, instead our brain size helps each of us to deal with the large and complex network of relationships we rely on to thrive.

What the authors have also been able to show is that it's more than just the availability of raw neural material in the right area of the brain that is needed.

Within the same study they gave each subject a psychological test of their social skills and what they found was that even if a subject had a larger orbital prefrontal cortex this didn’t necessarily correlate with larger social networks, it also needed the subjects to have developed certain psychological skills, particularly an ability to understand another person’s state of mind.

This cognitive skill is called a “theory of mind,” and it is the ability to recognize that others have their own mental states, such as factual knowledge, emotions or beliefs, and that these can be different from our own. It turns out that humans have the most highly developed “theory of mind” amongst the primates.

Michael Tomasello and his colleagues have previously shown that while chimpanzees, one of our closest genetic relatives, posses a “theory of mind” it is not nearly as powerful, and this lack of social cognitive ability, combined with Dunbar’s work, suggests that it is this lack that results in their smaller social groups.

So what does this mean for our logical and analytical thoughts? Are each of us simply a part of a large “hive-mind,” constrained as well as protected by our social networks, but fooling ourselves into thinking that our individuality is important? The answer is almost certainly no.

Our advances in science, technology and engineering draw upon the analytical and abstract thinking of us as individuals.

However, what Dunbar and his colleagues have drawn our attention to is that almost all of our advances rely on a stable social community that enables and enhances such technical developments, but often through the specialist talents of individuals.

This body of work has highlighted the extent to which our social development has contributed to Homo sapiens as a species, and ultimately to the developmental history of each of us as individuals.

Are you a scientist who specializes in neuroscience, cognitive science, or psychology? And have you read a recent peer-reviewed paper that you would to write about? Please send suggestions to Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook, a Pulitzer prize-winning journalist at the Boston Globe. He can be reached at garethideas AT or @garethideas.


Can You Make Your Child Smarter?

Can the size of your social network make your baby smarter?

From the WebMD Archives

Aside from genetics, what influences your child's IQ? Clearly, good nutrition, protection from toxins, and plenty of playtime and exercise can nurture a child's intelligence. But can you really build a smarter child?

Many child development experts now focus less on measuring a child's IQ than on helping children reach their full intellectual potential — but without adding too much pressure.

WebMD talked with pediatric experts about how a child's intelligence develops. None is touting the flashiest toys, computer programs, or latest Baby Mozart video. In fact, you may find that their insights help your child's IQ far more than any fad.

A Child's IQ: How Does a Child's Brain Develop?

Before birth to age 4, an child's brain grows explosively. In fact, your child's brain has reached 90% of its adult size before kindergarten. This period of great growth provides an ideal window of opportunity for learning.

But the brain doesn't stop developing at age 4. The young brain continues to organize and restructure throughout childhood — even into early adult life — as it becomes more complex. Unfortunately, knowing about the brain's early growth has prompted many parents to panic about their child's IQ or push their kids into “primo preschools.”

“It's a classic American concern — how to accelerate learning,” says Ross A. Thompson, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of California at Davis.

“Many parents believe that if their children learn fast early, they will remain accelerated. But children learn best at a natural rate.

Those who show early advances settle out by the time they reach grade school. Others catch up.”

The early years do matter, says Thompson. “But lower circuits in the brain must be built before higher circuits, and advanced skills must be basic skills,” he says.

Your Child's IQ: Emotion Drives Learning

One of these basic skills involves creating a template for close relationships — usually through early attachment to parents and caregivers. Critical to emotional and social development, attachment also helps build a smart child.

Being attuned to your child's inner mental life helps a developing brain become integrated, says Daniel J. Siegel, MD, director of the Center for Human Development at the UCLA School of Medicine, writing in Infant Mental Health Journal. That connection also provides a kind of “safety net” for your child's brain, adds Siegel, who studies how relationships affect learning.

“Close, affectionate relationships throughout childhood are important, but especially when a child is little,” says Pat Wolfe, EdD, educational consultant and co-author of Building the Reading Brain. One way to attune to your child is to listen closely and make eye contact.

“If you only pretend to listen because you're distracted, kids pick up on that really fast,” she says. Other ways to connect? With your facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, and other nonverbal signals.

When your child is older, one of the best things you can do is to talk about the day, she says.

Connecting with you helps a child's brain develop, says Thompson, because neurons get connected through social connection and language. Childhood learning is also often motivated by close relationships. “Kids become interested in learning because learning is valuable to the people who matter,” she says.

By contrast, when children don't feel safe and secure, it impacts their ability to learn.

The amygdala is a structure in the brain that regulates emotion.

When children feel threatened, the amygdala creates a fight-or-flight response — a chain reaction that allows emotion to overrule rational thought by “shutting down” the thinking parts of the brain.

Early or long-term stress in a child's life can lead to changes in this part of the brain, making that child more susceptible to stress and less susceptible to learning. But close, loving relationships can protect against this barrier to early learning.

“The brain is the only organ in the body that sculpts itself through experience,” says Wolfe. She adds that we now know experiences actually change and reorganize a child's brain structure and physiology.

Instead of seeing a child's intelligence as a dynamic process, parents too often think of the brain as a vessel that can be simply filled up with knowledge, says Thompson. But that's not the way becoming intelligent works, especially for young children.

“The best learning occurs through active engagement,” he says. “A child is thrilled to be counting peas in the context of gardening, measuring ingredients in the context of working with a recipe, or sorting nails in the context of building a birdhouse.”

Wolfe agrees: a variety of learning experiences in the real world are good for a child's intelligence. Even at the grocery store, children learn a lot by weighing foods, reading labels, and counting change.

Although eliminating TV and video games may not be entirely realistic, Wolfe says that too much time with media these puts children in a receptive mode. And that keeps them from a rich, natural interaction with the real world – so important for a child's brain development.

Your Child's IQ: Do You Need Fancy Toys?

At the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain, Lisa Oakes, PhD, a professor of psychology and specialist in infant cognition, studies another aspect of childhood intelligence. She examines how infants categorize and make sense of the visual world — research that makes her question the push by parents to boost a child's IQ with fancy toys.

“We know that stimulation is good for the development of the brain,” says Oakes. You probably know that infants need different colors and textures and experiences. “But it doesn't all need to come in one toy,” she says.

From her research, she's learned that infants are more interested in the action of a toy than the outcome it produces — so babies don't need expensive gadgets with lots of “bells and whistles” to learn. But if a certain toy is fun for a parent, it may still have a benefit, she says. That's because babies learn through their parents' reactions, too.

Your Child's IQ: Effort and Mindset

Carol Dweck, PhD, professor of psychology at Stanford University and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, has studied yet another key to making a smart child. Through 20 years of research, she's found that differences in children's mindsets affect their motivation to learn and ultimately their performance in school.

Dweck learned that middle school students who believed intelligence was fixed tried to preserve their self-image by only doing what they — as smart kids — already knew how to do well. “They didn't want to risk their precious label — being smart,” says Dweck. Their fixed mindset, ultimately, could limit intelligence growth.

By contrast, kids with a “growth mindset” were attracted to challenges even if they failed at first. These kids thought about what they would do differently next time, such as how they would study harder to score higher on a test. When asked what they would do differently, kids with a “fixed mindset” said they would study less or even consider cheating.

“After all, if you think intelligence is fixed and you do poorly, what are your choices?” says Dweck.

So she took her work further. She began to teach kids that the brain is a muscle, it gets stronger with use, it makes new connections and this can make you smarter over time. When she re-tested these students who had learned to have a “growth mindset,” their grades and study habits improved considerably after only two months.

A Child's IQ: Praise the Effort

Dweck began her research after seeing parents put too much emphasis on praising “intelligence” and pushing their kids. She learned early on that certain kinds of praise actually backfire.

Praising only intelligence can send the message that being smart is a natural gift and thus a child's control, she says. Instead, give kids the idea that hard work is always needed for achievement.

If you want to praise, she says, praise your child's process, commitment, the strategies that work. Focus on the learning, not just the grades. Do you tell your child, “Easy A, wow, you're smart!” Or, do you ask, “What did you learn in that class?”

Children praised lavishly for their past high performance may be harmed even more than kids who have typically done less well, says Dweck. “The high performers think it's beneath them to try hard — that it's just for dummies.

There's a false promise here: You're so smart, it will just come to you.

” And when academic success doesn't just happen, some kids may worry that they're no longer the whiz kids they once thought they were and lose their motivation to study.

Of course, we all come with certain natural abilities, says Dweck. “But just because some have a more natural ability doesn't mean others can't learn the skill, too.”

“Parents need to value learning, progress, effort, resilience,” she says. “Their children will take that with them and enjoy it for a lifetime.”

SOURCES: Siegel, D. Infant Mental Health Journal, 2001; vol 22: pp67-94. Ross A. Thompson, PhD, professor, department of psychology, Universityof California, Davis.

Pat Wolfe, EdD, educational consultant; former teacher;author of Building the Reading Brain, Corwin Press, 2004. Lisa Oakes,PhD, professor of psychology, Center for Mind and Brain, University ofCalifornia, Davis.

Carol Dweck, PhD, professor of psychology, StanfordUniversity, Stanford, California; author of Mindset: The New Psychology ofSuccess, Random House, 2006.

© 2007 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.


Social Networks Matter: Friends Increase the Size of Your Brain

Can the size of your social network make your baby smarter?

New research confirms that social complexity enriches cognitive growth. Could having more friends actually make you smarter?

Let's face it, as a species we're obsessed with ourselves. The vast majority of us spend our days at work or school where a considerable amount of time is taken up not discussing the important issues of the day, but rather the juicy details of one another's personal lives.

Then we go home only to sign on to social network services , , or and continue where we left off. In this respect we're fairly typical primates. Most of our simian relatives, particularly our great ape cousins the chimpanzees and bonobos, nothing better than keeping a watchful eye on what other members of their troop are up to.

But our species has taken this preoccupation one step further.

Human beings are the most social of the primates and have the largest group sizes of any species in our order. For about 90% of our existence we lived in hunter-gatherer societies with populations that ly clustered around 150-200 individuals.

By way of comparison, baboons come in a distant second with an average of about 50 group members. Now, thanks to modern industrial agriculture, our species has pushed that range well into the millions, a development that has resulted in considerable stress on our slightly above average primate brains.

Of course, all organisms need to successfully predict and navigate their environments in order to relay their genes on to the next generation. It's just that this becomes increasingly complicated when there are many individuals all interacting in the same environment simultaneously.

Merely keeping track of these relationships requires a considerable amount of time and energy, not to mention brain power.

In the 1990s the British evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar championed an idea known as the Social Brain Hypothesis. He found that mammals who lived in the largest social groups often had the largest neocortex to brain ratio.

Since the neocortex — composed chiefly of gray matter that forms the outermost “rind” of our cantaloupe-sized stuff of thought — is associated with sensory perception and abstract reasoning, Dunbar hypothesized that the demands of group living resulted in a selection pressure that promoted the expansion of neocortical growth.

In 2009 I co-authored a study in the Journal of Human Evolution with colleagues Evan MacLean, Nancy Barrickman, and Christine Wall of Duke University that found no relationship between relative brain size and group size in lemurs (a clade of strepsirrhine primates that last shared a common ancestor with the haplorhine monkeys and apes about 75 million years ago). However, where it comes to these more recently evolved haplorhines, the data is remarkably consistent with Dunbar's interpretation (see Figure 1 below).

Primates, and humans in particular, are such good social cooperators because we can empathize with others and coordinate our activities to build consensus.

It is what also makes us so remarkably deceitful, allowing us to manipulate other members of our group by intentionally making them think we will behave one way when our actual plans are quite different.

A successful primate is therefore one who can keep track of these subtle details in behavior and anticipate their potential outcome.

But therein lies a chicken-and-egg problem.

How do we know whether it's the social networks that have promoted an increase in neocortical growth or whether that same expansion of gray matter simply allowed these social networks to expand? A new study published in the November 4th edition of Science addressed this question by housing monkeys in different sized groups to find out if their neocortical gray matter increased as the number of individuals grew. A team of neuroscientists led by Jérôme Sallet and Matthew Rushworth of the University of Oxford in England randomly assigned 34 rhesus macaques to separate social groups ranging in size from 1 to 7. The researchers conducted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans on 23 of the monkey's brain structures both before they were placed into their various groups and again after more than a year had passed.

Their analysis revealed a clear, linear relationship between the size of a monkey's social network and an increase of neocortical gray matter in regions involved with social cognition (such as the mid-superior temporal sulcus, rostral prefrontal cortex as well as the frontal and temporal cortex). Previous research has shown that these regions are important for a variety of social behaviors, such as interpreting facial expressions or physical gestures, “theory of mind,” and predicting the behavior of other group members. Overall the monkeys demonstrated an expansion of gray matter ranging from 3-8% (depending on the brain region) for each additional member of their social network. In other words, monkeys that lived in the most socially complex group had an average increase of 20% more neocortical growth than monkeys housed individually.

In order to make sure that the increased brain growth corresponded with more successful social behaviors, the research team also tested whether there was a correlation between gray matter volume and a monkey’'s rank within their group (as in many other primates, rank in rhesus macaques is a strong predictor of reproductive success). Once again the researchers found a linear relationship, at a ratio of 3-to-1, between a monkey's dominance behavior and the growth of key regions in their neocortex. This means there was individual (potentially genetic) variation that allowed certain monkeys to experience greater neocortical growth than other group members that were living in an identical environment. This strongly suggests that it is the cognitive demands of a larger social network that has resulted in the growth of brain regions beneficial to social behavior in primates.

“Social network size, therefore, contributes to changes both in brain structure and function,” said Sallet. “Individual variation in brain anatomy should have implications for an individual’s success within the social group.

” Crucially, these individual differences remained consistent for more than four months.

Certain individuals happened to be better suited for dealing with the demands of larger social groups, but they had to first live in that environment before their natural abilities could emerge.

This raises a provocative question. Individual variation is the raw material on which natural selection operates. But in a rapidly changing environment — in many human societies ever since the invention of agriculture 10,000 years ago — there will be many new adaptive opportunities that may never have existed throughout most of human evolution.

Consider those individuals who have made successful careers (and had large families) through their skill as novelists, DJs, or computer programmers. Certain aspects of their skill sets would certainly have been based in our long history of hominin evolution, but other parts may have had little or no adaptive value at any other time than the present.

It is this capacity that was the focus of a study published last month in Proceedings of the Royal Society that investigated the biological variability in another form of social behavior: online social networking.

In a collaboration between neuroscientists and anthropologists led by Ryota Kanai and Geraint Rees from the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, the researchers investigated social media users, specifically , for the same kinds of biological variation that distinguished certain social monkeys over others.

“These services allow individuals to articulate and make visible their friendship networks,” explained Kanai, “and it is apparent that there is considerable variability in the size of such networks.”

By comparing the differences between individuals and the size of their online network of friends, real-world friends, as well as the size of neocortical brain regions involved in social behavior, the researchers were able to identify a strong correlation between the volume of three neocortical regions and the number of that individual's friends. Crucially, these brain regions (the right superior temporal sulcus, left middle temporal gyrus, and entorhinal cortex, areas previously implicated in social perception and associative memory) had no relationship to the real-world social networks of these individuals. There was only one area, the amygdala, that showed a correlation between gray matter density and both forms of social networking. The other brain regions seemed to be, quite literally, wired for the web.

However, un the study with monkey social networks, there was no way to determine whether it was the number of an individual's friends that had pushed this neocortical growth or if it was actually the other way around.

But given the similarities in function, it is certainly a tempting conclusion to reach.

Could it be that online technology has allowed some individuals to express (and expand) a form of social behavior that emerged for other adaptive reasons but which has been underutilized until now?

Given the regular jeremiads from self-appointed cultural guardians over what they see as the danger of our increasing reliance on online networks at the expense of real-world ones, the possibility that we may actually be enhancing untapped potential is a refreshing idea.

At the same time, however, it's probably a good idea to wait until we know for sure before sharing the news with any other primates. The last thing I need is a slew of hairy faces crowding my wall.

I have enough trouble keeping track of my online network of friends as it is.


Sallet, J., Mars, R., Noonan, M., Andersson, J., O'Reilly, J., Jbabdi, S., Croxson, P., Jenkinson, M., Miller, K., & Rushworth, M. (2011). Social Network Size Affects Neural Circuits in Macaques, Science 334 (6056), 697-700. DOI: 10.1126/science.1210027


10 reasons play makes babies smarter

Can the size of your social network make your baby smarter?

Play helps children understand the way things work.


  • Play can help children learn the rules of social interaction
  • Playing with other children requires your tot to use and be exposed to language
  • Play provides a healthy outlet for expression of negative and overwhelming emotions


  • Child Development
  • Infant Development
  • Parenting

( — Parents of future athletes, scientists, judges and corner-office executives, take note: An enriched play environment is critical to a baby's development and teaches skills he will use later in life.

At a play group at a friend's house, 3-month-old Ben lies on his back while his mother blows bubbles for him. He does his best to follow with his eyes the different-size bubbles floating all around him. He squeals with glee each time he touches one.

Seven-month-old Amy lies in her crib at home, sucking her big toe. She examines it up close and decides to try the other foot. 8 ways your baby says 'I love you'

One-year-old Trevor walks past his Mommy and Me classmates to the toy kitchen. He opens and closes the cabinets while his classmate, Daniel, plays with the refrigerator. They hardly seem to notice one another because they are so engrossed in their own activity.

Beginning in babyhood, play is inexorably linked to learning, socialization, development and even intellect.

Research has found that the availability of play materials ( toys and games) is one of the most consistent predictors of intelligence. 5 questions you should ask your baby's doctor

Playthings don't have to be expensive or new and, ideally, shouldn't be electronic because that means the toy is ly doing the work for the babies.

Simple, inexpensive, “open-ended” playthings (items that babies can interact with any way they ) will do the trick just fine (see “Cheap Toys Do the Trick!”).

According to the groundbreaking book “Einstein Never Used Flash Cards,” “play is to early childhood what gas is to a car,” as it's “the very fuel of every intellectual activity that our children engage in.”

Here are the most important benefits of play:

Play makes kids smarter

Playtime and interacting with toys are the primary methods by which children acquire many basic skills. Consider a child playing with a train set. Not only is she actively learning about trains but about how wheels operate, how to utilize tracks and even how gravity works. When that same child sorts those trains, she learns colors, numbers, sizes and shapes.

What you can do: Turn off the TV and educational DVDs and pull out the dolls, cars, balls and bubbles. Cute ways to bond with your baby

Play helps social development

Taking turns, collaboration, following rules, empathy and self-regulation — these are just some of the social skills play underscores. It helps children learn the rules of social interaction that will, in turn, help them in all of their relationships. Babies who play well together are able to work well together, which translates into good social skills.

What you can do: Whether it's a play date or a trip to the playground, provide opportunities for your tot to interact with children his age. These moments build the foundation for future social relationships and exert external pressure for them to act in socially desirable ways.

Play helps develop impulse control

It has often been said that play is the work of children and, indeed, it is more work than it appears. Free play, in particular, is not so “free.” What kids' growth charts don't tell you

It's all about self-control and following social rules, which requires tremendous impulse control. Children who engage in dramatic play (such as Trevor and Daniel in the aforementioned Mommy and Me class) score higher on tests of social responsibility. More impulsive children tend to show the biggest improvement when given the opportunity to play more.

What you can do: Don't be quick to create a play agenda when hanging out with your child or hosting a play date with others. Give children the room and the materials (such as balls, boxes and shape sorters) to create “free” play on their own terms.

Play reduces stress

“What stress?” you may wonder. Sure, your child gets to take naps, eat snacks and roam freely for most of the day, but childhood involves learning social rules, controlling impulses, doing what adults say and coping with separations — and they're not even toddlers yet!

What you can do: If you're facing what is ly to be an anxiety-provoking situation for your baby (a doctor's appointment, a holiday dinner with lots of unfamiliar faces, etc.), try to arrive early with toys and enjoy play time with your child beforehand. Predict your child's adult height

This will help redirect focus away from the anxiety and settle him into a new environment through familiar stimuli.

Play improves concentration, attention span and memory

Attention and concentration are learned skills, and play is one of the most natural and enjoyable ways for a child to begin developing these skills. We have all seen a toddler so lost in play that she doesn't even hear when you call her name.

This focus is the same skill a child needs years later to write a term paper, listen to a lecture or perform a piano concerto.

What you can do: Instead of getting mad when your child is so busy with her blocks that she doesn't look up when you call her, be patient. She's developing an important skill!

Play aids in physical development

Improved coordination, fine motor skills, gross motor skills and muscle strength are all benefits of play. It also prevents obesity.

Children who are used to spending free time playing grow up to be physically active teenagers and adults. Sensorimotor play, which uses both senses and muscles, allows an infant or toddler to discover his own body and its abilities.

Preschool children develop this awareness through both small-muscle activity, getting both hands to work together, and large-muscle activity, such as walking, running and climbing.

What you can do: Let your toddler kick a ball, crawl through the sand at the beach or initiate a game of patty-cake. Mastery of the physical body promotes self-esteem and provides a feeling of accomplishment.

Play helps children understand the way things work

Have you ever noticed how children do things over and over again? Whether it's climbing the baby slide and sliding down over and over or kicking a ball repeatedly, these activities result in the same thing: mastery.

Children master new skills through repetitive play; conquering that skill means moving to the next level. Once a baby learns to walk, she will try to run. Once she learns to stack blocks, she will start to build more complex structures.

What you can do: If she's happily occupied with one toy, don't lure her to the next. Let her experiment with repetitive play.

Play helps develop mathematical thinking

When children play with trains, puzzles or almost any other toy, they are playing directly with math without knowing it. Play teaches children about the relationships between things, hence it helps them develop the type of reasoning that aids in mathematical performance.

What you can do: Pull out the Legos. Toddlers know that if they put one Lego on top of another they will have two. They know if they have two Legos and you have five, you have more.

Even though they do not know the words, they are learning about addition and subtraction. Who says you have to wait until kindergarten?

Play promotes language and literacy

Playing with other children requires your tot to use and be exposed to language. Little ones who frequently engage in play, particularly sociodramatic play, show an increase in the total number of words used, the length of their sentences and the complexity of their speech.

What you can do: Give him blocks. Yes, blocks. In 2007, Seattle Children's Hospital Research Institute and the University of Washington conducted a study of 175 toddlers, half of whom were given two sets of building blocks. Those who played with blocks scored 15 percent higher on their language assessment than those who didn't.

The study's authors theorized that block play may have replaced other activities that don't encourage language development (such as television and baby DVDs) and may even improve attention capacity.

Play allows children to voice difficult feelings

Powerful feelings — especially negative ones anger, jealousy, anxiety and fear — can be overwhelming for children. Play provides a voice and a healthy outlet for the expression of those negative and overwhelming emotions, and it's important for parents to give children space to explore them.

What you can do: Give your tot the room to act out her feelings, whatever they may be, in play. It reduces the lihood of her acting out in real life.

Cheap toys do the trick!

Many parents think they need to buy the latest fad toy. In reality, simple toys are just as beneficial.

Some active toys — the ones with the bells and whistles — prompt kids to sit back and be entertained by pushing buttons. But passive toys make for active kids. When the toy is simple, a child is forced to be creative, dynamic and engaged on an entirely different level, which enables and promotes development.

Here are some simple and inexpensive toys and their developmental benefits:

— Blocks promote fine and gross motor skills

— Bubbles promote eye development and visual tracking

— Dolls promote sociodramatic and pretend play

— Boxes prompt imagination and creativity

— Bowls prompt auditory stimulation and cause and effect

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Teaching Kids to Be Smart About Social Media

Can the size of your social network make your baby smarter?

Most teens use some form of social media and have a profile on a social networking site. Many visit these sites every day.

There are plenty of good things about social media — but also many risks and things kids and teens should avoid. They don't always make good choices when they post something to a site, and this can lead to problems.

So it's important to talk with your kids about how to use social media wisely.

What's Good About Social Media

Social media can help kids:

  • stay connected with friends and family
  • volunteer or get involved with a campaign, nonprofit, or charity
  • enhance their creativity by sharing ideas, music, and art
  • meet and interact with others who share similar interests
  • communicate with educators and fellow students

What's Bad About Social Media

The flipside is that social media can be a hub for things cyberbullying and questionable activities. Without meaning to, kids can share more online than they should.

Most teens:

  • post photos of themselves online or use their real names on their profiles
  • reveal their birthdates and interests
  • post their school name and the town where they live

This can make them easy targets for online predators and others who might mean them harm.

In fact, many teens say they have:

  • been contacted online by someone they didn't know in a way that made them feel scared or uncomfortable
  • received online advertising that was inappropriate for their age
  • lied about their age to get access to websites

Concerns and Consequences

Besides problems cyberbullying and online predators, kids also can face the possibility of a physical encounter with the wrong person. Many newer apps automatically reveal the poster's location when they're used. This can tell anyone exactly where to find the person using the app.

And photos, videos, and comments made online usually can't be taken back once they're posted. Even when a teen thinks something has been deleted, it can be impossible to completely erase it from the Internet.

Posting an inappropriate photo can damage a reputation and cause problems years later — such as when a potential employer or college admissions officer does a background check. And sending a mean-spirited text, even as a joke, can be very hurtful to someone else and even taken as a threat.

Spending too much time on social media can be a downer too. Seeing how many “friends” others have and the pictures of them having fun can make kids feel bad about themselves or they don't measure up to their peers.

What Can Parents Do?

It's important to be aware of what your kids do online. But snooping can alienate them and damage the trust you've built together. The key is to stay involved in a way that makes your kids understand that you respect their privacy but want to make sure they're safe.

Tell your kids that it's important to:

  • Be nice. Mean behavior is not OK. Make it clear that you expect your kids to treat others with respect, and to never post hurtful or embarrassing messages. And ask them to always tell you about any harassing or bullying messages that others post.
  • Think twice before hitting “enter.” Remind teens that what they post can be used against them. For example, letting the world know that you're off on vacation or posting your home address gives would-be robbers a chance to strike. Teens also should avoid posting specific locations of parties or events, as well as phone numbers.
  • Follow the “WWGS?” (What Would Grandma Say?) rule. Teach kids not to share anything on social media that they wouldn't want their teachers, college admissions officers, future bosses — and yes, grandma — to see.
  • Use privacy settings. Privacy settings are important. Go through them together to make sure your kids understand each one. Also, explain that passwords are there to protect them against things identity theft. They should never share them with anyone, even a boyfriend, girlfriend, or best friend.
  • Don't “friend” strangers. “If you don't know them, don't friend them.” This is a plain, simple — and safe — rule of thumb.

Make a Contract

Consider making a “social media agreement” with your kids — a real contract they can sign. In it, they agree to protect their own privacy, consider their reputation, and not give out personal information. They also promise not to use technology to hurt anyone else through bullying or gossip.

In turn, parents agree to respect teens' privacy while making an effort to be part of the social media world. This means you can “friend” and observe them, but don't post embarrassing comments or rants about messy rooms.

Parents also can help keep kids grounded in the real world by putting limits on media use. Keep computers in public areas in the house, avoid laptops and smartphones in bedrooms, and set some rules on the use of technology (such as no devices at the dinner table).

And don't forget: Setting a good example through your own virtual behavior can go a long way toward helping your kids use social media safely.

Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD

Date reviewed: April 2018