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The impact of the early years

Image of a lifespan from infant to young adult
Image: klyaksun / Shutterstock

The impact of the early years

Jonas Miller, a researcher focused on brain functioning in young children, talks about the long-term effects of early childhood experiences.

Research suggests that most children born today will on average live to be 100 – and their early years play a considerable role in shaping the trajectory of that long life, says Jonas Miller, a postdoctoral scholar at the Stanford Neurodevelopment, Affect, and Psychopathology (SNAP) Lab.

In this episode of School’s In, Miller joins Stanford Graduate School of Education Dean Dan Schwartz and Senior Lecturer Denise Pope to discuss how rethinking early childhood may help the next century’s senior citizens.

“The evidence suggests that things that happen in early childhood can be compounded over the course of life,” says Miller, whose work focuses on brain functioning in young children, and how adverse and supportive environments relate to neurobiological cognitive and social-emotional development. He recently worked with the Stanford Center on Longevity in developing the New Map of Life, an initiative designed to guide and enhance the quality of an increasing lifespan.

Traumatic events that occur in childhood, which researchers refer to as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), can have long-term repercussions for both physical and mental health. Miller says that about 70 percent of kids will experience at least one such event, and, in addition to increasing the risk for psychiatric disorders, ACEs dramatically raise the risk for age-related diseases like cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s.

Sending kids to preschool can potentially reduce exposure to negative childhood experiences, Miller says, but the majority of children under age 3 do not attend full-time daycare and preschool. Increasing preschool enrollment, he says, could decrease their exposure to ACEs and help build resilience. 

Another important consideration in a lifespan that extends an additional 20 or 30 years is the advantage of expanding the time that kids get to be kids. Often parents are eager for preschool education to “get their children ready for the next stage,” says Miller. Teenage stress and anxiety about school signal a “shrinking” of childhood, he says – a trend that could be countered through changes to the early education experience.

You can listen to School's In on SiriusXM, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and Soundcloud.

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