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New Year, New Resolution?

Parents, it's not too late to learn a new trick, and you just might encourage your child along the way.

It's 2012, and a new year means new year’s resolutions.

Blah.

If you're over 30, I bet at least one of your resolutions is to look younger. If you're 15 to 25, your resolution (you’re so cool you only need one) is to continue being awesome.

But if you’re still a kid, your new year’s resolution is probably to learn something. It may be something you want to learn–like becoming a better skater–or something your parents want you to know, like the multiplication tables or some crap about Shakespeare.  

Making kids learn things they don't want to is an important part of parenting. There is an endless list of skills kids should have–everyone plays an instrument, boasts flawless academics and plays at least two sports, right? 

Perhaps parents are so pushy because developmental psychologists have sold us the "critical periods" theory of learning, which states that if you want to learn something, start early in life.

But according to Gary Marcus, a professor of psychology at New York University, the evidence for this theory has begun to crumble. When it comes to learning a language, for example, "the window certainly doesn't slam shut the moment that puberty begins," Marcus wrote in a recent Wall Street Journal article.

This is good news for my youngest son, whose only new year’s resolution is to kill as many XBox aliens as possible. When I suggested he focus on piano or math, he angrily wanted to know what I had resolved to learn this year.

It’s a stumper. Unless I start cozying up to a plastic surgeon, I’m not going to look any younger. Should I adjust my resolutions to include learning something new? 

Learning seems scarier now than when I was a child. After all, kid’s brains are just waiting to soak up knowledge. An adult brain is less like a sponge and more like the congealed oatmeal sponges are supposed to wash away.

Still, according to Marcus, the key to adult learning is to take small steps and not to expect overnight success. Whether adults want to paint, cook, pick up a sport or learn anything else, our brains will need a heavy dose of re-wiring, he writes.

Like most adults, I recognize that learning often comes through sustained effort. I hope that watching me work hard to learn will encourage my son to do the same.   

So, I resolve to learn to play chess. I want my son to play, so we can learn together. I may not be an Xbox alien, but I know he’ll master the game just so he can kill me. 

Do your kids have new year's resolutions? If so, how will you encourage them to fulfill their goals? Tell us in the comments.

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