Walsh answers an age-old question

The community came together to support Youth First at its 18th annual Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast March 23.

Guest speaker Dr. David Walsh, an internationally recognized authority on child development and parenting, explained the brain development of children and adolescents and attempted to answer the question on why they act the way they do. Photo by Tammy Sakry
Guest speaker Dr. David Walsh, an internationally recognized authority on child development and parenting, explained the brain development of children and adolescents and attempted to answer the question on why they act the way they do. Photo by Tammy Sakry

During the fund-raiser at Lord of Life Lutheran Church, Ramsey, more than 300 people heard Dr. David Walsh, one of the world’s leading authorities on child development and parenting, answer the question of why children act they way they do.

It all has to do with how the brain develops, said the author of “Why do they act that way? A survival guide to the adolescent brain for you and your teen.”

After a brief science lesson on how neurons work, Walsh talked about how the brain develops from infancy.

At birth, only 17 percent of the child’s brain cells are working, he said.

They cannot use their cortexes, which take years to develop, to comfort themselves and the babies rely on their caregivers for the comfort, Walsh said.

An important part of the child’s development is the experiences he/she will have and that is why Youth First is so important as are the relationships parents, teachers, coaches and even police officers have with the child, he said.

The more experiences the stronger the connections become, Walsh said.

“We are hard wired to connect” and having those relationships are critically important to how children develop, he said.

According to Walsh, having adults that are present, attentive, attuned and responsive is critical in helping adolescents develop into successful adults.

Without that, a child’s ability to respond to threats is greatly diminished and the child’s trust in the world takes a big hit, Walsh said.

In 20 years, that child could be the adult that responds with road rage when someone cuts him/her off on Highway 169, he said.

Youth First’s promise of having caring adults that give the children and teens a place to go where someone knows their name, will look them in the eye and take an interest, is important, according to Walsh.

In today’s world, some people cross the street when they see teens coming and avoid looking at them. It is sad, he said.

“When we are connected, the threat response is (minimized)” and they learn to use the cortex more, Walsh said.

“When the connection is not there, they feel a state of threat and are less able to use the cortex.”

When a child is threatened by a bully in school, they are not able to concentrate on learning because his/her brain is in survival mode, Walsh said referring to the recent Anoka-Hennepin School District issues.


Teen brain

The biggest mistake that is made regarding the adolescent brain is assuming that it is fully developed at 12, Walsh said.

It’s not. It is not fully physically developed until the mid-20s, he said.

“The adolescent brain is still under construction,” Walsh said.

While the hormones have begun to hit the teenage brain, the pre-frontal cortex, the brain supervisor that handles planning and risk assessment, is still being built.

Because the area is under construction, parents, teachers, Youth First and police officers can serve as the teen’s pre-frontal cortex until it is built, Walsh said.

“The adolescent brain is like the gas is to the floor in a car and the brakes are on back order,” he said.

“And that’s why Youth First is so important.”

It is critical at this time in their lives that teens have caring, connected adults around them for the support, Walsh said.

Of course that can be tricky, according to Walsh.

As teens, they demand separation and space, but they don’t mean it, Walsh said.

It would be a mistake to grant the divorce they want because they need guidance and accountability to learn to be responsible and be successful and happy, he said.



“Youth First would like to thank everyone who attended our 18th annual Mayors’ Prayer Breakfast. We had wonderful turn out of about 300 people,” said Heidi Geiss, Youth First program director.

The event raised more than $11,000 that will be used to support Youth First’s ongoing school year and summer programs for youth in Andover, Anoka and Ramsey communities, she said.

“Thank you to everyone who so generously donated their money and time and demonstrated their clear commitment to supporting youth,” Geiss said.

“It’s amazing how many people are here, especially from the school district and police departments,” said Andover Mayor Mike Gamache.

Some of these kids could be in a bit of trouble without the homework help and other things that Geiss and Kelly Thorsten, site coordinator, give them, said Ramsey Mayor Bob Ramsey.

“They love these kids and they do it because they love these kids,” he said.



During the March 23 event, the Youth First Board of Directors honored three community partners for their support with the Partners of Promise award.

Over the last two years, the Andover Lions Club has donated money to provide snacks for children participating in the Oak View and YMCA after school programs, said Michelle Anderson, board vice chairperson.

The donations have helped Youth First keep many kids fed and ready to learn and support the group’s promise of a healthy start, she said.

Cutters Choice of Anoka has provide free lawn care service for two years and kept the Anoka location looking nice, Anderson said.

It has given a place where children can play and Youth First the opportunity to direct its efforts and resources elsewhere, she said.

The final group to receive the Partners of Promise award was American Pre Clinical Services, Coon Rapids.

The group has donated school supplies, winter coats, hats, mittens and snow pants as well as items for stocking stuffers, Anderson said.


About Walsh

In 1996, Walsh founded the internationally renowned National Institute on Media and the Family, which he led until 2010. He recently founded Mind Positive Parenting to help caring adults better understand how to help kids thrive in the 21st century, according to his website.

For more information on Walsh, his website is: http://drdavewalsh.com/

Tammy Sakry is at [email protected]