As Julian, Katie’s son, grows from a baby into a toddler, it has been amazing to watch the neuroplasticity and the automaticity that we wrote about in The Straight-A Conspiracy at work. For Katie, it has been a daily incremental process. For Hunter, who sees Julian once every few weeks, it has been a process of leaps and bounds. It’s not merely his face and body that are changing but his ability to perceive and understand the world. However, perhaps one of the most interesting ( and most fun) has been watching Julian acquire tastes for new foods.
Last week, we all went out for Chinese food. With years of experience of Chinese food, the adults were excited for a riot of spices and flavors while Julian opted for some plain white rice--a safe starting point. In no time, Julian wanted to try what the adults were eating, and so we gave him little bits of scallion pancake. Those went well. The next bite of spicy chicken produced a hilarious face from Julian...but very little enjoyment.
We are evolutionarily programmed to like things that are simple. We want easy foods without complex flavors as a kid. And when we’re sick or emotionally drained, we revert back to that desire for Mac & Cheese or toast with butter. Over time though, we acquire more complex and sophisticated tastes. Foods that began as strange become familiar favorites and complex flavors become a delight that we seek out rather than avoid. The same thing is true with literature, history, science and languages. As our confidence and familiarity builds, we come to crave the unfamiliar, the new, and the challenging.
Working with teenagers, we constantly meet parents who, because they see their child day in and day out, have lost sight of how much their kid has the capacity to change. It’s easy to forget that that teenager with no appetite for a particular subject or who wants everything spoon-fed to them can grow into the kind of adult who is voraciously hungry for knowledge in every area and for challenges of every kind. Humans can acquire a taste for virtually anything.
Seeing the look on Julian’s face at his first exposure to Chinese food, it would be easy for Katie to think that Julian doesn’t like Chinese food and to decide to never feed it to him again. And yet, in spite of that unhappy little face that she loves so much, Katie knows better than Julian the joys that Chinese food can bring. Dim sum. Lo Mein. Scallion Pancakes. And much, much more. And so, Katie and her husband will keep feeding Julian little bits of Chinese food. By just exposing him to that thing he thinks he doesn’t like, she knows he will acquire a taste.
So, be patient and be persistent. All tastes must be acquired. And just patiently keep exposing your kid to art, literature, math, languages and the sciences. They might only want video games and YouTube makeup tutorials right now, but there is a voraciously hungry intellectual lurking within them.