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We've all seen those awesome video games and movies and comics where people throw "Hadokens" and "Hamehameha" around like it's nothing. It's flashy, does a ludicrous amount of damage (including the surrounding landscape), and usually produces massive amounts of light. It's also often referred to as chi, but almost always only seen in battle.

Consider the following on how this "chi" magic system works:

Limitations:

Any person is able to use this mystical energy - pending on the persons ability to focus and move his body. In other words, this magic can be taught to anyone.

This energy is dependent on the person's mental strength, where mental strength represents will, intent, and concentration. A person that is extremely focused on doing something will have much more success compared to someone who's doing the same thing half halfheartedly.

The magic does not allow for "super strength" situations - For example, if the person would not normally be able to lift a boulder, the chi would not allow him to lift the boulder. If the person normally could punch with 50lbs of force, a "chi punch" would also only result in 50lbs of force applied to the target.

A person must grasp the overall concept of this "chi" system in order use it. (The concept to be grasped is irrelevant). As such, one usually does not "accidentally learn" chi. It's more likely that someone teaches you the proper concept and how to think about the chi in order for you to start managing and using it.

What it looks like:

Flashy light is disturbing to neighbors. Which is bad.

This chi is visible to the naked eye, usually visualized as a distorted section of air based the form of the intent. For example, a punch could be either a ball of chi flying through the air, or a longer tendril extending from the arm to target, depending on intent. A palm thrust could easily be as large as the cross section of a car, where as a finger thrust could be as sharp as a needle point.

How the chi is used:

This chi magic is often (for lack of a better word) "Activated" through martial arts; however, simply focusing on the principles of what is trying to be accomplished is enough. Consider the following situation:

As Chi master Charles walks down the street, he notices a teenager trying to open a door from a distance. He's clearly practicing how to use his chi, and is launching a furry of chi punches at the door, but it's not budging at all. Charles decides to show off a bit, and takes the place of the teen. Concentrating on his intent to twist the doorknob, he extends his hand and grasps the air. Bystanders stop and stare as a circle of distorted air grasps the doorknob and twists it in unison with Charles wrist turn. A slight chi push follows, and the door swing opens.

An advanced user such as Charlie was able to manipulate his chi to twist the doorknob and push instead of throwing brute force at the door. Taking this example, if the door were a well oiled 100 lbs door with a thick steel lock, even if the beginner might have been stronger physically than the advanced user, a advanced user grasped the concept better and could open the door, whereas the beginner would not have been able to make it budge.

But doesn't this all seem too perfect and convenient?

With any advantage there must be a drawback. Use of this magic does not drain actual physical strength - however, excessive use of this magic can cause irreversible brain damage in children, resulting in things including but not limited to: Alzheimers, ADHD, Memory loss (Short term and long term).

Here, children are defined as anyone younger than 18. As each person nears the age of 18, the use of this magic causes less damage, but becomes harder to learn to use. Once the person has passed the age of 20, he/she is free to use this magic with no side effects other than the mental exhaustion of continuously focusing on things. However, the younger the child is, the more damage the magic does.

It's well known that children absorb information and learn a lot better than grown adults - their minds are like sponges and aren't as saturated. While this magic can be drilled into adults, it's significantly harder than teaching it to children. Those who have been taught to use it from a young age use it much more effectively than those who learn it later. To give a sort of comparison between the early and late learners, those who learn it late (post 18 years old) are at most able to use chi at a 20% efficiency rate compared to those who learnt it earlier. Learning it before age 6 would give 100% efficiency rate at age 18 if practiced enough and trained properly.

Unfortunately, children also tend to not listen to adults. Once they learn it, we can't simply tell them "don't use it, it's bad for you", or explain why it's bad for them (if they're too young to understand). They'll probably abuse it for personal reasons such as entertainment, or for mislead young adults, fighting or stealing or whatnot.

Thus, I must ask: At what point (and how) are the children taught to use this magic, with the intent of having users that can use it at maximum efficiency without sacrificing mental health?

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    $\begingroup$ When do you give a child a chainsaw to play with? Dangerous things and kids mix poorly. $\endgroup$ – Oldcat Jul 21 '15 at 21:37
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    $\begingroup$ You can learn to use a chainsaw effectively without being a child @Oldcat In this case, the magic is more effective when you're older if you learnt it as a child. The comparison is completely different - a chainsaw is dangerous at all ages, the magic is only dangerous whilst you're young. $\endgroup$ – Aify Jul 21 '15 at 21:42
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    $\begingroup$ This is like deciding when the appropriate minimum driving age is. Learned at a younger age, the person is able to gain greater proficiency more quickly, but the risk of rash decisions causing significant harm is greater as well. Most cultures have decided he appropriate age is between 14 and 17. $\endgroup$ – AJMansfield Jul 22 '15 at 2:10
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    $\begingroup$ @bilbo_pingouin I had foreseen people asking stuff like this, so in my writing of the question I had explicitly the focus and concentration required (not something most children have). Unfortunately, it seems I neglected to mention that there is a certain thinking process involved. I'll edit it into the question. Thank you for reminding me =) $\endgroup$ – Aify Jul 22 '15 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ Kids don't use their focus often, because they don't often find things that matter to them that much. If you see a child really focus on something they consider important, though, you'll find most of them - even the ones modern medicine thinks have an attention disorder - can match the most stubborn or zealous adults. $\endgroup$ – gatherer818 Aug 14 '15 at 13:43
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Other answers will be better at the social implications of what is considered an acceptable age to start learning. I'm sure a 'chi' teacher would differ in opinion from overzealous parents, and those from parents that don't want their kids to have anything to do with 'chi'. Maybe the government is even regulating this stuff in your setting (though I sure hope not, since governments are known to be bad at these things ;) )

I'll try playing out what could be considered a responsible way of introducing children to 'chi' in order to maximize control while minimizing negative effects on mental health.

First of all, you stated that chi can not exert any more force than the user could exert without it. That's good, that means with perfect control over your 'chi' you can still improve the power of it even after you've become an adult. So childhood would likely focus on practising that control.

How I imagine training would actually turn out in the long run:

  1. Teach the children chi-unrelated martial arts from a young age (~2years young) - this has, just like in our world, several positive effects in general: They will get to know their body and how to interact with it and the world, they will learn discipline (mainly because discipline is necessary to avoid injury as most people come to realize quite naturally when they do sports) and they will learn that they are capable of inflicting terrible injuries on themselfs and others. (The main point of many martial arts is to gain control over power output, not increase.)
  2. Around age ~4 children become increasingly aware of 'chi', probably by accidently using it - starting from this point they will incorporate it into their usual training in order to gain control of it (much like an extension of their body). Think of things like breathing techniques but for 'chi'; in reality we use them to gain a better understanding of our body and mind, and when you add chi to the mix it's a very safe way of getting used to this new 'body part' since the effort and output can be finely regulated rather quickly. I choose age 4 because that's given the children 2 years of time to get to know their physical body. You may think that's too early (in fact, there won't be any conflict or elaborate technique in martial arts that early on), but at such a young age children are incredibly good at grasping concepts, even if they can't explain it or seemingly don't do it right. In other words, they will understand how to move their bodies, even if they are not physically capable yet of making it look especially smooth.
  3. As the children improve their control over chi and grow their minds mature as well. Before, they might have been told not to overdo it, but I'd say at age 7 it's high time to have proper discussions and explanations of the explicit dangers of overusing 'chi' and, much more important yet, how to recognize when it has been overused (this also means that I would afterwards start to gradually reduce any safety buffers against overuse, for them to gain experience in recognizing their limits). Much like one needs to be told that some muscle pain is perfectly okay, and some isn't. Lighter versions of these explanations will have been given throughout the years already, I'm just saying overtly simple arguments may not be enough to satisfy/convince the children anymore. Oh, explanations will probably also get shorter and shorter as they grow older, albeit more complicated (the simplest answers for toddlers are often the most elaborate ones one ever comes up with for a question).
  4. Afterwards, since control over 'chi' is the main concern in order to improve efficiency for their later lifes, proper 'chi' practice will be included in the training plan. It is important not to neglect the original martial arts however, as it's beneficial to balance different kinds of strains ('chi', non-'chi' mental training, normal physical training etc).
  5. Starting around age 11 children have gotten a proper foundation and understanding in both martial arts and the art of 'chi' from a fundamental control point of view. It may be time to let them have a go at the wonders of using 'chi' for things like stitching (without touching the needle) or building LEGO castles etc. Make sure these things are just as properly supervised in order to avoid overuse of 'chi' - the children might know their limits, but everyone forgets their limits while having fun (such as reading a novel all the way into the next day, always thinking "just one more page").
  6. Gradually introduce a greater variety and greater specialisations of 'chi' applications, and have them get emersed in what they want. Perhaps they don't really want to use their 'chi' anyway, that should be fine too.
  7. Getting closer to age 18, but at the latest then, you will need to REDO all explanations and fundamental physical and 'chi' training methods they've done as little children. Why? Because they have gotten sloppy at their fundamentals and are not in touch with themselfs on such a broadly deep level as they were at age 9 or 11. And why is that? 'Cause their minds are filled with a life full of experiences that overshadow such basic, now almost instinctive knowledge. This is also a point where many athletes and such fail to do an overhaul of their abilities and gradually get worse. Now, don't get me wrong - I'm mostly referring to getting worse at truly understanding what one now doesn't even thinks about. Not having to think about it is a good thing, but that stops being true when one cannot understand it anymore. An example, do you remember how you learned to use a fork? Even if you don't that's fine - as long as you can still explain to others how to use a fork. We want to avoid a situation where one can use a fork themself but has become incapable of explaining how one does it - just transfer that to the martial/'chi' arts and you'll see that 'chi' at least ain't something you want to get sloppy with.
  8. Thanks to the previous step the children, now young adults, can pretty much use their 'chi' without any harmful side effects at great efficiency while understanding their abilities. From here on some may choose to further train their bodies and mind to increase their general capability to exert more force and more intensively focus on something. At this point they are capable of expanding their own horizons by their own strength.

To lightly address the matter of children running around with superpowers:

Being a martial artist myself I may be biased, but I expect the risks of anything bad 'chi' related to happen to be far smaller than current common causes of grief (such as bad driving, drugs, etc).

When you understand from a young age why control over your actions is important and how to apply it you are far more likely to exert that control. Not because you're automatically a better person but because getting into trouble is a pain (not the conflict itself, but the after effects such as teachers getting angry, parents scolding you etc) and easy to avoid.

What I mean is, the better you understand your capability of seriously inflicting harm on others with less effort that you'd need to do a 50m sprint the more you shun away from situations that might make you loose control. By understanding risks and how troublesome they are most kids trained in martial arts are actually really cool about things compared to their peers. They comprehend how easy it is to make a mistake, and they have the discipline to overcome obstacles (such as uncomfortable situations) rather than try to forcefully destroy them.

Edit:

Regarding Aify's comment, I agree that there will be cases of misuse and quite a great variety of ways to annoy others thanks to the 'chi' with different grades of danger. On the lower end I'm thinking of that really bothersome feeling of someone holding a finger close to your face without touching it - now imagine another kid doing something akin to that from a 10m distance with no way to slap away their hand. There's really no limit on the terrible creativity 'chi' could be used in this setting to annoy others. Of course, that would be the harmless version - there will be fights and full-blown conflicts between youths, possibly made .. more decisive .. by the involvment of 'chi'.

Still, I want to believe that on the larger scale problems with violent 'chi' misuse would remain relatively rare. Not only because of the proper training (that they will ideally receive) but also because by the Question's premise it will still be easier for most children to use physical attacks (e.g. bare fists) than their 'chi' since these are mentally less exhaustive and require less concentration/focus. Any kid/adult who can keep their calm in a fight has a good change of being mature enough not to participate in one, the rest will likely choose the simpler option most of the time.

Possible measures I can think of are mostly preventive - proper parenting, supportive and positive environment, and refusing to teach children that are considered too high-risk. 'Chi' trainers/teachers should have a good grasp of how they evaluate that risk in each of their pupils. Children could probably be safely removed from training up to step 3 above. I'd guess that any time later you would run the risk that the children continue to teach themself wrongly and cause themself and others great harm. Not training high-risk children seems effective to me mainly because 'chi' is set to be extremely difficult to get right on one's own, so the earlier the better. May not make much sense from an emotional maturity point of view, though - I don't know if it is even possible to tell early on whether a child will turn out high-risk/aggressive.

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    $\begingroup$ This is a superb answer. +1! Being a martial artist myself, I can see what you mean in your last section. However, I should also point out that there will always be those in society who mean to do harm, regardless of whether or not they were trained in martial arts. There are also those who want to explicitly abuse their powers - especially if they understand the risks involved for both parties. Some people just like to live on the edge. What I'm really trying to say is that just because they understand the capability doesn't necessarily equate to shunning away. $\endgroup$ – Aify Jul 22 '15 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ As another martial artist - with kids - I can say that you can't really begin training a kid in martial arts until around 4, give or take 6 months. Otherwise, a pretty good answer, the only problem is that without some sort of controls on kids, a genuine self-defence situation involving other kids could turn out very badly for the defender. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Jul 22 '15 at 23:17
  • $\begingroup$ @MontyWild Yes, I agree - but then again it is not impossible either to start at age 2, greatly depends on the child. Since the question asked about min/maxing I guessed it okay that at most exceptionally few kids will ever manage to follow the training plan ideally/closely. Most children will probably start around age 4-5. Or perhaps it's an (unreasonable) social norm to start training much earlier. As for self-defence I imagine preemptive techniques would become legally more acceptable, though that's a tough issue to handle. $\endgroup$ – vruvre Jul 23 '15 at 8:21
  • $\begingroup$ @vruvre, my daughter was totally unprepared for learning martial arts at age two, In fact, she wasn't ready until 4 years 6 months, even though we tried taking her to classes at 4. It would be a truly exceptional kid who was ready for such training much earlier than 4. I won't deny that the truly exceptional can exist, though, I'll only stipulate to their extreme rarity. As for self-defence, I meant that a kid could give themselves brain damage in defending themselves, so all kids may need to be controlled. I got into a lot of fights at school, few of which I started - think on that. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Jul 23 '15 at 23:40
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By implication, talking about excessive use of Chi for children means that there is a relatively safe level of use, beyond which the child begins accumulating neurological damage.

Since use of Chi is a visible phenomenon involving the emission of light and/or atmospheric distortions arising from the extremities, it should be possible to develop an electronic device that can detect the use of Chi.

The solution is simple, assuming a modern-day technological level: Harness children who are in Chi-training with a Child Chi-Use Detection System (CCUDS). This would use multiple very simple CCD chips and IR light sources to detect the localised emission of Chi-light or Chi-distortion. The CCUDS would be programmed with the age of the child and the safe levels of chi-use for that age group, possibly modified according to parental-, Physician- or trainer- assessment of the child's potential.

The CCUDS might look rather like a coarse fishnet worn under the clothes, complete with net-like gloves and socks, and a slightly larger battery/CPU/GPS/transciever pack in an unobtrusive location, possibly at the small of the back.

The CCUDS' function would be to permit a certain use of Chi, and to report to the wearer the number of uses remaining. This display may be very unobtrusive so as to maintain privacy, so that a child in training who had used up his Chi-allocation could still make an effective threat of the use of Chi without the system giving away the fact that he had used up his allocation.

If a child attempted to use more Chi than was safe, the CCUDS would initially administer a mild shock, increasing in severity with continued excessive use, up to and including the point of incapacitating the wearer, though incapacitation would more likely be through an administration of a sedative that would suppress Chi-use. The CCUDS would also maintain an active encrypted data connection monitored by whatever adults or authorities were responsible for the child, who would be alerted if Chi-use exceeded safe levels or if the connection was lost, indicating damage or tampering with the CCUDS and the location of the child.

Depending on how seriously the authorities took the potential brain damage to children in training, there could well be a very prompt official response to excessive chi-use - or the loss-of-signal from a CCUDS - so children would quickly learn that if they cross the line - or tamper with their protective equipment, the authorities would show up and put a stop to things, and that is if they could overcome the negative reinforcement the CCUDS was imposing on them

With a system such as this in place, assuming that there was indeed a safe level of Chi-use for children, then children as young as five or six could be trained - pretty much as soon as they are able to begin martial-arts training.

Of course, there is the potential expense of the CCUDS to consider. It is not a terribly complicated device, and could be made by us today if there was a use for such a thing, and would not be beyond the reach of middle-class families as a one-off expense, but it could also be government -funded or -subsidised, justified on the grounds of reduced public health costs and increased child safety. If Chi-misuse by minors was a matter of concern for law enforcement as well as a public health issue, then the CCUDS could easily be modified and used as a detection and logging device that could pinpoint criminal misuse of Chi by minors.

So, yes, your kids might be tempted to have childish Chi-battles with the neighbourhood kids or bullies, but with the CCUDS, parents and authorities would become aware of this in near-real-time, and could intervene. The constant combat, bullying and brain damage that kids risked in the past would be just that: in the past.

So, with such a system as this in place, children as young as four to six could begin to learn to use Chi safely, their parents confident that there were a lot of safeguards against their children misusing their abilities and causing themselves permanent, debilitating injuries, as well as knowing that their kids were protected from - or protected from being - the local chi-using bullies.

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  • $\begingroup$ I like this system o.o It's a good system. Expensive system though... lol $\endgroup$ – Aify Jul 22 '15 at 4:08
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    $\begingroup$ ...Except that it's real-time biometric and location data being streamed to the government, which is about a dozen different kinds of unconstitutional and creepy. Good luck convincing any parent to strap this thing to their child. $\endgroup$ – evankh Jul 22 '15 at 5:26
  • $\begingroup$ @knave if the alternative is that they get permanently brain-damaged, you might not convince 100% of the parents, but you can certainly convince a sizeable portion of them. Evolution does the rest :-) $\endgroup$ – bilbo_pingouin Jul 22 '15 at 10:23
  • $\begingroup$ @knave, Streaming to the government/law enforcement could be a parental option: Always On/On Excessive Use/On Disconnect/Always Off, while streaming to the parents should be always-on. Anyway, with Chi-powers, the whole world changes; it becomes a major public health and law-enforcement issue, and I'm not proposing tracking adults who are immune to the brain-damage aspect, only children. Would a parent rather have their child tracked & controlled 24/7 until they're 18 or risk them living the next 70 years in care with severe preventable mental deficiencies? $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Jul 22 '15 at 23:11
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The use of the term "Chi" and "Martial Arts" seems to suggest a natural (although perhaps a bit stereotypical solution) of sending children to some form of specialized academy or even monastery for the safe development of their abilities. Presumably there is some level of safe usage for Chi abilities and by learning these abilities in a controlled environment with advanced Chi users as masters/teachers the mental health risk can be managed while maximizing a child's Chi potential.

Going with a monastic approach to education opens up some other possibilities such as the parallel development of martial art skills (think Shaolin monks) as well as a focus on discipline and self-control. Perhaps the often-practiced act of meditation promotes not only mental focus (for greater Chi control) but also fortitude against the mental damage incurred by childhood Chi use.

One issue this brings up is if you intend to have the majority of the population be adept Chi users, it may not be logistically possible to send everyone to Chi schools. Even in a world where Chi has great importance and there are many Chi academies, children and parents would likely have to decide between traditional educational institutes and specialized Chi ones. I think this is fine though as not everyone needs to be a master Chi user and even unpracticed adults have some ability.

I don't know what time period you're looking at but if you are interested in a more modern-day/futuristic approach these academies could be highly technologically-advanced and employ a wide battery of tests and monitoring to ensure the mental health of their students

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When they are over 25.

To ensure proper impulse control, you need a fully connected Frontal Lobe. This area of the brain is not fully developed until at least halfway through your 20s. Therefore, to be assured that children and young adults do not abuse the system, teach them when they are older than 25.

(I'd also recommend this as the minimum age requirement for police enforcement, public office, and a slew of other easily corruptible or corruption-ridden jobs.)

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    $\begingroup$ learning slows down a LOT by then. $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Jul 24 '15 at 17:55
  • $\begingroup$ True. Perhaps you can teach them ABOUT the magic at an earlier age, without actually teaching them how to employ it. Then they could learn all the finer details and mechanics of the system, and when they are finally allowed to use it themselves, it would be like second nature. Like teaching science to children who grow up to be chemists. You don't just give them corrosive acid straight away. ;) $\endgroup$ – Ayelis Jul 24 '15 at 18:03

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