Posts Tagged ‘ screen time ’

Parents Readers Help Researchers

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Last fall, we partnered with researchers at Brown University School of Medicine, Children’s National Medical Center, and New England Center for Pediatric Psychology to help find answers to pressing questions about how media use, family routines, and parenting style affect kids. We encouraged readers to answer a brief survey as part of The Learning Habit Study, and more than 46,000 parents in 4600 American cities participated in the research being published today in the American Journal of Psychology as well as in the book, The Learning Habit, by Dr. Robert Pressman, Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, and Rebecca Jackson.

One of the study’s biggest findings was that kids’ total screen time—especially more than two hours a day—was associated with lower grades, while increased family time—including family dinners, playing board games, and attending religious services—was linked to higher grades. The researchers think that spending time with our kids can help mitigate the negative effects of too much screen time.

The study also found that a parenting style known as empowerment parenting is the most effective way to build habits that benefit kids in school and life. Similar to what’s commonly known as authoritative or positive parenting, empowerment parenting helps children build good habits by establishing rules; empowers children by giving them choices, and encourages children by praising their efforts. In their book, the researchers write about how parents can create opportunities for their kids to develop these eight essential learning habits: media management; homework and reading; time management; goal-setting; effective communication; responsible decision-making; concentrated focus, and self-reliance.

The statistic from the study that I found most interesting: Two-thirds of 5- and 6-year-olds don’t make their own beds—and neither do the same percentage of 15- and 16-year-olds.  So if you don’t want to be making your kid’s bed until she leaves for college, get into the habit at a young age by letting her know that it’s her responsibility.

Make it easier by downloading our free chore charts.

Photo via Shutterstock

What's Your Parenting Style?
What's Your Parenting Style?
What's Your Parenting Style?

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Stop Summer Slide

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

“School’s out for summer.” I used to play that Alice Cooper song for my son on the last day of classes (the Muppets version) as a celebration of his 10-week break from homework (and pencils, books, and teacher’s dirty looks). But as it turns out, I probably shouldn’t have been hailing his educational break. The National Summer Learning Association says that students lose about two months worth of skills in mathematics during the lazy days of summer. And as we reported, kids of all ages score lower on the same standardized reading, spelling, and math tests in September than they do at the end of the previous year in school.

The reason for this “summer slide,” a.k.a. “brain drain” or “summer slump,” is obvious: Kids—and, to an extent, parents—tend to view July and August as a break from learning, a time to enjoy the beach and the pool and recharge. R&R is all fine and good. The real problem is that many children wile away the days watching TV, playing video games, or surfing the Web. Kids spend three hours in front of a screen for every hour they crack a book during the summer—and more time than they spend outdoors. According to a new survey from the nonprofit kid’s literacy group Reading is Fundamental, only 17 percent of parents say reading is a top summer priority for their kids, and 60 percent don’t worry about their child losing reading skills during this time.

Actually, you really shouldn’t worry, because it’s easy to do something about it. A nonprofit organization called TRUCE (Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment) offers lots of screen-free ideas to inspire your family to play and learn together. Try incorporating some of these fun, mind-building activities into your kids’ break. Also consider downloading these educational apps, which at least turn screen time into learning time. And check out ideas here and here, along with a video chat with Soleil Moon Frye (the former star of “Blossom”) about how to stop summer slide.

I don’t pretend to have any magical suggestions for preventing this phenomenon. I worry about my kids and their tendency to gravitate toward watching sports events and Disney shows. To minimize this, we encourage reading and writing for pleasure, try to get them out of the house as much as possible, and look for teachable moments in leisure-time settings, such as digging for hermit crabs at the beach and calculating batting averages and ERAs at baseball games. Granted, these are no substitute for cracking the books, but at least they should leave our children be better prepared when their teachers see them in September.

 

Back to School: Handling Worries
Back to School: Handling Worries
Back to School: Handling Worries

 

Two little girls with magnifying glass outdoors in the daytime via ShutterStock


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How Video Games Can Help Your Child’s Attitude

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Video games often get a bad rap. They’re blamed for rotting young brains, contributing to childhood obesity, and exposing kids to violence. Some of those complaints are probably justified, but as I handle game coverage here at Parents, I’m seeing more and more high quality educational entertainment come through—and it seems as though many of these games could really have a positive impact on the lives of children.

To get an expert’s opinion, I spoke with Michael John, the game director for GlassLab, a collaborative effort that works to transform learning through digital games. (They recently reworked Sim City for classrooms to teach environmental science). He’s also the father of 12-year-old Lily, so he’s seen firsthand how video games can make a difference in her attitude. “Games simulate how we tackle problems in the real world,” John explains. “They are a situation in which kids will willingly take on something very difficult and stick with it.”

For example, John’s daughter was struggling with operational math in her sixth grade class. All the numbers and symbols would overwhelm her, so she often declared she couldn’t do the problem. One day, John suggested that Lily take a break from her homework and spend some time playing the latest Mario release on the Wii U. As he watched her play, he observed that she was working on a difficult challenge. She failed several times, but she’d keep trying—and she’d make more progress with each attempt. When the break was over, John said, “Before we do math, I want to talk to you about what you just did in Mario.” The pair discussed how motivated Lily had been to complete the challenge, despite how much of a struggle it was. “I commented, ‘Does that sound at all like those math problems?’ It wasn’t about teaching her math in the game. It was just about changing her mindset.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean kids should have unlimited screen-time. But making Lily reflect on the game makes it a learning experience, rather than just a passive activity. “A lot of times kids are getting a lot more out of games than you think,” John says.

Here are some of John’s tips for parents about making game time more productive for kids:

1. Be aware of what she’s playing. Have her use the TV in the living room, where you can keep an eye on her. If she’s playing on a phone or small device, you can still ask her what she’s doing, and ask to take a turn.

2. Discuss and share the experience. Working on the game together will help you understand what she’s going through. Afterward, engage her in conversation, just like you would after finishing a book. (Sample questions: Who are the characters in the game? What did she learn from mastering a new level? How would she change the rules of a given game and why?)

3. Encourage her to try challenging games that offer variation in activities. While games like Candy Crush Saga are interesting for a while, it eventually becomes the same action over and over. Kids learn more from games that make them think strategically or force them to make decisions.

Happy gaming!

Sesame Street Lessons: Learning Tips and Tricks
Sesame Street Lessons: Learning Tips and Tricks
Sesame Street Lessons: Learning Tips and Tricks

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Image: Family having fun playing video games via Shutterstock

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The National Day of Unplugging: A Screen ‘Sabbath’

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014

National Day of Unplugging from devicesEver feel that you’re hopelessly addicted to your mobile phone—and that your kids are quickly learning to be just as tied to their devices? Welcome to the club. Between iPhones, iPads (and electronic-toy replicas thereof), and of course, television, I think it’s safe to say most of us, and most of our kids, are too absorbed with our technology at the expense of experiencing the world around us and interacting—face to face, not virtually—with each other.

One movement is proposing a solution, at least for one day: The National Day of Unplugging, scheduled for sunset Friday through sunset Saturday, aims to have families put down the devices for 24 hours. Modeled explicitly after the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat in Hebrew), the idea is the brainchild of a Jewish cultural group called Reboot.

Our family has a day of unplugging not just once per year, but every week: We are Jewish Sabbath observers, and as such we are offline Friday evening through Saturday evening every week. Aside from just putting away our devices and turning off the television, during the Sabbath we avoid spending money, driving in a vehicle, talking on the phone (even a landline!), and many other activities of everyday life.

And it works for us. Though we hear occasional grumbling from our kids, such complaints are rare. Instead, our kids play with old-fashioned, creativity-inspiring toys. We have family meals together, visit with friends, read together, and go to synagogue. We talk. Crazy, I know.

So is a “technology Sabbath” a good idea for your family? I highly recommend the idea of a day-long, family-wide device-free day (no need to go quite as tech-free as we do), but not without some advice and warnings. And while the idea of a specific, nationwide “Day of Unplugging” is a nice idea, this can be accomplished any day you think it would be successful.

For starters, have a plan for what to do on your day of unplugging. Merely putting down your devices without making this gesture part of a larger idea of connecting as a family is bound to fail in a blizzard of protests. Shabbat works for us not just because we disconnect from modern technology, but because we spend it as a family. For us that means good meals (with extra snacks), time with friends, and synagogue. For you it might be a day at an amusement park or other local fun destination, or a series of smaller activities at or around home.

Secondly, don’t feel a need to spend every minute together. My oldest is increasingly occupied with afternoon play dates, but even then, I know she is interacting with her friends and not just playing video games in parallel with them. And even if she’s out for the afternoon, chances are strong that we’ve spent far more time together as a family—and quality time at that—than any other day of the week.

However, don’t expect miracles. My kids don’t become little angels when the sun sets on Friday. They still fight, nag, refuse to eat anything healthy, demand to get their way, and otherwise act like the 7- and 3-year old they are. Not that I am complaining (well, maybe a little). It’s not like human nature is suspended for 25 hours, as this Kveller.com blog post, which made the rounds among my Sabbath-observing friends recently, so vividly dramatizes.

Lastly, despite the good intentions and enthusiasm of those behind the National Day of Unplugging, it’s hard for me to see how a one-off day of disconnecting would make much of a difference, other than giving families a small glimpse at what can be. Unplugging for one day per year is, I would guess, just as likely to cause intense grumbling and fights over the suddenly-changed rules as it is to foster a memorable day of communication and interaction.

So yes, I’d still strongly recommend you try unplugging for this National Day of Unplugging. But I’d recommend even more strongly making it a regular thing—as long as you make those days filled with togetherness and meaningful, fun interaction.

Plus: What’s your parenting style? Take our quiz and find out!

Digital Devices and Children
Digital Devices and Children
Digital Devices and Children

 

Image: Kids using mobile devices via Shutterstock

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7 Things I Learned from Pediatricians

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

(How cute is the baby in this photo?!)

A few weeks ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics held its annual conference, this time in Orlando. Each year, roughly 8,000 doctors from around the United States (as well as other countries) attend this four-day meeting in order to share the latest research and help pediatricians manage their practices more effectively. Several reporters and editors go as well, myself included. I think of myself as a fly on the wall–it’s a phenomenal opportunity to learn about the issues that resonate most strongly with doctors and to hear firsthand what they encounter when they’re interacting with children and their parents. I come away with all kinds of story ideas, leads on experts, and blog fodder. I’ve got a steno book full of notes (yep, I’m old-school) that I’ll put to use all year, but in the meantime, here are some of the findings that jumped out at me.

1. Not enough kids are wearing bike helmets. In one study, only 11 percent of children involved in bike accidents had been wearing one.

2. Asthma often goes hand in hand with allergies. We report on this all the time, but the numbers are pretty startling: Between 60 and 80 percent of kids with asthma will also have allergic rhinitis.

3. Apps for babies may have a big drawback. Studies are underway looking at “poking” apps (such as ones where your little one pops bubbles on the screen); researchers suspect that they may cause kids to be behind later, when it’s time to grasp pencils. We’ll be following this for sure.

4. Every family should have two non-negotiable electronics-free zones. They are the dinner table (or wherever your family eats together), and your child’s bed. The doctor who led this talk said that banning electronics from the bedroom simply isn’t realistic anymore, but every parent ought to be able to keep them out of your child’s actual bed.

5. Melatonin may help kids sleep, but only to a point. In a session about alternative approaches to developmental disorders, the doctor said that melatonin can be helpful in making kids fall asleep faster, but it doesn’t necessarily make them sleep longer.

6. Tics are more common than you may think. Between 10 and 20 percent of school-age kids have them, and they typically appear in kids between the ages of 2 and 6. Luckily, they tend to go away, but if they persist for more than a year (which admittedly sounds like a long time), your pediatrician should refer you to a specialist.

7. Pot is addictive. (By the way, the session on marijuana was packed.) It’s a common misconception that you can’t become addicted to marijuana, but loads of research says otherwise. And when it comes to “medical marijuana,” we need to be careful, since no studies have included kids or adolescents. Speaking of older kids, more of them now smoke pot daily than they smoke tobacco, and that trend is expected to continue.

Use this handy quiz to decide whether your kid is too sick for school. Plus, find out which 12 sick kid symptoms you should never ignore.

Image: Pediatrician with baby via Shutterstock.

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