iPadding Children. Critical Information for Parents

The title for this post is inspired by Linked-IN’s “BrainInsights”, a group about Brain Development and Positive Parenting.  There, a talented group of experts connected to discuss their strong beliefs regarding the perils of screen time in toddlers and infants.

“Inspire the Genius” and “It’s Cool to be Smart” are marketing messages of the Vinci Touch Screen Learning System (recommended age 4 and under).  These messages are designed to target the emotions of parents who then open wallets and recklessly spend $479 for the promise of “genius.” 

To Vinci’s credit some of their other products have earned awards and their website clearly states the following:  “The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV watching before a child reaches the age of 2.”  But Vinci left out some very important sentences.

The full statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reads as follows:  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television or screen media such as computer games, videos, or DVDs for children under 2. For children over age 2, the recommendation is 1 to 2 hours per day for television or any screen media.  

Imagine that!  Vinci posted only part of the AAP’s statement because they don’t want potential buyers to know that their touchpad is on the banned list of “all” screen media for children under age two!

It comes as no surprise that the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) has awarded the Vinci Touchpad as their 2012 TOADY (Toys Oppressive And Destructive to Young Children) otherwise known as “the worst toy of the year.”   This organization gripes that the Vinci will “virtually lobotomize an infant.”

That allegation is likely made because research tells us that whether children are in infancy, toddlerhood, or of school age, that an unprecedented amount of screen time is thwarting healthy brain development.  While parents buy computer devices with hopes to make their child smarter they are overlooking other important parts of the brain growth that require the kind of nurturing that electronics simply cannot accomplish. 

Not only are excessive hours of electronic usage robbing children of emotional and social nurturing time through human contact, they are also poised to cause future damage.

A recent New York Times article cites numerous researchers warning that too much screen time actually decreases a child’s attention span, creates an environment where children “find the realities of the world underwhelming and under-stimulating” and may be a contributing factor to the skyrocketing diagnosis of ADHD.  Even childhood obesity has been blamed on children plastered in front of televisions for hours on end.

The research is boundless but enough said!  There are five suggestions below that parents can implement immediately to influence healthy brain development in children of all ages.

Follow the AAP guidelines no matter what it takes! 

Stubbornly refuse to let a child under age 2 get near screens of any type. Strictly limit screen time after age 2.

Replace screen time with play time as frequently as possible. 

Hurried lifestyles and adult dependence on screen time as “entertainment” have robbed children of essential play.  In a 10 page report, the AAP states “play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission of Human Rights as a right for every child.”  Consistent play times with loving caregivers provide children with the right kind of brain development not just cognitively, but emotionally and socially. Kids can grow bonds and trusting relationships with their caregivers.  Play allows children to learn how to interact with real people and real situations. They learn to manage difficult emotions and learn competencies that will help them when they face future challenges.  For example, with an adult’s help, three year old Johnny learns how to manage when Steven swipes his toy truck.  18 month old Penny learns how to clap for herself by following the cues of her caretaker.  She’s building her confidence too!  The life skills required to successfully navigate the game of life are born out of play.  And playtime is free!  It doesn’t cost anything to stack plastic containers from a kitchen cabinet, or dance to music in a living room.

Do not use screens as a babysitter! 

Do not use screens as a babysitter!  Do not use screens as a babysitter!  CCFC was right.  You might as well “lobotomize” your child!  Developing brains need as much quality human contact as possible.

Be present when your child is using any kind of screen device.  

The prefrontal cortex is the area of the child’s brain that discerns “good from bad”, “right from wrong”, “risk versus safety” etc. and will not fully develop until the mid 20’s. This means children need adult guidance to help them make sense of concepts applicable to their real world.  So while a 5 year old hears a good message about values from the television show “Arthur”, he or she still needs a loving adult to help them apply the concept into reality.

Consider your grandparents’ ideas. 

Generations ago, there were creative solutions for passing time in a car or an airplane.  Coloring and story books created a new and brilliant generation in which you, dear reader, are included!  Today many parents covet travel time as an “electronics free zone” in which they can learn about “stuff” in their child’s world.  Yes, parents can actually start conversations in which they learn about their child’s thoughts, ideas, opinions, grievances, and joys about millions of possible subjects. Why not capitalize on this window of opportunity to share your commonalities, debate your differences, guide your child’s maturity, or simply bond.

So in the end, parents can certainly choose to splurge on the $479 Vinci touchpad. If used as the only screen resource within the recommendations of the AAP, maybe, just maybe, it might serve a little short term value.  Used between ages 2 and 4 it ends up costing 66 cents a day monetarily. How much will it cost if parents allow it to become a babysitter? 

Reader comments are cherished. 


30 Days to New & Improved Family Success

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday that heartily welcomes one and all to engage in at least two ubiquitous human practices; eating good food, and of course, giving thanks.  If we ponder just those two things, we notice that the typical family eats three times a day and gives thanks… well… hmmm?   How often are we really giving thanks?  Surely it is not just on Thanksgiving Day!  Most would agree that this noble act “should be”, “ought to be” practiced daily.  And I agree!

Parents and children alike have much to gain by conscientiously giving thanks.  Research proves it!

According to Psychology Today, participants in a study about gratitude reported greater levels of optimism, positive mood, and feelings of belongingness. 

These individuals were more likely to help someone struggling with a personal problem by rendering emotional support with pro-social behavior.  Study participants also complained of less physical pains and boasted better sleep.  And guess what?  All these benefits came without lifting an elbow, finger, knee, or toe for exercise!  That alone makes me feel thankful!

Ah yes! “Feeling” thankful is as important as “thinking” thankful.  When you are authentically thankful, where do you feel it in your body?  Do your shoulder’s drop?  Maybe you are like me and you sense warmth over your heart.  Some of you may feel the corners of your mouth form a smile while others will inhale, and then exhale deeply with content.  Psychological well being doesn’t just have to come from our thoughts; it is accompanied by gratified emotions that are sensed by our bodies.  Go ahead.  Sense yours!

You’ve heard the saying “It takes 30 days to make a habit.” 

This November I’d like to invite you and your family to join me for 30 days of giving thanks.  Let’s not wait for a New Years “resolution” to experience psychological, social, and or physical benefits.

Starting today November 1st, ask each member of your family to verbalize something that they are thankful for.  This five minute family conversation not only allows joyful bonding, it opens windows of opportunity for parents to learn more about their children’s thoughts and emotions.  What a great forum to praise or guide your children as they mature!

Your family’s thanks can include joyful occurrences or difficult life lessons that allowed your wisdom to grow.  You can be humorous, serious, or exuberant.   Your may express a current experience or one that you recall from the past.  It should, however, be sincere.

Here is an example of something I’m grateful for.  Last year Atlanta was hit by an ice storm.  While that is not unusual, the fact that the ice didn’t melt for six days was highly atypical.   After being stranded in our homes for nearly a week, we finally headed out to run an errand.  Another car decided to pass us on what turned out to be a slick patch of ice.  Yup… you guessed it.  His car slammed right into ours.  I was thankful that no one was hurt.  But that’s not where my thanks stopped.  My son was with us.  He had just received his driver’s permit and this experience taught him several lessons including what not to do in challenging road conditions, and the steps to take when one has a car accident.  Lastly, the gentleman who caused the accident took full responsibility for his actions and that fueled my faith that good honest people do exist in the world.

The accident was a dark cloud with several bright silver linings.  It taught me to remember to always seek the good in any difficult situation and I’m thankful for that lesson too!

So what about you?  What example of thanks will you share with your own family today?  How will all of you become a deep well of support and inspiration, poised to benefit each other and those around you?  

Please share your thoughts and thanks in our comments section!  Oh… and THANK YOU!

How do Parents & Kids Celebrate Valentine's Day without Gifts?

[swfobj src="http://www.ontheballparent.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/lovecard-flash8.swf"] We’re just days away from Valentine’s Day.  If I see one more Pajama-gram commercial, I might just heave.  Retailers have us believing that the day is solely about gift giving instead of the deeper meaning of love.  Are marketing messages telling adults and kids that love comes more from a store and less from the heart?   Sure, love can be expressed with a gift but does it have to be a material one? With the exception of a card, the Valentine rule in our household is “no store bought gifts”.   Dare to spend twice the usual price on flowers, and you’ll spend a night in the doghouse!  Our celebration of St. Valentine’s legacy includes an extra special home cooked meal and participation in a mandatory roundtable discussion which includes sharing three characteristic we value in each other.   The teen rolls his eyes but when it’s his turn to revel in what is said about his positive characteristics, a “thank you” is on the tongue and family love is in the air!

So, this week’s blog ends with a simple question.  What non material traditions do you use to convey love in your family?  C'mon, share the love!


What Christmas Values Will You Choose?

With Christmas this month, I fondly remember my favorite inspiration from Jesus.  “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Imagine the nobility of those words.  Think deeply for a moment, could you or anyone you know do this at a time when you are being persecuted? I chuckle as the first thing I think about are dogs.  They are experts at forgiving us with their perpetually wagging tails, and we in turn forgive them.  I have a beautiful black lab, and no matter what she does to misbehave, I forgive her and continue to adore her because I know that she doesn’t know any better.  It is simply her nature.  Isn’t this often the case with humans, the ones that make up our family, friends, community, and work colleagues?  Sure… I know you are thinking that they DO know better!  Maybe they do, but innate tendencies take over and they slip up without realizing it.  The point here is that Jesus did not complain about others knowing better, or what they SHOULD have, or COULD have done differently.  He very simply took responsibility on how He would manage the situation He was placed in.  He chose to think and act with nobility and forgiveness and subsequently gave us that profound guidance “Forgive them for they know not what they do”.

As the holidays are upon us, I read many articles both online and in print on how to manage the holiday stress of difficult people whom we interact with… particularly visiting relatives.  How do you feel about incorporating Jesus’ words in to your toolbox of stress management?  How can you forgive your sister in law for her curt remarks or your colleague for his insensitive gift?  Think about what irks you, who irks you, and why.  Perhaps you want to write this down in a private journal that you can reflect upon.  Then think… how will you forgive them and not take their actions personally? What three specific steps can you apply this Holiday season to truly live by Jesus’ words?  Perhaps you would like to write these down too.  You might want to use them again!

Since I am a parent coach, we have to incorporate some parenting here, so remember that your children are closely observing you and learning from you.  Do you want them to grow up constantly frustrated with other people’s insensitive behaviors or do you want them to have a toolbox of effective self-soothing and noble behaviors (by the way… this is a part of emotional intelligence which you can read more about on my website http://www.ontheballparent.com/ )?  If you can overcome your frustrations and apply tools like Jesus, you will have created the ultimate win-win situation for yourself, your watchful children, and of course those whom you interact with. Wouldn’t that be a tremendous achievement that you can carry in to the New Year!

Any examples you choose to share in our community forum would be greatly appreciated by all.

Choose The Gift that Keeps on Giving

Tis the Season of gift giving and I have a magnificent idea for you to consider gifting to everyone on your list. 

Kiva is a micro-loan organization whose mission is to “alleviate poverty around the world”.  The way they work is by allowing people like us to lend a maximum of $25.00 to any entrepreneur of our choice.  Yes, we actually get to choose the person from anywhere in the world.  We can read their bio and find out how they plan to use the loan.  If their concept resonates with our value system, we can lend.  If not, we just search for someone else.  There is no shortage of dedicated individuals who are willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard for their success.  No hand out seeking, moochers here!  Once the entrepreneur has successfully reached their goal, they pay us back in full.  When the funds are replenished in our Kiva account, we can lend again to a new entrepreneur.  Imagine the repeated good karma we can create with one simple deposit of $25.00!

You can find Kiva at http://www.kiva.org/.   At the top of the page is a link for gifts.  You can email or print out gift certificates for anyone during the Holiday season or at any time of year. 

Well since I’m a parenting coach, and an advocate for kids, I’ve got to relate this to both.  I believe that parents who give their kids a Kiva micro-loan are creating a great opportunity in which they can teach their kids about lending, charity, and personal responsibility.  What’s more is that our loans to entrepreneurs around the world create stronger individuals who might be parents too.  In most cases, a parent’s business success will afford better care and education for their children.  When we help a parent to strand strong, we are helping their kids take their parents example in standing strong.   Like I said, a Kiva gift certificate is truly a gift that keeps on giving.

Please leave us your comment, and if you like what you’ve read here, please share it with everyone you know!