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. 


5 Parenting Ideas For Sustained Summer Sanity

The lazy hazy days of our kids’ summer vacations are nearly upon us.  While summer is meant to be brimming with fun, the words “lazy” and “hazy” plague many parents.  They complain about “lazy” kids who just want to “chill”, and then they worry about the impact of personal sluggishness and absent academics.  Parents feel “hazy” attempting to manage free-for-all schedules, as well as the chaos of getting in and out of suitcases, vacations, camps, and the “I’m bored” melodrama. Well I’m not promising a magic potion for “lazy and “hazy”, but these ideas might just help parents to feel a little more in control.  

 1.       The busiest moms and dads can salvage sanity with the use of lists.   Is creating one a hassle?  Your problem is solved by visiting www.listbean.com.  This free website has the most comprehensive list of checklists that can assist anyone to contain ideas, needs, and tasks in one organized place.  Use them for anything including teaching your children to pack their own bag for vacation, summer camp, or a sleepover at grandmas.  Not only are you teaching them about organization and personal responsibilities, you are lightening your parental workload at the same time.  Uh-huh, you heard me!  This summer is about your parenting sanity and this post is dedicated to YOU!

2.       Did I just say “lighten your workload?”  You betcha!  Assign daily summer chores to your kids!  A good friend of mine grew up as one of seven children.  Every day during summer break, her parents left a list of chores that each child was responsible for.  From yard work, laundry, vacuuming, or preparing for dinner, these kids all grew up having an appreciation for domesticity, personal responsibility, and family team work.  Oh, and if the kids didn’t do what they were assigned, they learned about accountability and consequences from their parents who vowed to be consistent, yet loving disciplinarians!  Each of these seven kids grew up with no understanding of what it meant to be “lazy” or “unproductive.”  Today all seven are not just self made successes; they are highly productive and respected members in their communities.  Kudos to their parents!

3.       Many parents want their kids to use their noodles during summer break.  No, not the kind you float on in the pool, but the one that grows in between their ears.  The planet’s best research reports that parents who require children to read in the summer actually advance the children’s literacy and academic performance.  Furthermore, instruction to “go read for an hour” is good ammunition for parents to squelch the drones of “I’m bored.”  Age appropriate book lists are available from your child’s school, the public library, bookstores, or a quick internet search.  Helpful tips include allowing your child to select both fiction and nonfiction books that interest them, set goals as to how many they would like to read each week, and add newspapers and magazines for variety.  Most importantly, consider reading some books out loud as a family.  Author Jim Trelease has an entire book devoted to this subject.  It is called The Read Aloud Handbook and it happens to be a New York Times bestseller because of its valuable not to mention delightful content.  (I gift a copy to every expecting mom that I know.)

4.       Do the things that you don’t have the time or patience to do in the school year. Split this one up in to fun things, and not so fun but necessary tasks.  Whether you teach your children how to make a banana split, have a friendly water balloon fight, clean out closets, feed the homeless, cook together, garden together, or just watch fireflies, do it together.  Let the gift of time, and your united spirits create the finest family bonding that you’ve ever experienced.

5.       Okay… so your kids are off for 3 months.  This doesn’t mean you have to tend to their whims or entertain them 24/7/365.  Parents have to take care of themselves in order to take care of their kids.  If you don’t know the importance of this or how to do it, please read about The Parenting Oxygen Mask.

What would you add to this list?  Scroll down to our comments section and share your ideas to grow happy yet productive kids, peaceful parents, family harmony, and the best summer ever!

I Dare You NOT to Laugh!

April is Stress Awareness Month. If you aren’t aware of that fact, I’d bet that you are at least aware of all the stress in your life. But let’s not talk about our stressors. Let’s talk about what we can do to ease them. An old wives tale tells us that “Laughter is the Best Medicine.” Research suggests that this might just be true! Here’s why.

Laughter reduces the levels of stress hormones in our bodies. At the same time, it increases the release of feel good chemicals like endorphins. It can also help to boost the immune system to keep you more germ resistant and healthy.

Oh you want more proof? How about this? Laughter could improve your social life. When you smile or laugh, you make yourself more inviting. Think about it. If you saw a room full of people would you approach the brooders or the ones who looked happy? Enough said!

Laughter is contagious. Have you ever heard someone laugh so hard that you laughed too? Now imagine if you made other people laugh. I think you’d be building some seriously good karma.

Lastly, laughter is FREE. You have no fiscal excuse not to engage in it.

What does all this have to do with parenting? Quite simply, a less stressed parent is a healthier parent whose happiness will positively affect the family!

So what do you think? Can you commit to consciously laughing for the remainder of April? Here is a favorite video of mine to get you started. I know, I know! You may have seen this before but isn’t it worth repeating for all the reasons I outlined above?

Go ahead. I dare you not to laugh! When you’re done watching, come back and leave us a comment including what makes you laugh. What funny movies or jokes can you share with us?

In case the video link is not working, you can access the video here.

Parents... Please do this in Private

Moodswings I was searching for cream cheese in the dairy aisle when I heard giggles from adorable twin boys fully engaged in a poking contest. Their gregarious age appropriate behavior gave me a chuckle until the poking turned to malicious pinching.  Twin one screamed “OOWWW” followed by “MOMMM!”   Twin two got a well deserved glare from mom followed by “Apologize to your brother right now!”  Twin two obediently obliged with “I’M SORRY!”  He shouted the words, rendering them with an expression of utter contempt.  “Now say it like you mean it!” demanded their mother.  The second “I’m sorry” was delivered with a sweet voice but twin two’s eyes were squinted in disdain, his nose was wrinkled in a sneer, and his lips were pursed with stubbornness.  Despite his kindly toned words, twin two was not sorry.  His expression told the truth.

Pinching aside, this scene was amusing because it involved kids.  When it comes to adults, the stakes are higher and we need to be more aware of our nonverbal language. This is especially important when communicating with kids who take us at “face value.”

Imagine you get a phone call from your 4th grader’s school.  The principal asks you to come in and pick your child up after she’s suspended for cursing at a teacher.  You arrive at the office and immediately engage in conversation with the principal.  You don’t say a word to your child but look in her direction to communicate through your expression.  What expression will you choose?  What message does it convey?  Most importantly are you managing it or is it managing you?

Here is another scenario.  Your boss tells you that he needs you in the office during the week you had planned to go to Hawaii for a corporate conference.  You maintain your verbal poise but your facial expressions are at work.  What truth are they telling about what you think of your boss and his decision?

These “scenes” are designed to make you think about how different circumstances evoke different emotions and how these emotions are subsequently expressed.  We use our words as well as our body language including expressions. What are your expressions saying about you?  How are they impacting your relationships?

Many people believe that they are skilled communicators because they are articulate or selectively silent.  What they may not realize is that their expressions are undercover agents actively conveying their thoughts.

If you want to know more about how your expressions convey your thoughts, consider trying this exercise but do it in private so you can be honest with yourself and see how others might be perceiving you.  Go ahead.  It’ll be our little secret!

Stare right into the mirror and allow yourself to see your natural expression for the following emotions:

Anger (Your kids played Frisbee in the house and broke your favorite vase.)

Frustration (You asked your kids several times to clean their room and they didn’t.)

Empathy (You feel for your son who just got cut from the baseball team.)

Surprise (Your daughter got an A in math which is her most challenging subject.)

Irritation (Your kids keep interrupting you while you’re on the phone.)

Sheer Joy (The pregnancy test is positive… or negative!)

Shock (Your son got a detention.)

You get the idea.

So what do you do with all this information?  I’m glad you asked.

Emotional intelligence experts tell us that emotions themselves are not bad or good.  The way in which we express them, however, can result in bad or good outcomes.  If we continuously expose negative expressions with our boss, we might not be chosen for a promotion.  If we scowl at our kids regularly, we convey that we are bothered when they come to us with their problems.   What they might deduce is that their parent is not approachable.

We’re not perfect beings and emotions should certainly not be suppressed.   There are ways in which we can communicate them with finesse to create winning outcomes for all involved.   Aristotle said, “Anyone can get angry.   That is easy.  But to get angry at the right person, for the right reason, at the right time, that is not so easy.”

As your children’s maturity permits, you can teach them these techniques as well.  What a wonderful life skill to be able to manage (note I didn’t say “suppress and control”) your emotions and to read other’s emotions as well.

What are your thoughts?  Please leave us a comment.


Dealing with Mean Parents and Mean Kids

empathy, emotional intelligence, resilience Like it or not, mean people exist.  They can be found anywhere from adult workplaces, to children’s schoolyards, to softball or football fields where we all gather for fun and friendly competition.  Mean people’s words and or actions can cause us emotional anguish.  Many operate intentionally while others function from a place of sheer ignorance not even realizing how negatively they impact others.

 So what are we supposed to do?

Dealing with mean people can be challenging.  We have many options including reacting with revenge, responding with grace, or simply ignoring them.  After securing personal safety, I like the idea of taking the “high road” whenever possible.  This means that one will not engage in any kind of revenge or retaliation.  Gandhi said “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth creates a blind and toothless world.”  That’s not good!

When mean people evoke an emotion in us it might help to ask ourselves “why do we feel the way that we do?”  We’ll often find that we’re taking their behavior personally, when it had little or nothing to do with us in the first place.  For example, your boss may snap at you because she’s having a bad day.  Her behavior is more about her inability to manage her own frustration.  Gosh!

Though mean people anger us, they often deserve our pity.  Evoking our empathy toward them can help diffuse hard feelings. This is a part of healthy emotional management not to mention building our own emotional intelligence including resilience.   Emotional Intelligence skills in children have proven to help them be better at self soothing in difficult situations.  They also excel in social settings requiring communication; cooperation and conflict resolution (click here for more information about emotional intelligence in kids).  Note that evoking empathy and being nice doesn’t mean we have to be someone’s doormat.  Sometimes it is necessary to create and convey parameters of how we would like to be treated.

Taking the high road is not always effortless but it can become easier when we are inspired.  I was recently inspired by this beautiful anecdote and would like to share it with you.  If you like it, you could share it with your kids.

When you have to put up with mean people, think of them as sandpaper. 

They may scratch you and rub you the wrong way. 

But eventually, you end up smooth and polished.   And the sandpaper? 

It will be worn out and ugly.

 Well, what do you think?  Would you rather be sandpaper or smooth and polished?  Please leave us a comment and share some of your ideas about dealing with mean people.