Monday, June 11, 2012

Screen Time for Kids

During my oldest son's last check up, our pediatrician asked him "About how many hours of screen time a day do you log?" To which he quickly countered with the question, "Do you mean before school, after school, or total for the whole day?" Arghh! I forgot to counsel him on how to answer this question before the appointment.

Now that he is 10, the doctor no longer looks to me for a response. She knows Daniel is fully capable of answering the litany of questions before she begins the physical. She also knows that she'll get a more truthful response from him than from his mother, who will modify her answers to pass the test.  You know the drill...How many fruits and veggies do you eat in a day? How many times a week do you sit at the dinner table with your family? Do always wear safety helmet when riding your bike? etc.....

I know exactly how to answer these questions in a (mostly) truthful manner and still pass the test.  My kid...well, he just gives a 100% honest response with absolutely no regard for how this reflects upon me. Thanks for nothing!

Now that summer is here, managing screen time is even more of a challenge.  Here are some stats to help you put into perspective just how unhealthy it is:

- By the age of seven, a child born today will have watched one full year, 24 hours a day, of screen media.

-Since 1999, the amount of screen time for kids has doubled to nearly 7 hours per day.

-Studies have shown that children who watch TV or play video games for 2 or more hours a day are 60% more likely to have social, emotional, and concentration problems.  They are also more likely to be obese.

-The negative effect of too much screen time cannot be significantly diminished with physical activity.

-Children with televisions in their bedrooms tend to perform worse on academic tests than those who do not.

Ok...if you're like me, you may read these statistics and take satisfaction if they do not apply to your kid. But let's face it, the arguments against too much screen time far outweigh the benefits.

So how to we manage to keep our kids busy and productive this summer, and still maintain our sanity without the crutch of the TV?  Here are some of my ideas:

-Let your kids earn screen time by reading.  For every hour of reading, that equates to an hour of screen time.

-Hide the iTouches and use them for specific situations only (i.e. long car rides, waiting rooms, etc.).  When I tell my kids turn off the Xbox, I find them simply moving to their handheld devices, so I've got to put a stop to it now!

-Have mandatory black-out periods for screen time during the summer. For example, no TV, computer, or video games between 11:00 a.m. and 7 p.m. 

-Give your kids LOTS of responsibilities around the house this summer.  My 10 year old mows the lawn and my 8 year old puts away the laundry.  Fill their days with chores. It will give them a sense of satisfaction if you stick with it.

-Stock your home with supplies for lots of summer fun. Crafts, cooking and baking, reading, painting, play dough, water guns etc.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that kids will naturally gravitate to the easiest, most stimulating (in a bad way) activity- video games, TV, and computers.  I, for one, need to break this bad habit so that next time we are at the pediatrician's office, Daniel's honest response will make me proud!

Sweet Reading! Karen Gallagher

Scary Reading Statistics!

If you are lucky enough to have a child with a penchant for reading, I’m jealous! I’ve seen those book-toting tykes with novels that could serve as doorstops and weigh half as much as they do. They are so attached to their latest book that it becomes like an appendage.

My kids have appendages, too, but they are DSIs, iPod Touches, and other handheld gaming systems. They have achieved impressive high scores that garner respect amongst their peers, and believe me, their vocabulary is quite expansive. Someone could publish a dictionary with video game jargon. But these words will not appear on the SATs, cannot be effectively incorporated into a term paper, or used in business correspondence later in life.

Here are some quick, startling statistics that should be a wake-up call for all of us:

• Children who have not developed some basic literacy skills by the time they enter school are 3 - 4 times more likely to drop out in later years. (National Adult Literacy Survey, (1002) NCES, U.S. Department of Education)

• If a child is a poor reader at the end of First Grade, there is an almost 90% probability that the child will be a poor reader at the end of Fourth Grade. (The Public Library Association)

• Out-of-school reading habits of students has shown that even 15 minutes a day of independent reading can expose students to more than a million words of text in a year. (Anderson, Wilson, & Fielding, 1988)

• Nearly 40% of Fourth Graders have not mastered basic reading skills. It’s nearly 60% in California, and almost half of these children live with college-educated parents.(Council for Basic Education)

• When the State of Arizona projects how many prison beds it will need, it factors in the number of kids who read well in fourth grade. (Arizona Republic (9-15-2004) Advertisement by SheaHomes Inc.

Ok, so now that I’ve got your attention, what are you going to do about it? The most important piece of advice I can offer is to keep it fun! Here are some pointers that have worked for my kids:

• Leave it up to the teachers to introduce the classics like The Catcher in the Rye and Don Quixote. Your job is to get your kids excited about any kind of book, I don’t care if it’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid or Captain Underpants! Tap into their sense of humor and don’t worry so much about the “literary value” of a book.

• Create a special event around acquiring and reading books together. A date to the library or bookstore and lunch at the child’s favorite restaurant is a fabulous way to spend the afternoon. Cap the day off with some quiet time reading and talking about the new books.

• Remember that any reading material is good for kids, including newspapers and magazines. My son loves his subscription to Sports Illustrated Kids that I gave him for his birthday and he reads each edition cover to cover.

Teaching your children to love reading is a gift they will appreciate for the rest of their lives. Get the summer started with a gift of books from The Lollipop Book Club!

Sweet Reading! Karen Gallagher