What To Do When the Screen Goes Off

girl with plantMedia addiction in children and the importance of limiting their screen time is a big topic in pediatrics this week.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has always recommended no more than two hours of screen time per day for children over 2 (none for those under 2), and they have lots of data to back that up. Adding to this was a recent study suggesting that toddlers who watched more TV than average were more likely to be bullied later in life: reported bullying went up 11% for each additional hour of TV viewing, over the average of 1 1/2 hours. Scary.

Time spent watching TV is not spent developing social and verbal skills, and not spent using and exercising young bodies.

Children sitting in front of a screen develop a disabling habit of being more passive in their interactions with others.

They put on weight because while they are sitting, with their metabolic rate near what it is when they sleep, they are frequently munching on snack food.

They are more likely to have attention problems because TV teaches them to experience the world in 5 minute pieces.

Last, their perceptions are significantly skewed because they take the behavior of characters and people on TV as normal. Which they are not.

It seems reasonable that since I am one of those pediatricians constantly nagging people to turn off their screens, I have a responsibility to come up with some activities they can do instead. All those hours to fill, and all those useful skills to learn!

Our children need the abilities that excessive TV viewing destroys: social knowledge and the ability to interact with actual humans, verbal skills, an attention span adequate to complete a project, and physical exercise. Let’s throw in knowledge of the real world too, just to be complete.

So, ten things to do after you turn off the TV:

  1. Read a book. I know, it’s obvious, but that doesn’t make it any less important. The most rapid development in the brain’s language and learning centers occurs between 6 months and 3 years of age; we need to take advantage. Just 15 minutes of being read to each day between 6 months and 5 years adds up to 500 hours of reading before they even enter kindergarden, boosting development in these areas. Daily reading in older kids improves their comprehension and speed, in addition to adding to their store of knowledge. Hit that library!
  2. Experiment with science. My all time favorite science site is at Roots of Action. They have experiments in all kinds of science, organized by children’s age and type of science, from astronomy to zoology. There is enough there to keep your kids busy all summer long.
  3. Be creative. Break out the crayons or paints and draw. Make music. Write a story. Perform a theatrical: what kid doesn’t love performing in front of their most supportive audience? Creation exercises and stimulates the brain, making it more imaginative and receptive to new ideas.
  4. Garden. Not only does your munchkin get to play in water, dig in dirt and make a mess, but he or she will also have the pleasure of seeing their plants grow and flower. There is self confidence to be grown along with those beans for diner, and those flowers for the kitchen table. Also, they learn a little responsibility along the way, because they won’t want their precious plants to wither and wilt.
  5. Have a cooking class. Again, you get pride of accomplishment (they peeled those carrots!). They will eat better, because they won’t want their own hard work to go to waste, and they will learn an undeniably necessary skill.
  6. Make a chore list. Exercise, a sense of accomplishment, and lessons on responsibility all wrapped up in one. Give an allowance for completed chores and you can have financial lessons as well.
  7. Play a sport. With them please and have fun, so you have family time and everybody gets some exercise.
  8. Learn a new skill. Summer is the traditional time for classes and camps. Learn to draw, play an instrument, ride a horse… Anything your child has shown an interest in, someone is out there teaching, if you cannot teach it yourself
  9. Volunteer. Aiding others in need will help them appreciate what they have, and will feed their souls. The right sort of volunteer activity can also teach useful skills: Literacy promotion (reading), working with the elderly (communication, patience),  hospital work (medical knowledge), food banks and kitchens (cooking and nutrition), and Habitat (building and repair) are all enriching.
  10. After all this activity, take a backyard vacation. Put out the blow up pool and some beach towels, and drink things with tiny umbrellas. Have a trail hike through the neighborhood with a campout at the end. Have a day in Paris, with a home made Eiffel Tower and a French dictionary. Go to a Broadway show produced by your favorite tiny actors. Backyard vacations are limited only by your imagination, never your wallet.

Who has time for a screen? There is just too much to do! Turn that box off and put away that phone!

Top Ten Summer Activities to Abolish Boredom

2013-09-06 13.00.12A short gap-toothed person looked at me today, smiled, and said, “…only fourteen more days of school!”

Summer is on its way!

No need to run screaming to hide in a closet. Below are my top ten ideas to fill those sunny days with things that will engage their brains and bodies:

  1. Exercise. They have been cooped up all winter. Throw them outside with a ball, bike or roller skates.
  2. Be creative. All those regimented classes, begone! Break out the finger-paints, colored pencils, and charcoal and let them draw anything they want. Find some sticks and build a fort. Act out a drama. The world is their canvas! I mean that literally: they can draw on bark, rocks, the sidewalk…
  3. Listen to music, and make your own. Break out the kitchen utensils if you don’t have instruments. Write your own songs and play them on pots and pans. This is a two-fer, because you will also build reading skills as you play with the words. Listen to music from other cultures and styles and you will painlessly add on lessons in history and anthroology.
  4. Explore. Hit the museum, the library, and the internet, where the world awaits. If nothing comes to mind, ask them what they find interesting and start with that.
  5. Volunteer. Not only is a great way to spend their time, it also fosters an appreciation for what they already have.
  6. Do chores. Chores bind a family together, allow for pride of accomplishment, teach responsibility, and provide a source of money so you can…
  7. Teach financial lessons. What better way than with summer money? Decide before they have it in their grubby paws what they want to save for and how much of their earnings will go into savings. Then watch the pile grow. This works even better if you can match their savings for a little extra inspiration.
  8. Learn a new skill. Make sure it is something they want to learn, of course. Summer is the traditional time for classes, camps, and music lessons. Have a “we’re only speaking spanish” hour, learn to swim, make a tile mosaic – the options are endless.
  9. Introduce yourselves to strangers, especially those who look different than your usual friends. Compliment what they are wearing, ask about what they are doing – be interested and start a conversation. Seeing the world from another person’s point of view can up possibilities for your child.
  10. Get a modern sort of pen pal. These days it’s as easy as getting a twitter account, search #WhatYourChildFindsInteresting and see who pops up. Your child might end up with friends from all over the world. Umm, monitor that, OK?

Keep them moving, reading, and doing, so they won’t turn into sloths.

Have they ever seen a sloth? Isn’t it amazing how slowly they move? Let’s go find a video on Google! Or hit the library! Or draw a picture of one, and make up a story! Or do the sloth dance!

School will start back in no time.