Keep your eye on the ball, Mom.

 

IMG_3127Fall ball has started and the boys are having a blast. Another season, another team and a fresh new uniform! I find myself sitting in the stands cheering them on and offering the only advice I know about baseball – - “Keep your eye on the ball!” reminding them to focus on the only thing that matters at that split second in time. If they look down or over at the stands when the pitch comes in they will strike out.

Every now and then we need a little reminder that it is okay to say no to the computer, no to the cell phone and no to the video game.  Parents get swayed by peer pressure just as much as kids do. Everyone else is doing it and we don’t want our kids to be left out so we give in. We get distracted with life and forget the basics sometimes. But we have to remember to keep our eye on the ball and not strike out with our parenting.  We only have a very short childhood window (seems like a split second) to set a good foundation for our children and they should be focused on doing that stage well. They have their whole life to get saturated with technology. Give them the gift of some tech-free days during the week or tech-free weeks in the year. How about a video-game-free year all together or no cell phone until you are responsible enough to brush your teeth without me reminding you to do that every day? Just some things to think about, Mom. Revisit your parenting goals and make sure technology isn’t making your child stressed or irresponsible.

You know:

  • that gaming/texting raises the levels of dopamine in their brains.
  • gaming activates the limbic system (pleasure center) while shutting down the frontal cortex (thinking center); actually re-wiring their brains.
  • that they will grow to love the things they spend time on and lifelong habits begin early.
  • that tech addiction is very real.
  • that to date, no child has ever died of a video-game-playing-deficiency or not having a cell phone (despite current middle school surveys!).
  • there is a growing number of families who are pulling the plug and refocusing on balanced childhoods.

If your child is nagging you constantly, if he is spending too much isolating time in front of the screen, if he is not enjoying being outside, reading real books, playing with some sort of ball or sport, or riding his bike it may be time to just say no for now. Step back and look at the big picture. He gets plenty of screen time in school and can take a break at home. Don’t stress over how you are going to manage content and apps and figure out who got what amount of time on what screen. I give you permission to just take a break, and a deep breath, and calmly say no. Replace the game with another hobby. Protect his childhood now and then equip him to use tech responsibility when he is an older teen.

Keep your eye on the ball, Mom, and focus on what you know in your gut (and heart) is best for your child.  He will live through some game free seasons in his life and be better for it. Mom, I am cheering for you in the stands: “Keep your eye on the ball!” And, I added a new cheer: Give me a “N”,  Give me a “O”…. “NO!”  You can do it! Go team!

How does your child fill his time?

time As parents we have a big responsibility to guide and equip our children to to have a balanced childhood and to spend their time wisely.  If left up to their own choices,  they may choose to have doughnuts for dinner every night and spend all their time on low effort high reward activities like gaming and computer entertainment.  I designed this chart to give moms a clear visual of pouring time (milk) into different activities in your child’s day (vases).  Your mission is to help him use his time wisely by choosing a balance of appropriate activities. Every drop that goes into one vase can’t go into another. It is a done deal. If your child spends 3 hours gaming, those hours can never be used again for reading or art or nature.  It is a simple but profound concept and as we teach them to use their time on foundational character building skills, they will reap the benefits their whole life.

Here is what we know:

  • Multi-tasking is a brain science myth; your child (and you) can only do one activity at a time, i.e. he can’t game and do his homework! I promise!
  • The activities that your child learns and practices during childhood will strengthen specific neuronal pathways and set the foundation for how his brain is wired.
  • Learning a hard new skill takes repetition, patience and time to develop.
  • Neuronal pathways (building skills) that are not used during childhood will be pruned away and much more difficult to activate (learn) later in life.
  • Moms have the most influence over how their children spend their time and their talents.
  • Time is a limited resource for children and adults alike.

How much time will your child put into each activity in his day?  It is up to you, Mom, to help him structure a good balanced plan.  Until his frontal cortex is developed he will need encouragement to try many different activities. Video games and screens will be hard for him to resist and if he had full control of the “milk” he may just pour it all into that vase.

Don’t get paralyzed by the overwhelming task of limiting your child’s screen entertainment activities. Start with a small plan if you are having trouble. Some families find success by making gaming and computer  entertainment time off limits during the school week. My decision was to go game free all together because I was having problems managing the ‘milk’ decisions for four children! Now their weekdays and weekends are filled with many non-screen activities and our life just feels richer, more meaningful and less stressful. While I give them certain choices around which vases they fill,  I am ultimately responsible for where their milk goes. This visual has really helped me evaluate my parenting goals and I hope it helps you too!

“Mom can I borrow the car keys and your frontal cortex?”

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Did you know? The human brain does not mature until age 25 and you can’t speed it up!

This wonderful chart shows an MRI of the gradual development of the same brain images taken at different ages.  The brain matures from back to front with the frontal cortex or expectative center maturing last (decision making, reasoning, problem solving, impulse control.) As your child’s brain develops it is organizing the neuronal pathways that it will use the rest of its life. Because of this, your child is very sensitive to outside life experiences and actions including screen time and gaming.

What does this mean for gaming?

*Repetition: Neuronal connections are made every time your child experiences a new activity and the pathway must be fired over and over during the development process to gain competence in that activity.  How much gaming is really necessary for your child? Is gaming a skill that you want him to invest in and become an expert at?

*Release of neurochemicals  with gaming: Gaming activates the limbic system in the brain and after just 20 minutes of play  it reduces connections to the frontal cortex.  In our house we call it the game coma when extended game play renders the child moody, glazed over and unable to easily communicate with others (and come to dinner when called!); brain science explains why.

*Pruning occurs during early childhood when neuronal pathways that are not being used
are shut down while pathways that are used a lot get stronger. Do you want your child to have strong reading pathways or video gaming pathways?

*There are rich windows of opportunity for learning and gaining new skills during the early Continue reading

Book vs. screen reading.

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Another study* just came out to say that our comprehension is better when we read an actual paper book instead of reading the same book on a digital screen.

Why?

Because paper books stimulate a wider variety of senses than screens do, activating deeper memory banks in the brain. The increased sensory experience of book reading fires more neuronal pathways which translates into more brain activity and more brain connections resulting in better recall.

Emotions like empathy, character identification and emersion are higher with paper book reading and these emotions help with recall. According to the study, the ability to recall accurate chronicle order of the story is also higher with paper book reading. The feeling of where you are in the story is physically apparent in a book as finished pages move from your right hand to your left hand. The touch and feel of a book is very different than the touch and feel of a screen. Screens are also bright and distracting which may cause a bit Continue reading

Emotion vs. Emoticon

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A recent study has confirmed again what every mom already knows: technology use reduces our child’s ability to read non verbal social cues and emotional information from others. Even though you are looking at your digital screen as you read this, you can see that the photo on the left is much more descriptive than the emoticon on the right. But if you were actually in the room with this child many more of your senses would be activated as you would also hear the contagious belly laugh, watch the bouncing body movement and get the message loud and clear that this was a happy kid. You would feel it with your emotions and it would make you smile. The image on the right is more shallow and does not give the same cues. Very important emotional information is missing when we text, rather than when we talk face to face.

According to a new UCLA study, people need more face to face interaction away from screens.  Digital media overuse/imbalance is causing a decline in our children’s ability to Continue reading

A backyard picnic lunch.

outside   A backyard picnic lunch.

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Summer is coming to an end for us with school starting tomorrow.   It is so hard to believe it is over when I still have so many summer outdoor ideas to share! While I wrap up this summer series today,  I will continue to share tips for parenting in the digital age through the next season.

So many ideas I have posted for outside activities are just that: activities. Today I want to remind moms to be sure your child gets some very needed down time each day. Down time doesn’t include media. Media does not count for that very important childhood necessity of learning how to be alone with yourself, your thoughts and your feelings. TV, computers, video games and cell phones are all very stimulating to your child’s brain. Your child needs quiet. He needs peace. He needs solitude. He needs to learn how to do nothing and be comfortable doing it.

Many homes have a constant supply of background noise with a TV on all day, phones buzzing, radios blaring and games beeping.  Take time today to spread a blanket out in the backyard, pack an easy lunch and send your kids out to do absolutely nothing!  Being alone and noiseless is not an easy task in this digital age. Try it as you kiss the final days of summer goodbye. Practicing doing nothing is a very difficult task,  but it will do everyone in your home, including Mom and Dad, a world of good : ) Good luck!!

Go running!

outside  Go running.

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Running is one activity that is easy, free, and good for your kids’ brains. Studies show that the more physical activity kids get, the better they do academically.  My kids like to time their laps around the neighborhood and a nearby track. They also like competition.

Exercise is great for our physical health, but it is also great for brain health and cognitive development:

  • Increased blood and oxygen flow to the brain.
  • Increased endorphins which decreases depression and lowers stress.
  • Increased growth of brain cells, strengthening their interconnections, and protecting them from damage.
  • Improves memory; kids who have a morning exercise routine score higher in reading and math.
  • Helps overcome cravings…including digital cravings.

The next time your kids have ‘nothing to do’, hand them their running shoes and time them on a few laps around the block or around the track. It will help their focus, it will help their mood, and it will help their grades too!

Create a dish garden.

outside  Create a dish garden.

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In Richard’s Louv’s book, Lost Child in the Woods, we learn a new term: nature-deficit disorder.  In his book, the author makes the case that kids are so overloaded with screens and media that they need to reconnect with nature in order to meet developmental needs.  How are they going to learn about the world? By being allowed to wonder around outside in nature, learn natural laws and get a full sensory experience that can’t be found on a screen.

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Kids should be allowed to dig in the dirt! Digging in the dirt is very therapeutic and while some moms shy away from dirty kids, I gauge the success of my day by how dirty my boys’ fingernails are : )  The dirtier the better in my book! So when we got the idea to make a dish garden they literally dove right in.

The sensory benefits of digging in the dirt are wonderful. Feeling the different textures of the soil, rocks, and plants stimulate brain connections that are dormant when the child is hooked on a digital device. Remember, you want your child to use all the brain connections he can when he is young so they don’t get pruned away as he grows.

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The planning and organizing stage is good for their brains as well. Sometimes they learn more from taking time to plan a project than IMG_3297they learn from the project itself.  I was pretty surprised to see my boys get into this project. They had a vision, they made a plan (we HAD  to get white and blue rocks!). They got right to work. IMG_3305

We used a large plastic saucer for the base then added a few other items.   There was some discussion on what went in and they had to compromise (another great benefit of working together on a project!). For now we have a ‘girl’ touch in our dish garden thanks to having a big sister in the house.  I imagine that a few Lego heroes and buildings will find their way in pretty soon.IMG_3310

What a fun outdoor activity! I am thinking that they will add a little fall touch in a month or so; wonder what they will come up with? I am excited to see : )

Play backyard golf.

outside  Play backyard golf.

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Play backyard golf.

You probably didn’t know you can live on a golf course without having to move! It’s actually very easy and inexpensive to create a chip and putt hole in your own back yard! Kids (and Dad) will love going outside to practice on their very own “golf course,” and as golfers already know, this game will teach them lots of focus and patience.

Steps to create your own backyard golf hole:

1.  Choose a flat area of your yard (about 8’x8’) for your green and cut this grass using the lowest setting on your lawn mower.

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2.  A regulation golf cup can be ordered online, or make one yourself by cutting a 4 inch PVC pipe 4.5 inches long.

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3. Dig a hole on the green about 5 inches deep with a post hole digger. Set the pipe in the hole so that the top of the pipe is at or just under ground level. Fill dirt in around sides of the pipe as needed.

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4. Make your own flag out of a dowel rod and fabric.

5. The only equipment you will need is a pitching wedge, putter and a few golf balls.

Practice chipping from different spots around the green. If you want to make it more official, the kids can make tee markers by painting bricks and stenciling a number on each. Now you’re ready to give your new golf course a name and invite family members, friends and neighbors to reserve their tee time!

(Thanks to Shari and her family for the great tips!)

Outside rainy day activities.

outside  Outside rainy day activities.

IMG_7374We have had a lot of rain this summer. In fact it is raining as I write this post.  Rainy days are a big problem when you have a gamer in your house. No one wants to get dressed and get productive,  they would rather sit on the couch with a blanket and play a game or watch TV.  It is hard for mom too because she wants the kids to be quiet as she curls up with her computer or catches up with a friend on her phone.  Because it is hard for everyone to get moving on a rainy day, your job as media manager gets harder too.  In fact, you have to be even more careful that media doesn’t saturate your child’s mind like a flash flood on these days.

What do we do at our house? I keep all media off on rainy days because it is so tempting to leave it on too long or most of the day.  I can’t seem to stay on top of it especiallyon rainy days. When it is sunny it is so easy to turn it off and send them out,  but when it is raining we have some strange idea in our head that kids need to stay inside.  I’m not sure where that came from but we need to re-think it.

This is what I have learned about rainy days:

  • It usually doesn’t rain all day. Just because it is raining when you get up doesn’t mean that you won’ t have a ‘wet but not raining’ window of opportunity to go outside IMG_0382cat some point so don’t think that the TV needs to stay on the whole day.
  • Boys don’t melt. Boys love to play in the rain. It is right up there with playing in the mud! Summer showers are PERFECT for many outdoor activities.  It is OK for your child to get wet. Little girls love to play with umbrellas and cute goulashes and boys love to play in the rain so let them. Don’t over protect here.
  • Some outdoor chores are easier on wet and rainy days.  While obviously you don’t want to be out in a thunderstorm, It is much easier to pull weeds on a rainy day. In fact, that is when we pull weeds at our house because it is so much easier.
  • It is cooler to do things outdoors on rainy days. Heavy yard clean-up, digging, hauling, loading and planting are all better in the summer rain. Do you have mulch to spread? A rainy day is perfect.  A rainy day is a great time to play football or catch in the front yard too.
  • Cleaning the garage is another rainy day activity at our house. It is so much easier to do that chore when it is raining rather than on a sunny day that is tempting you to ride your bike or swim in the pool rather than clean.
  • Reading on the porch. That counts as an outdoor activity at our house. The warm humidity, the sound of the rain and birds all paint the perfect backdrop for a good book (even if it is one from your school’s summer reading list!)

So while there are many great indoor activities to do on a rainy day (that I will cover in more detail soon) from playing cards to cleaning your room Smile don’t forget the wonderful outdoor activities for a wet day! Make a list right now of all the outdoor things you can do at your house on a rainy day!