How to destroy your child’s love for reading.

039c.jpgDid you know that 80% of U.S. families did not buy a book last year and 33% of high school graduates never read another book for their entire life?

If you are like most parents, you may struggle with getting your kids, especially your boys, to read for pleasure. They can find time to be on a screen device–new statistics say 7 ½ hours a day is the average time our kids spend in front of a screen, but they can’t seem to find time for book reading.  In my work with young families, this lack of interest in reading seems to be a big problem for today’s “screen happy” kids.  Let’s take a look at some ways that we may be sabotaging our children’s chance to develop a healthy reading habit without even knowing it.

Top 10 ways to ensure that your child will not like to read:
  1. Make sure there are no age-level pleasure novels/books in the house.

Have you taken inventory lately of the age-appropriate books in your home, especially in your child’s room? Even though you want to keep picture books for sentimental reasons, your 6-year-old should be outgrowing them. Do a quick check: He should have at least 5-10 age appropriate unread books in his room to choose from. Don’t have a budget for books? Goodwill and your local library are great options. Let your child select some but also choose some interesting books for him and place them not only in his room, but also in other strategic places throughout the house like the kitchen or den. (See our book list under our Practical Solutions tab.)

  1. Make her read only for homework and don’t encourage pleasure reading.

If your child only reads books she has to read for school, chances are that she will not develop a love for pleasure reading–even if the school assignments are novels. If you only focus on school reading, you send a message that reading is a chore, only a homework assignment.

  1. Use the kitchen timer when she is reading.

Any use of the kitchen timer can make some kids feel like they are being punished; never make reading feel like a punishment for your kids.  Think of other ways to get the block of time in. For example, “Let’s all grab our books and meet in the den and read for an hour before we go out to dinner.”

  1. Never have books in the car.

When you allow screens instead of books in the car on trips, during errands, and at doctor’s appointments, you are missing a huge opportunity to tell your child that down times and wait times are the perfect time for reading. Just reading for 15 minutes a day will add up to more than 1 million more words read this year! That will increase his vocabulary, increase his brain connections and continue to build a valuable reading habit all while doing errands. If your child experiences motion sickness, as many do, choose audio books rather than screens.

  1. Never read in front of and with your kids.

If you never have a pleasure reading book in your lap, how will she know that you think reading is important? Your bright child will easily pick up on the importance of reading by your actions. And she needs to see real books in your hands, not just e-readers.

  1. Never give books as gifts.

We give things we value to our children. Give her a book at every birthday and every Christmas. Jot a note in the inside cover to make it even more meaningful.

  1. Never act interested in what he is reading or ask questions about his book.

Do you ever have book discussions at dinner? Go around the table and ask each family member about what they are reading; they will feel special and important as they contribute to the conversation. Want to really boost his reading interest? Ask if you can borrow his book when he is done.

  1. Never take your kids to the library or bookstore.

This is one sure way to kill his love for books. Make sure he doesn’t know his way around the library or know what it is to spend a few hours reading in the quiet, soothing, therapeutic atmosphere of a quiet public library or bookstore.

  1. Never read aloud with them.

Age doesn’t matter, your children will never outgrow the need for hearing you (the parent) read to them. When you put emotion into the characters and they hear your tone and your ‘immersion’ they follow along and get tons of reading benefits not to mention the emotional benefits of spending quality time with you.  Read the first chapter of a new book aloud to get them going.  Trust me on this one. Don’t forget to have your older kids read aloud to the others as they need the practice.

  1. Offer screen time as a reward for reading time.

In all of my work with families in screen overuse conflicts, I believe that this is the number one best way to kill your child’s love for reading. When a trade is made of reading time for more screen hours, you send a very clear, wrong message to your child. Even though I don’t agree with making chore or “good grade” trades for screen hours, trading cleaning the toilet or taking out the trash is more on the level of a fair trade for screen time. Book reading time should never be used as currency for video game or screen time. Period. Sorry, Mom and Dad. If game time always trumps reading, that trade isn’t the best way to keep reading in the esteemed place it needs to be.

Developing reading habits during childhood is an investment with immeasurable future payoffs and benefits.  If you have a child who loves books you are on the right path. If you don’t, don’t give up.

10 small steps for big changes in your child’s digital diet!

IMG_1927Happy New Year!

With  the New Year here,  we are all thinking about setting new goals for the next 12 months. Your instincts are  telling you that along with your food diet, your digital diet needs  a makeover. Here are some easy tips to get digital balance back in your family’s life this year.

  1. Place video games out of sight, so they’ll be out of mind. The tree can come down and so can the video games. Put those screen games that your children got as gifts back in the box and store them away where they can’t be easily accessed. Don’t leave them sitting out in the den, or worse yet, in your child’s room, where they will be overused. You can pull them out when you decide.
  2. Re-take this quick test. One way to know if your child is overusing screen entertainment is to ask him to list three things that he likes more than his screen. If he can’t name three hobbies that he prefers to his screen entertainment, then you have some work to do to get him re-directed!
  3. Commit to learn a new hobby.  Help your child learn a new skill. Don’t let her favorite pastime of playing with a screen or surfing YouTube videos take over this year.
  4. Update your parental controls. Many parents don’t realize that a needed software update can disable parental controls on your screen devices.  Reset your phone passwords while you are at it, so your kids can’t access your emails and texts.
  5. Set a reading list goal as a family.  Did you know that 80% of U.S. families did not buy a book last year? Have a family gathering around the dinner table tonight and encourage everyone to make a list of the books they want to read this year. Set a date on the calendar to go to the library.
  6. Give up one social media platform this year.  Many Americans are active on 3-5 social media sites, which steals hours out of their days and especially out of the days of their children. How about  having one family social media account for everyone to share, adults and teens alike?This will save countless hours of wasted time while giving you the opportunity to oversee and manage what your kids are doing online.
  7. Clean out your digital closet.  Have your family unfollow sites on social media  that no longer “fit.” Your kids have outgrown their media choices the way they are outgrowing their clothes.
  8. Research new spring sports opportunities now for your kids. Don’t wait till the last minute to do this. We all need to move more and screens keep us from moving. While you are at it,look for some art and music classes; the key is to plan ahead and initiate a more well-rounded, balanced schedule for your child.
  9. Assign new chores for your children. Ramp it up a bit as they are getting older and are capable of doing much more around the house. Because of their underdeveloped frontal cortex, most kids will choose to spend all their time on low-effort, high-reward activities such as  gaming and taking 100 selfies a day. Make a plan now to upgrade their responsibilities around the house as it will help them to be more attached to their family. That is their number one developmental need right now.
  10. Be happy! Make it your personal “parent” goal this year to reduce the screen conflict in your home by changing your attitude. Stop yelling at your kids to get off the screen. It is totally within your parental powers to take control back and reduce or eliminate screen time altogether if it is a problem. Get prepared to take the Game-Free Home Challenge (info coming soon!) and do it with a smile on your face and a smile in your heart. Tell your kids that this is a new year and a new day and that you are going to be spending much more time together as a family.

Make a few simple commitments to live a healthier digital life. Even small changes like taking a family walk after dinner instead of allowing everyone to retreat to their screens will make a huge difference. Try steps such as not allowing entertainment screen time during the week and collect all screens early in the evening before bed. Live a bit differently than you did last year;   your family will be happier and healthier with their new digital diet!

Give Real Toys This Christmas!


Last year after Christmas our children’s visiting friend said, “Cool! You got REAL TOYS for Christmas, all I got were video games.” 

Another year has gone by and many of our kids have spent too much time in front of their screens. Health professionals tell us that too much sitting is especially bad for kids since they need to move a lot to learn and stay healthy.  We also know that kids really do love real toys and when given the choice still prefer being with family over being with their screens.

This year Families Managing Media is going to encourage you to “AIM” high with your gift giving and shop for items that will encourage Attachment to family, promote Imagination and encourage Movement.

Families Managing Media’s 2015 top non-tech Christmas gift ideas for kids!


One of the most valuable gifts you can give your child is the gift of uninterrupted, non-tech family time. Childhood is gone in the blink of an eye, but it is such an important time when Continue reading Give Real Toys This Christmas!

So thankful for that one decision.



When I picked up my kids from school today, I asked them what they were thankful for this Thanksgiving season. They had a lot to say:

  • “You, Mom”
  • “My brother” (Yes, they actually said that unprompted!)
  • “Baseball”
  • “The family outing to the football game this weekend”
  • “The way you set up my room yesterday.”

Most of their answers had something to do with spending time together as a family.

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for how our family time is rich with conversation, real play, and healthy interactions with one another without the distractions and conflicts that screens used to bring. I am thankful that we no longer have time spent in screen isolation, away from each other, or conflicts over content on that screen. I am thankful that we dont have social media meltdowns. I am thankful that I don’t hear how one more level on their video game is more important than coming to dinner on time.  I am thankful that we spend much more time getting to know each other and much more time being creative.  Our home just feels better and I know that we all get more hugs than we ever did before!

Even though not all of our family time is perfect and harmonious, we are much happier than we were when screens were dominating our time, and deep down I know that our children are benefiting greatly. The one simple decision to reduce entertainment screen use has revolutionized our family. It has changed our kids and their hearts. It has changed the way Chris and I parent, and it has made it easier for me to be a better mom.

I hope that your family has a growing list of non-screen blessings that you and your children can be thankful for this season. These are the meaningful things that will shine much brighter than the glow of any screen in your childs life. Don’t just put your screens in the other room for Thanksgiving dinner this year, go ahead and turn them off for the whole day. Have fun with each other and have a very blessed Thanksgiving!


The Forbidden Fruit Myth!


“I need to let my son manage his game time now so he won’t go crazy gaming in college.”

“If I limit my daughter’s social media she will want it more.”

“My child tells me that they will “die” if I don’t get them a smart phone.”

The ‘forbidden fruit’ theory says if you limit an activity that your child desperately wants they will want it even more. While this may sound true on the surface, science, and most experienced moms, won’t back it up. Brain science tells us that the forbidden fruit theory is a myth particularly when it comes to tech overuse.  It is more serious than a teen power struggle or ‘war of the wills’. Because of their sensitivity to dopamine and their immature frontal cortex, teens are not easily able to put the brakes on when tempted with tech overindulgence. They are not able to:

  • consistently make good judgements (gaming till 3am)
  • understand future consequences  (‘This photo of my cleavage will still be around in 5 years for my first employer to look at.’)
  • control impulses to dive into novelty (surfing porn)
  • take relationship risks (hurting a friend online)

Parents may think that if they allow the forbidden fruit, then their kids will get it out of their system, outgrow it or become disinterested and move on.  That is far from the truth! What they are doing is reinforcing neuronal pathways making those habits even stronger and harder to control. Remember habits and activities greatly shape your child’s young brain and create lifelong patterns.  A child who has developed many interests and hobbies will be happier and lead a more well-balanced life. As he matures he will not be as tempted by “forbidden fruit”. He will develop self-esteem and confidence as he finds joy in other activities;  digital fruit will not be his only thing.

The son who is allowed to game out of control in high school will be the same teen who games too much in college with the added risk of even dropping out. The daughter who is building her identity on social media now will grow to depend on it for her social confidence in the future. The 12 year old who is begging for a smart phone now may be robbed of new experiences and a lesson in delayed gratification that could prove to be much more priceless than any phone will ever be in the future. If they are going to ‘die without it’ chances are they don’t need it!

Love your child enough to set boundaries and set limits and use the most powerful tool in our ‘mom tool box’: be positive.  Instead of handing out forbidden fruit, explore healthy fun ways for your child to build a strong emotional foundation. Strong attachments to their families creates more life success than strong attachments to their devices. These important, impressionable, developmental years are full of opportunity and they can’t be replaced!

Melanie Hempe, Families Managing Media

Time to put on the candy brakes!

untitled-1121It’s that time of year! Halloween candy everywhere at our house. Notice all the empty wrappers!

If your house is like mine, by day three of the candy I am ready to throw it all away! My kids are not generally candy’holics but they can’t seem to help themselves when it comes to the huge basket of fresh loot sitting out on the table. So what’s a mom to do? I have to manage it just like I have to manage their screen use, it is exactly the same battle! They can’t resist the temptation to dive in for just one more piece (at breakfast!) just like they can’t resist one more level on their game.

Neuroscience tells us that the ‘regulation control’ center in their brain is not fully developed, that is why they are so tempted to eat candy and jump on a screen at every turn. They need adults to pay attention and love them enough to help them put the brakes on. My job is to lend them my frontal cortex and help them out by setting boundaries, managing ‘portions’ and saying “no”. Oh and FYI, just like that candy, that ‘yummy’ screen also releases an overabundance of the feel-good chemical, dopamine, to keep them coming back for more.

Mom, is it time to give your kids the gift of boundaries and set some candy and screen limits in your house?  The benefits are so sweet!


Digital Media and Developing Minds Conference

Ca conf

The winds of change are blowing.  Media has swept into our homes with a force like Hurricane Katrina. Our families are like a city underwater as we parents and our children are inundated with media gushing through every child’s bedroom and classroom faster than we can batten down the hatches.

My passion for helping families understand the effects of the flood of digital media on child development depends  on two things: experience and sound research.  Like a weather reporter eagerly watching the Doppler radar, I am reading every book and latest study on media and bringing the information to you so we parents can be prepared and best prepare our children for what’s coming at them.  Then it’s no surprise that I immediately accepted the invitation to attend the 2015  “Digital Media and Developing Minds”  Sackler Colloquium in California, where the top researchers, scientists, academics and medical professionals were convening to discuss child development and media.

My friend and colleague, Eason Futch, and I have just returned from the three-day conference, co-sponsored by the newly formed Children and Screens Institute of Digital Media and Child Development and the long-standing National Academy of Sciences. In attendance were nearly 200 of the most experienced and talented researchers working on determining the effects of digital media on child development.  We heard from more than 50 diverse speakers, panelists and moderators.

While we were thrilled to meet many of these people whom we have grown to respect and appreciate, it was equally thrilling to sit down and have breakfast, lunch and dinner with them and get to know them. As I talked face to face with the doctors doing the research in their labs, I quickly learned that they are parents too, and their children are struggling like ours. Together, we are going to help the children.The biggest takeaway that I brought home is this: no one entity can do this alone.  We need each other.  The researchers need Families Managing Media to bring the information to you, and Families Managing Media needs them.  We must work together for the good of our children to understand and adjust the media diet our kids consume.  We need to continue our dialogue about media violence, screens and sleep, video game addiction, the diminishing art of face to face conversation, “educational” apps, sexting, screen multitasking, and so much more.

I have new wind in my sails, and a new rudder on my ship.  I’m heading in the right direction on this ocean of change.  You may not have been able to be at the conference with me, but I will take you there, so climb aboard and click here to join me in sunny California:

Join us for our monthly meetings as we continue to support each other on our journey! Our next meeting is this Thursday Click here to register.

Melanie Hempe

Is your teen in love with her phone?

in love with phonec

(photo credit Melanie Hempe)

Last week I was walking behind a family as we all headed into a restaurant. The older sister, about 13, was heads down, deeply engrossed in her phone while walking. The younger sister called out to her, trying to catch up and get her attention. She was ignored. When she ran up and tried to hold her sister’s hand, the older sister rejected her with that familiar teen brush-off. The older girl turned away from her sister and focused on her phone even more intently, never uttering a word.

The younger sister then blurted out, “Ever since you got that phone you act like you are not in our family anymore!” It was a heartbreaking moment as that child so clearly articulated her feelings–and the truth. Teens love their phones–sometimes to the exclusion of everything else.

CNN aired a great documentary last week when Anderson Cooper hosted “#being13: Inside the Secret World of Teens.” The special featured the results of a two-year study tracking and interviewing 200 8th graders and reviewing 150,000 of their social media posts, in an effort to discover how social media is affecting the lives of our children on a daily basis. As a parent of four who is pretty well-versed on this issue, I found the study to be accurate and informative.

Teens love their phones. Literally. They are in love with them like they love a person because their brains can’t tell the difference. We all get a healthy dose of dopamine (and other brain chemicals) with face to face interactions or a hug from Mom. Teens get the same dopamine buzz when they receive an instant “like” on their post or even hear the familiar ding of its arrival.  Because of this wonderful feeling, they crave more.  This is why many teens check their phones more than 100 times a day, according to the study. They feel the need to “see” what everyone is doing and saying about them. Parents know that this attachment can not only be time consuming but exhausting and stressful.

Our teens’ brains are not equipped to handle this level of dopamine and stress; they need Continue reading Is your teen in love with her phone?

Image result for carmel baptist parent summit 2015

Parent Summit

Join us at Carmel Baptist in Matthews on Saturday, September 12 from 8:30 am to 2:00 pm. Keynote speaker, Rob Rienow of Visionary Parenting, and relevant breakout sessions including two breakouts by Moms Managing Media. 1. Kid’s Brains and Screens: The brain science behind screen use. 2.Lost Potential: The  Gaming Brain and Social Media Overuse.  Please share the link and register by Sept 4! Open to the public, bring the kids!

Keep your fears and hang-ups to yourself!: Active Parenting Part 5


So many words that come out of a parent’s mouth are words of worry and reminders to be safe, or words that limit or stifle action. I’d like to put in a word for words that encourage! Keep in mind the end goal is to raise independent children who are successful and productive adults. What good comes from hovering, limiting and instilling your fears on your child?

Encourage new skills. Don’t baby your children, unless of course they are babies! Let the kids figure things out, expose your children to new environments and see what inspires. Curiosity is one of the greatest strengths of children (we know that it is not tidiness!). If your little one reaches into the river to move a rock, don’t tell him to “watch out for crawfish!” If your school age child wants to help maintain the campfire, don’t yell to “watch out for the flames!” If your high school age child needs to stay up all night to finish a project, hold off on the lecture. Let him connect the dots and figure out how to make up for a lost night of sleep, and manage his time better in the future. In each case, the child is experiencing something new, building life experience and learning.

Encourage challenging tasks. Sometimes I have the feeling that parents have a need for the stream of non-stop talk in order to feel useful and engaged. I suggest just sitting quietly and letting your children handle, or figure things out on their own. They know you’re there, just in case! For example, when a child is young and struggling to get onto the jungle gym, let him work it out. Resist the urge to comment, give advice, boost him up, etc. Their success and self-confidence will be so much more valuable if it comes from themselves, in their own time. They are developing important life skills: independence, self confidence and physical awareness.

Encourage stepping out of the comfort zone. It’s easier for parents and children to fall back on “safe” activities which include staying indoors and playing video games. The parent knows where the child is and feels that no harm can come to him (oh yes, it can!). The latch-key child is encouraged to do indoor activities. I can assure you that there is much more danger with an unsupervised child at home on the computer than there is with a child out on the driveway shooting hoops or riding a bike over to a friend’s house down the street to play football. Our perception of danger is often skewed. Have an agreed upon plan for your child when he comes home from school if you are not there to meet him.

Let your children handle their own risk management (based on their life experiences, not yours!). We are raising four boys. We are not an “indoor” family. We choose adventures and activities that are inherently risky and there have been many harrowing moments along the way! However, I know that keeping my worries to myself, although sometimes very difficult to do, has been the right thing to do. We parents are there to handle the serious safety issues, but we do not need to micromanage every bluff they choose to scramble, every river they choose to cross, or every construction project they take on. Over the years, they have built such a cache of personal experiences that they are self-confident, yet know their limits. They manage their own risk. We are frequently awed by what they can do and manage themselves, with ease now.

Enjoy watching your children grow. Growth occurs when kids go beyond their normal routine. A confident parent doesn’t need to control their child’s every move and decision, but you do need to expose them to new experiences and activities. If you have worries and hang-ups, don’t burden your children with them right from the start. Stay nearby, encourage, be quiet and let your children figure out how to climb the tree. Keep your “I told you that was too difficult” comments to yourself if they don’t succeed. They will hopefully learn the value of perseverance and working hard. They will grow, and they will amaze you. There is nothing better than watching your kids navigate their world. Remember, that is your goal as a parent!