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Do Second Screens Add or Distract?


Remember when it was easy to know exactly what our kids were watching on TV? He’s watching “Blue’s Clues.” She’s watching “The Wonder Years.”

But now our world isn’t just one TV screen, easily checked and monitored. From the computer to the tablet to the smartphone, “second screens” are making it increasingly difficult to know exactly what content (and how much) our kids are consuming at any given moment.

Maybe it’s a YouTube video, a Facebook post, a Tweet or an Instagram photo. Or some app you don’t even know exists. Quite possible, it’s all of the above. And it’s often happening while your child is right there with you, in the family room with the TV on.

This “second screen” use is becoming more prevalent. kids-multitasking-multiple-devices-630x357

I’ve become increasingly guilty of it. I’m looking at my phone or tablet while supposedly “watching” TV.  What do I find? Often I miss a key plot point because I was too distracted by what I was looking at on my phone. But I have to admit that sometimes it’s fun to see what people on Twitter are saying about the show I’m watching. It can be a big, collective, hilarious conversation. Networks and cable channels urge fans to take part in chatting about the show when it’s on to help boost ratings.

According to a 2014 study by TNS Global, globally, 41% of internet users watching TV are doing something else at the same time.

A 2013 report found that 72 % of teen web users aged 16 to 19 said they “chat” with friends when watching TV.

It’s wise to realize all those screens are here to stay. And that in itself is not a bad thing. Screens connect us in ways that are wonderful. For example: You know how to reach your child in an instant.  (whether they answer instantly is another story.)

teen and second screenBut one of the big worries of those second screens: distraction.  Larry Rosen, a psychology professor at California State University-Dominguez Hills, studied students in 2013 for just a quarter of an hour while they were doing schoolwork to see how often they veered off into something else. “It really seems that they could not go for 15 minutes without engaging their devices,” he told KQED’s Mindshift site, adding, “It was kind of scary, actually.”

And in a different Mindshift story on the topic, Daniel Goleman, author of Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, says, “Because attention is under siege more than it has ever been in human history, we have more distractions than ever before (and) we have to be more focused on cultivating the skills of attention.”

He went on to say he was concerned about young minds. “Children I’m particularly worried about because the brain is the last organ of the body to become anatomically mature. It keeps growing until the mid-20s,” Goleman said.

Problems that can arise include: The original task (homework, for example), takes longer to complete. Mental fatigue sets in sooner. Memory can be impaired, making it more difficult to retain the information needed. And, ultimately, poor school performance can be result.

The answer is pretty obvious, isn’t it? The ability to focus on one thing at one time is an important and vital skill, one that needs to be cultivated early.

So while it’s fun to chat with friends over the finale of Pretty Little Liars, or follow what fans are saying about that controversial NCAA championship game call, we all need to make sure we don’t multi-task ourselves out of the ability to turn it all off and learn to focus – on just one thing.









World’s Worst Mom



It’s a harsh title – “World’s Worst Mom.”  Worlds-Worst-Mom

But that’s the nickname that was slapped on Lenore Skenazy in 2008, when she was given a public flogging in the press for allowing her then 9-year-old son, Izzie, to the ride the New York City subway on his own.

She left him in Bloomingdale’s, gave him a $20 bill, a MetroCard, a subway map and a few quarters. He wanted to do it. And she trusted him to figure out how to get home and how to ask for help if he needed it.

Izzie made it home, safe and sound – and proud of himself.  His mom, however, was vilified as a child abuser – at first. Since then, Lenore has gone on to carve out a business for herself as an expert in the world of overprotective parents.

She started a blog – Free Range Kids, and now she’s starring in a reality TV show for the Discovery Life channel titled, of course, World’s Worst Mom.  (The show airs Wednesday mornings.)

It focuses on “helicopter parents” who take the cocooning of their kids a little too far. They worry about their children getting hurt, being abducted, being victimized by pedophiles, being cut by a common household knife.

In each episode we see anxious parents and babied kids who aren’t able to do much for themselves. Enter Lenore. She questions the parents and the kids, and coaches them all into learning how to relax and enjoy life a bit more.

I was skeptical about another reality/intervention show, but this one take the issues seriously and showcases the valid fears parents have about kids, as well as the importance of letting kids develop their independence. It’s not hard to see why loving parents want to do anything to protect their children.

Lenore’s message: “The problem with this everything-is-dangerous outlook is that over-protectiveness is a danger in and of itself. A child who thinks he can’t do anything on his own eventually can’t.”

The bottom line is that the world can be a scary place. Stories every day give us reason to believe that. But living fearfully isn’t healthy for parents or kids.




Putting Smartphones to Bed – in Another Room


838-02484870tWhen I was in middle school, I remember being in my bed, sneaking a late-night phone call to my boyfriend, long after the rest of my family had turned in. My mom, who obviously had heard me talking, came in and told me to wrap it up and go to sleep.

That was back in the pre-smartphone days. Now, of course, texting, Snapchatting, Tweeting and other forms of communication rule the earth. But my mom would have been just as ticked-off about those, too. And (once again) she would have been right to be concerned.

Young girl textingAccording to a new study published in the February 2015 issue of Pediatrics, smartphones in a child’s bedroom can lead to “insufficient rest” and later bedtimes – which can lead to more serious problems.

A Massachusetts Childhood Obesity Research Demonstration Study conducted in 2012 and 2013 targeted more than 2,000 fourth and seventh graders. Researchers found that 54% of the kids said they slept near a smartphone or some other form of “small screen” – a cell phone, iPod touch or something else. And those kids got almost 21 minutes less sleep than those who didn’t have a small screen device nearby. The screen kids also went to bed 37 minutes, on average, later than those without the gadgets in their rooms.

Part of the problem is the notifications being emitted from the phones. If you’re constantly waiting for that next bit of information, you’re obviously not sleeping. A smartphone or tablet demands a lot of attention. The numbers are even worse than for kids who sleep in the same room as a TV, which is already known to be a no-no. Those children get 18 fewer minutes of sleep and have a 31-minute delayed bedtime.

83115983_yawning-kid_inside Inadequate sleep lead can lead to many problems, ranging from poor school performance to risk-taking behaviors to obesity, notes the study, which goes on to caution strongly against “unfettered access to screen-based media” in kids’ rooms. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends age-based limits with the overall proviso that kids spend no more than one to two hours a day on recreational screen time.

Jennifer Falbe, a public health researcher at the University of California, Berkeley and the study’s lead author, told CNN, “Set realistic but firm rules. For example, you can make sure electronic devices are off at least one hour before bedtime.”

One suggestion: Tell you child that it’s time to charge the phone. Put it in another room and leave it until morning. And parents, that’s not a bad suggestion for you, too.





School, Bored



“I’m Bored;” the phrase that causes parents to tremble.

The statement comes with the implication that kids need to be entertained, and that we the parents are the entertainers. That’s a notion we need to dispel. Sometimes it’s good for our kids to be bored. It’s a simple problem solving exercise and gives them the opportunity to learn and discover play and activities by themselves. However, there is a time when parents really need to step it up and that is when your child says that she’s bored in school.

TEENS-HIGH-SCHOOL-BORED-960x540At some point, your child may either be ahead or behind everyone in her class. And whichever it is, boredom, disinterest and even an aversion to going to school can result.

If you notice your child isn’t liking school as much as he once did, it is important to find out why as soon as possible. Asking direct questions may not work, so try to catch your child off guard and ask less specific questions: Where you busy at school today? Did you have fun at recess? What was your favorite part of school that day? What was the least? Why?

If you discern that a bullying problem is behind your child’s sudden dislike of school, alert the school right away. But if it’s a case of indefinable ennui, it can be a little harder to diagnose. If your child isn’t keeping up academically, chances are you will know by her grades and from parent teacher conferences. Tutoring, after school clubs and some extra time with homework will help.

However, if your child isn’t challenged by the work, it may be harder to tell. They may have slipping grades or may be acting up. Take a look at any homework brought home. If it is done quickly, or the teacher mentions that work is done sloppily, take careful notice.

Set up a time to meet with the teachers and administrators. Your child may need to be more physically active, especially if they no longer have recess in middle school. Explore clubs and after school activities that offer enriching stimulation such as the chess or geography club. Talk with teachers and counselors and see if there is an advanced class that your child can move into. They may even be tested, but be sure that your child is on board for the challenge.

If an advanced class isn’t available, parents can enhance quickly finished homework with fun but educational products like BrainPop, Brainetics or Top Secret. These materials merge game-like fun with cool learning opportunities. Local museums and history centers may offer after school programs for kids that emphasize art, music or history or archeology. More than anything, you don’t want kids to think of school as too easy. It sets a standard for bad study habits, low expectations and possible poor performance when they are really challenged in high school and college. Boredom can be good for kids in our stressed out world, but school is the one place you don’t want that to happen.

Interested in reading more? Try “How to Deal with a Smart Disruptive School Kid” or “Smart and Bored.”



Free Range


free-range-kids-have-become-a-thing-of-the-past_v3In the news recently is the story of parents in trouble for letting their young kids, ages ten and six, walk to school and to the park, unsupervised. The parents subscribe to a parenting style called Free Range Kids. These particular parents, however, were cited by local authorities as neglectful and may face charges. It is an interesting, hotly-debated issue played out all over social media. On one hand, we read articles criticizing parents for coddling their kids and creating “Displaced Royalty Syndrome.” Any number of accounts hold that parents who do everything for their child only hamper their child’s possibilities later in life. Yet, there are plenty of stories of real neglect, as well as child abduction. Does that mean if you see two young kids, not in distress, walking by themselves, you would call the police? Where is the middle ground here?

I was raised as more “cage-free” rather than “Free Range.” My mother would send us all outside, but we weren’t to leave the block and had to stay in a few pre-approved yards. We didn’t get called back inside until dinner.  In the evenings, we were back outside playing Flashlight Beam (a game of tag with flashlights after dark) or catching lightning bugs (our name for fireflies). I was about twelve when I was finally allowed to walk to the shopping center with a friend.

As a parent, I’m not immune to worry or fear. I’m sure that’s also true of parents who subscribe to Free-Range Parenting. But there has to be a balance between rational concerns for safety and giving our children some independence. From my perspective, it has to do with knowing your children well. How responsible are they? How aware are they of their surroundings? Are they ready for small challenges? I probably wouldn’t let a six year old walk alone, but with a group of older kids close to home—maybe. It is not a case of ignoring kids or being lazy parents, but rather consciously (and sometimes painfully) letting them take baby steps towards independence. It’s a lot to ponder and maybe, in a year, as I anxiously wait for my daughter to call home from college, I will have a different perspective.