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Are you getting Faked Out by devices?

In a recent post, we talked about kids listening to music while they do their homework. If you do allow music during homework, beware, of the “fake out!” Many kids and teens tell me they digitally cheat – unbeknownst to their parents – when there are iPads, smartphones, or laptops in arms reach. They can switch on multiple screens, steal a few minutes on YouTube, and most distracting, read and respond to the constant volley of texts and tweets and pictures coming from social media. It’s all only a finger tap away. And when parents check in, their children close the screens down stealthily and shine an innocent smile.

It’s not all their fault. We do it too. These digital platforms are designed to keep everyone – especially children with less developed self-control skills – on screen for as long as possible. That’s how these companies make their revenue and profits. It’s a business. That’s fine, but we need to be aware. They are designed to be irresistible and to pull our limited, precious attention (and brain disk space) off from what we really need to be focusing or thinking about. Which in this case, is homework.

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Homework and Music – Do They Mix?

My children have great grades.  They insist upon studying with music.  What are your thoughts on that?

Generally, my rule is this: There shouldn’t be competing-distracting sounds or visuals going on when studying. But, there are some people who actually seem to focus a bit better with light “background” music. It should be low volume, preferably without words (lyrics are language and tend to distract more than instrumental alone). The bottom line is if your son or daughter is doing well academically and there are no complaints or concerns from their teacher(s), then it’s probably fine. If there is a problem, go back to basics. Quiet, distraction-free environments have worked best for thousands of years to help people think more deeply. Interestingly. some parents have asked their kids to try listening to classical music (which research shows can improve performance), and then switching to anything else when homework is complete. Beyond classical, maybe Jazz, show tunes, new age, or other forms of inspiring music can be be listened to while doing homework. Worth a try!

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How Much Screen Time Is Too Much?

Always consider your child’s developmental age when deciding how much screen time is appropriate. At young ages, adhere to the more conservative pediatric guidelines that call for very strict limits. That’s no more than a few minutes a day of exposure. This youngest developmental period involves the most rapid neurological growth. During this period learning and experiencing the world shouldn’t be digital or virtual. It needs to be truly social and involve real-life play with real objects that one can see, touch, manipulate, move about, and combine in novel ways. What these youngest children see and do will directly impact their brain growth and plot out development for years to come.

From three to six years old, some screen time each day is fine. Try to stick with educational TV programming of about an hour a day or less, and try to find programs that have real people, real stories, and aren’t hyper-stimulating or over-animated. Start with shows like Mr. Rogers Neighborhood as an excellent model. Such programs may feel a bit outdated, but that’s what young minds need. Calm dialog, routine, repetition, familiar faces, and people interacting in positive social ways. Educational apps on tablets and other screens are occasionally fun, but don’t get seduced into false promises that they will make your young child smarter and learn faster. Studies show that while some children appear to be learning quickly with these electronic platforms, most end up in the same place academically whether screens are used or not. Some researchers have discovered they may in fact do harm. Learning is compromised when it’s done on screens for certain tasks, like reading ebooks versus words on real paper. Heavy screen exposure also runs the risk of ADHD, near-sightedness, learning disabilities, sleep problems, and poor physical health from being sedentary. Too much screen time, even if it’s believed to be educational, may be conditioning young minds to crave faster and faster stimulation. They can become intolerant in real-life when results don’t magically appear with a click or tap. It can lay a foundation for something very worrisome — an addictive need for screens that is starting to show up in some children in the elementary school years.

Once kids reach elementary school years, seven or eight years old, things get very complicated for parents who are trying to manage screen exposure. Schools are introducing more screens into the classroom. More teachers are encouraging Internet and keyboarding as part of homework. More gaming products and media programming are aggressively marketed to this age group. This is the era when I tell parents to start controlling when (not just how much) screen time is used. If it’s for entertainment, screens should only be available once homework and any other responsibilities are completed. If possible, have a set hour later in the day for screens so that kids don’t think of screens as always available and the go-to-activity when they are bored or alone. No screens if possible within an hour of bedtime.

By middle school and up, watch for social isolation, disinterest in activities, chronic irritability, and sleep problems. These may be signs that your preteen or teen is overdosing on screen time. Boys tend to get heavily involved in gaming while girls spend more time on social media. Watch for teens falling into the trap of seeing themselves – and defining their self-worth – through scores on video games or social media. If your teenager is doing well in high school, keeping up with homework, participating in sports and/or positive activities, and prefers meeting up with friends to hanging indoors alone in front of a screen, I tell parents that they can loosen the rules on screen time. The goal is for teenagers to learn how to monitor and manage their screen time before they leave high school.

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Are you spending wisely?

A friend shared this:

Each of us is in possession of a magical bank. We just can’t seem to see it. The MAGICAL BANK is TIME! 

Each morning we awaken to receive 86,400 seconds as a gift of life, and when we go to sleep at night, any remaining time is NOT credited to us. 
What we haven’t lived up that day is forever lost. 
Yesterday is forever gone. 

Each morning the account is refilled, but the bank can dissolve your account at any time….WITHOUT WARNING. 

SO, what will YOU do with your 86,400 seconds? 

Aren’t they worth so much more than the same amount in dollars? 
Think about that, and always think of this: 
Enjoy every second of your life, because time races by so much quicker than you think. 

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A Gift that Gives for a Lifetime

Big stack of colorful Christmas presentsWhen my empathy feels like it’s running low, I call up a few important memories. One makes me smile every time. It is my mother pulling the car over on the busy Boston Jamaica Way, turning on the car’s flashers, rummaging through our beach cooler, and handing over half of her tuna fish sandwich to a homeless guy. For several summers, he’d claimed a small spot to call his home along the Emerald Necklace, a loop of winding river, old trees, and beautiful parks surrounding the city. Whenever he was there, she’d make it her business that he had something to eat.

How do you show your empathy to your children so they will learn by example?

Empathy is most often a gentle, un-publicized, and ongoing gesture. Empathy isn’t a grand gesture. It is not a one time conspicuous donation or 20 hours that fills a community service requirement. It runs deep in our bones and soul. It is a mysterious mixture of warm feeling towards others paired with our remarkable brain skill of adopting another’s viewpoint, the proverbial walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.

Most often, empathy is nearly invisible, a deeply caring personal gift that we won’t ever see given from one person to another – but fortunately – here’s one that we can read about. It warms the heart during this winter’s cold and pulls us out from our often hurried, impersonal days. I hope you take a moment to read this New York Times article. And please share this post with family and friends.

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