Michele Borba Blog: Kids plugged in 71/2hrs a day: My TODAY show report & 5 parent tips

by | Jan 24, 2010 | The Big Book of Parenting Solutions

On Thursday Jan 21 on NBC’s TODAY I spoke withMeredith Vieira about a newly released report by The Kaiser Family Foundation on 2002 people ages 8 to 18 and their media use. I spent time reviewing the 130 plus page  report and admit that the findings are troubling. It found that kids media use has dramatically increased in the last five years. Kids now spend seven hours and 38 minutes using media in a typical day.

Any electronic media was counted in the mix including listening to music, watching TV and movies, playing video games and surfing the net. Not included in those hours were cell phone or texting. But let’s put things in perspective by doing the math over the course of a week. Adding up those minutes means that kids are plugged in about 53 hours a week or the equivalent of almost a full-time job. Now consider that the average kid is in school about eight hours a day and sleeps another eight hours. The scant time left doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for a vastly important commodity called experiencing L.I.F.E.

Meredith’s first question to last Thursday was: “What affect will this much media have our kids’ development?” My honest comment was that we really don’t know. The truth is our children’s engagement in the media world is so new that how this will plays out in their development is still unknown in those research findings.

There actually may be benefits: our kids may be developing a different part of their brains that helps them multi-task. Perhaps listening to all that music–the right kind anyway–will trigger new neurons. Maybe the quick access available on the information highway will boost IQs or playing the right video games will increase our children’s problem solving capabilities. We just don’t know yet. The research isn’t in. And that’s exactly why parents and professionals alike are nervous. It’s also why we should be cautious. After all, common sense and a review of preliminary research tell us that a heavy media diet has drawbacks.

Research from the University of Seattle shows that those flickering computer images are affecting our younger children’s brain development and could be correlated to the increase in attention deficits. The American Academy of Pediatrics warn that at least fifteen percent of our children’s behavior is negatively impacted by playing violent video games. We certainly know too much media and not enough studying affects our children’s grades and academic achievement.

But my biggest concern is how an overly-plugged in existence will affect our children’s social, emotional and moral development. There’s no doubt about it: a plugging in means that child is tuning out from face-to-face contact. Our kids learn empathy, respect, kindness, fairness, justice and all those other homespun, glorious moral habits that make up those virtues largely through face-to-face encounters.

And then there’s one other little issue. If your child is plugged into media for seven and a half hours a day that eats up a heck of a lot quality or quantity parent time.

Make no mistake: our children’s childhoods are dramatically being redefined by our new electronic world. While we parents can’t rewind the time back to June, Ward, Wally and Beaver Clever’s unplugged era, we can take intentional steps so our influence isn’t way-sided by an electric cord. Here are five parenting solutions to get you started:

Let’s wise up and get educated! The Internet is here to stay. It’s part of our kids world and it’s a rare kid who isn’t plugged into some aspect of the media.Before you throw up your hands or let your child plug into that device, get educated so you can make the wisest choices for your family. Start by reading the Kaiser report, Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8 to 18 Year-Olds.

Do a reality check on your family’s media intake. Sure those seven and a half hour a day stats are riveting, but don’t be so quick to take the “That’s not MY kid” attitude!  or throw up your hands in despair. Instead, over the next week take an honest appraisal of just how plugged in your kids really are. Chart how much time they actually spend per day watching television, listening to Ipods, texting, playing video games, talking on a cell, tweeting, blogging, and surfing the net. Also, check out which sites they frequent (PLEASE!), which friends they  IMing, and what music they listen to. It’s all part of responsible parenting. Only by assessing your family’s media diet will you be in the position to decide what’s the right media balance for your kids. Do remember, a key issue to consider isn’t just what your kid is plugged into but what he’s tuning out of. For instance: sports, exercise, friends, reading, learning a hobby, contributing to the family, or just gazing at the clouds.

Set clear unplugged times. I don’t care what your kid is watching, playing or hearing, too much “plugged in” isn’t good for any kid. So strike the right balance of plugged and unplugged times. Establish definite unplugged times when conversation and face to face time are mandated. “Plug out” during those family meals (no television or cells phones allowed) or in the car pool (when you and your kid can be talking) or whenever there’s a conversation  that involves that child. Invest in a cell phone program which allows the parent to control the number of texts and minutes, block access to the web (or just don’t buy that feature) and turn off incoming calls and texts at certain times (particularly during school and after bedtime). Consider taking that television out of your child’s bedroom. And confiscate the cell phone after light’s out.

Connect with your child through media. The media is part of our children’s world and is here to stay, so why not learn to use it as a source of connection with your children? The plugged-in world can be a way to keep your relationship strong. Learn to text so you can text to your child. Play video games with your kids. Exercise with your kids with a wii. Find a television show you can enjoy together and watch together. Just make sure you also converse while you’re playing. This is also a great time to teach your kids media literacy.

Teach healthy media alternatives. If you want to wean your kid away from always being plugged in, then what do you want him to do instead? Many kids get into the plugged-in habit because they don’t know healthy unplugged alternatives. Get out those library cards, puzzles, game boards, or cards. Set up that basketball net or find your kid a hobby he or she would enjoy such as knitting, yoga, beading, drawing. Don’t let your child become so plugged in that he tunes out the real world.

Hint: And above all remember that you do pay the electric bill. So feel free to just pull the plug!

Refer to The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries for specific solutions about issues such as television addiction, cyberbullying, Internet safety, cell phones, and more.