Media, Playtime & Your Kids

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I’ve been thinking a lot recently about media and my kids. Not too long ago, my husband enabled kids games on the Xbox.  Before this, my kids had no idea they could play games on the Xbox. They thought it was just for Netflix and Vudu {online tv show and movie services}.  This is kinda ironic, I know. A video gaming system that my kids don’t even know is for video games. Although, if I have to be honest, today’s Xbox is so much more. It is, in reality, a computer on my tv stand.

Numerous studies have shown that media for kids is harmful in a number of ways. Kids that spend more time on media devices {watching tv or movies, playing video games, interacting on social media} have poorer scholastic achievement and poorer self esteem than those that do not. Studies have also shown a higher rate of obesity and overweight in those same children vs their counterparts that spend less time using media. I, however, think the real issue is something else.

Less time spent outside P-L-A-Y-I-N-G.

Play is a child’s work. This has also been studied extensively. Children learn through play and directly interacting with their environment. They do not learn by sitting. They do not learn by watching an “educational” video or show {although that would be preferable to pure entertainment with little educational value}.  Kids today spend more time sitting in school than ever before and when they come home, they have homework. So, any time spent after school watching media further reduces the amount of time they have to play.

Kids are built for action. Their little bodies need movement to develop muscles and create muscle memory. Muscle memory is what enables smooth walking and the ability to go easily from lying down to sitting to standing. Without muscle memory, every action we take would be a shaky, stop-and-go, jerky movement as our bodies attempted to navigate for us without any history to build on.

Recent studies have also shed light on free time play and academic achievement. A 2006 study out of Duke University showed elementary school kids who had homework did no better on standardized tests or on report cards than kids that did not have homework. In other words, homework did not increase academic success. Homework also takes time away from outside activities like music instrument lessons, sports team participation, and family time, according to Etta Kralovec, a teacher educator at University of Arizona and author of “The End of Homework”. These are important aspects of growing up and exploring the world, and homework is taking the place of kids’ opportunities to try out these activities AND it isn’t improving academic success.

My daughter {who is 6 and in all-day Kindergarten} has 2 worksheets for homework every day. Her teacher also encourages the students daily after homework to log onto one of the three available online “learning games” the school district provides for free. But by the time school is over and we get home and have a snack and do homework, it is already 330pm or so. That means she only has at most 2 1/2 hours to play outside and explore before dark. If she spends some of this time watching tv or a movie, she will get almost no significant time moving her body. Exercise has shown benefits in children in studies for enhancing brain development and strengthening academic performance. Exercise and free time play outside has also shown benefits for decreasing ADHD/ADD symptoms in children. This may be due to the release of dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters during exercise, which calm the brain {something kids with ADD/ADHD need}.

What if we could get our media obsessed culture to turn OFF the tv/iPhone/iPad/movies/video games?!?! Kids learn from parents, and the average American watches an astounding 4 hours of media daily! WE are LITERALLY teaching kids that the “thing to do” is consume media. What we need to do is: go outside, work in the yard, take a walk, go for a bike ride. Kids learn by doing {like I said earlier in the post}, so let’s be role models.

WE only have 1 tv in the house. {I know, some of you just gasped. How can you ONLY have 1 tv?} Truth: We don’t watch that much tv, and instead we work in the yard, and work on our house, and go to the beach or the park, we take bike rides, and in general GO OUTSIDE. Now, my kids are not perfect in any sense {think whining from all 3 at times and tantrums from the 3 year old} but because my kids aren’t drowning in media, they have a more active life and {so far} are successful in school. That’s only 1 part of it, but its something we as parents have complete control over in our family.

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