Keep Kids’ Bedrooms Electronics Free

There are times as a parent when your intuition just feels so strong that you’re prepared to be the biggest killjoy on earth in the eyes of your child. Your child will readily tell you that every classmate has a TV in their bedroom, that they have an iPhone, that there’s also a PS4 or other games console in the bedroom.

“So, why can’t i have any of those things in my bedroom?” whiles the child, as though you are the cruelest, most heartless parent and you are condemning your child to a life little removed from that of Oliver Twist. Oh, the poor mite.

I once got very odd looks from a parent when I asked her to not to permit my 10 year old son to play computer games in her home that had ’18’ age ratings on them. her son of the same age was playing them for many hours a day. “Besides, I said, he has a daily limit of one hour screen time (1 1/2 at weekends) and so if he was playing these games he would exceed his daily limit.

back then, six years ago, scientific evidence on these matters was hard to come by, but my intuition was telling me in every sinew of my body that I had to protect my child to whatever extent i could in an environment where others were taking extreme risks with their children.

I get no satisfaction, no desire to scream, “I told you so,” when I read articles like the one linked below;

UPI – Health News – Children Suffer With TV, Video Games in the Bedroom
(click on the link above to read the article)

This article shares evidence from extensive scientific research that gathers irrefutable evidence of the harm being done. We have to remember to be scientific in how we read such articles. It’s no good if someone tells you that their child had these gadgets and has ‘turned out fine.’ Firstly, the full implications might not yet be obvious for that child and you cannot go back and know what they might have achieved/ done/ been if they hadn’t had all that exposure. But, more than that, this is not saying that every child will be adversely impacted. However, the statistical risk is high enough that parents shouldn’t be willing to take these risks.

The figure of 60 hours a week now being spent by many children engaging with screens is a stark and shocking one that should make us all think. I can’t help but think that if any adult today is asked to do anything for 60 hours in a week (e.g. work), many will scream in outrage that it’s an abuse to ask them to exert themselves in such a way.

Yet, we live in a world where the same people will engage in endless conversations about the poor state of the economy, society and the world today. They, of course, were all way too busy to get involved or do more than talk about it (reproducing whatever arguments they received through the media!)

Children are even more vulnerable. We know that in their teen years their fully formed limbic system in their brain is ready to lap up every dose of endorphines, with less restraining influence from the pre frontal cortex as the connections are still not fully formed. Anything that has the propensity to be addictive to adults (drugs, mobile phones etc.) is way more addictive to children in these years. We should be doing more, not less, to limit and insulate them from these potentially dangerous influences

A funny old world, innit!

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Getting Good Habits Early

Teachers invest a great deal of time in enabling children to learn their seven times tables, until 6 X 7 = 42 becomes a very automatic and speedy output. But, as useful as this skill might be (perhaps?), how much time is invested in enabling young children to acquire habits that are proven to play a part in enabling a person to live a successful life?

Aristotle is quoted to have said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”

Evidence keeps mounting, in my view for the benefits of the right habits and the potentially horrendous limitations or impairments that happen for those who don’t acquire positive habits early. There’s also an awful lot of evidence that the development of positive habits is easier and more effective when two things happen. Firstly, getting the habits early. And secondly, being mindful and aware of the good habits, why they matter and the benefits of having them.

When we look at the acquisition of habits from the perspective of being a parent or an educator, one of my own strong beliefs is that a habit is only a habit if it’s owned by the individual and that only comes with self-discipline based development and understanding of the ‘why’. The key to this is we can’t put habits in to children through enforced discipline. So, making children act in particular ways “because I say so” or because we’re big, you’re small and we know best and you must be obedient is not the way to build positive, constructive habits. In fact, I see greater likelihood that when the pressure is taken off, there’s a strong chance that we’ll see the young person follow the very opposite habits and go down unproductive paths.

Obviously, when a child is really young, we have to take the lead on habit development. They have to come from us. But, as the child gets older, we need to hand over more of the responsibility to the child. I often compare this to flying a kite. When it gets up in the air we pay out more line – equivalent to handing over more of the power to the child. If there’s a lull in the air flow, the kite may dip and even start to fall towards the ground. At that point we draw some of the line in (not all of it!) until the kite height and the wind strength are compatible. Then, as the kite steadies, we start paying out more line again.

I believe that somehow, today, parents and educators have come to believe that the antidote to strict, controlling parenting is completely laiiez faire parenting where children are left free to make all their own choices and judgements. These appear to be very dangerous extremes. Instead, the right way is to aaply the kite analogy above. This does require investment of time and effort, flexibility and strong awareness of the adult to both their own emotions and how the child is responding to the opportunity to set their own routines and habits.

With regard to habits, we need children to know and understand the implications of good or bad habits, be given the help to acquire the good habits, reflection when they let the good habits slip and to get back in to believing they are capable of establishing clear, positive habits – growth mindset is also a vital ingredient.

here are two recent articles that show, if not definite cause, then certainly strong risks for children who don’t have positive, healthy habits in their lives early on. The first suggests a strong correlation between teenage obesity and failure to have positive, regular bedtime habits in the early years of life;

NPR – Eat, Sleep, Repeat – How Kid’s Daily Routines Can Help Prevent Obesity

The second again highlights correlation, but not yet conclusive evidence of cause, regarding very young infants and screen use causing delayed speech development;

CNN – Speech Delays in Kids Could be Linked to Mobile Devices

The Truth About Exercise

An excellent BBC documentary that explodes some of the myths we've all learned about exercise, fitness and managing weight. Well worth watching.

Also, vitally important to ensure that we're giving the right messages and information to children, while they're at the best stage in their lives to create positive habits that they can maintain later.