With all the discussion about childhood obesity, I’m getting worried about my pre- teen’s “couch potato” attitude. Seems like the computer, video games and the texting are becoming a way of life. It started out gradually and now I’m finding that screen time is pretty much absorbing most of his free time. I sure hope it’s not too late for an intervention. If it isn’t, what are some ideas to get my kid to eat better and step away from the screen? Help! I really need some practical alternatives.
- Roseanne K.
Things sure have changed since I was a kid and maybe for you too. Used to be that we couldn’t wait to get outside and play with the other kids. We’d ride bikes, jump rope and the less physically inclined among us played marbles or jacks. We’d stay outside until the street lights came on and then reluctantly go home. Well, those days are over, that’s for sure! It’s a new day for the digital natives who just about greeted the world with a text message instead of the primal scream.
While technology certainly has a place in the lives and learning of youngsters, it’s clear that there’s just a little too much of it going on in the lives of some kids. A few researchers have even expressed concern that the onslaught of texting is making a negative impact of kids’ literacy skills…especially their ability to spell and to write complete sentences. Children ages 8 to 18 consume an average of nearly eight hours each day of various forms of media, up from six hours in 2005, according to a new study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. In addition to TV consumption, kids are increasingly texting and talking on cell phones. Think about your kids. What’s their average daily consumption? Are they “media obese?”
Others say that the digitization of America has resulted in underdeveloped interpersonal skills and reduced face-to-face socialization and communication among kids. Why talk in person when a quick text, without having to go through the social amenities of “how are you?” “hope all is going well,” can be easily dismissed and the “texter” can just get to the core of the message: “c u at 4 2 day.” Lazy way out? Maybe.
And a likely result of all this sit and text, view, play mentality is that kids are carrying around too much weight and may even become obese. So what’s a parent to do? Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Participate in School Initiatives:
Check out what’s happening with the “Fuel Up to Play 60” program promoted by the NFL and the National Dairy Council, and adopted by both Riverview and Plum Borough School Districts. The purpose of this program is for schools to develop a healthy game plan that includes eating the right foods and getting the right amount of daily exercise. Schools are involved. Parents also can join the team.
2. Consider Home Options:
Prepare and serve your kids foods from each of the 5 Food Groups every day: 3 cups of milk for strong bones and teeth; 2 servings (5.5 ounces) of meat to build strong muscles: 2.5 cups of vegetables so that kids can see in the dark; 2 cups of fruit to heal cuts and 6 ounces of grains for energy. These are recommendations for children ages 7-13 who are moderately active for 30-60 minutes each day. Yes, there is a place for “junk food” in moderation, but not as a replacement for the 5 Food Groups. Check out www.mypyramid.gov for more details.
3. Get Involved in No Screen Week:
While the food intake is a challenge in itself, there may even be a more difficult aspect to all this. Getting kids away from their screens: television, iPods, cell phones, computers, Kindles, Nooks, iPads and anything else that captures their time and attention for an unreasonable amount of time will probably require a major effort and stoic persistence. Many kids display signs of “possession obsession.” They want everything they see or at least everything that their friends have. Remember, you’re the parent. You can control this. It’s not easy, but it is doable!
This week April 18-22 is Screen Free Week. In addition to the goal of getting kids more active, managing their weight and creating awareness of the time kids actually spend in front of screens of all sorts, this initiative encompasses a broader perspective.
The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood seeks to uncover the root of the problem. Its tag line says it all: “Reclaiming Childhood from Corporate Marketers.” The theory behind this effort is that advertising targets children and creates a consumer mentality that fuels their interest and desire to want, view, eat, play, own and participate in all the tantalizing stuff they see and hear on their screens. This website is definitely worth a look.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no television or videos for children under 2 years old and no more than two hours per day of educational, nonviolent programs for older children. AAP studies reveal that “turning off the TV will improve children’s development and well-being. Children who watch less TV have increased attention span, greater language development and stronger literacy skills. They are less aggressive, nag less and have a reduced risk of obesity.”
4. Think About What Children Are Not Doing
According to the Healthy Children website: “Children who have learned critical viewing skills and who belong to families that actively select high-quality programs can learn from television viewing. For some children, especially young ones, TV can be a source of rote language. However, these circumstances are the exception. In general, while watching television, your child is probably not doing any of the following:
- Asking questions
- Solving problems
- Being creative
- Exercising initiative
- Practicing eye-hand coordination
- Scanning (useful in reading)
- Practicing motor skills
- Thinking critically, logically, and analytically
- Practicing communication skills
- Playing interactive games with other children or adults (helpful for developing patience, self-control cooperation, sportsmanship)”
Give it a try. Simple as 1,2,3: team up with the school, change family eating habits and step away from that screen. Okay, not really that simple after all!