— by Kimberly Nelson, MS, LMFT
Recently I was in one of the Pacific Rim Elementary school classrooms when the kids were asked, “what is your favorite thing to do?” A few of the children answered arts and crafts, soccer, skiing, other sports and activities but the majority said that their favorite thing to do was watch TV, play the Wii, play their X-Box or some other electronic device. Did I mention that this was a kindergarten class? My child was one of the many who cited electronic entertainment as the favorite thing to do. I get concerned about my kids getting addicted to the electronic toys of the 21st century. Many parents I talk to also struggle with this issue. Our children are immersed in a technologically driven culture. As parents of school aged kids it is important to balance the use of technology for leisure activities (DS,, PS-3, I-phone to name a few) with the use of our children’s imaginations, physical energy and creativity. This balance is difficult to maintain. While searching for ideas to help my kindergarten twins in this area I compiled a list of suggestions that hopefully will assist other parents.
*Set limits with electronic devices and stick to your limits.
The recommendation for TV/technology used by the American Academy of Pediatrics is typically no more then 1-2 hours a day. When a child doesn’t have limits in this area they tend to over utilize technology leading to weary eyes, headaches, lack of focus and lack of exercise (except with the Wii). Recently my son didn’t listen to me when I told him his electronics time was up. I took away all electronics the next day. He ended up making a fort with is friends, playing freeze dance and wrote about what a great time he had the next day at school.
*Keep the TV set out of kid’s rooms. If the temptation is there to watch TV they will take it. Kids who have televisions in their rooms watch more TV then kids who do not have bedroom TVs. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) currently suggests that "pediatricians recommend to parents that they limit children's total media time (with entertainment media) to no more than 1 to 2 hours of quality programming per day and to remove television sets from children's bedrooms”1
*Encourage creative and imaginative play. Create a file of imaginative and fun activities (many ideas can be found in publications such as the Family Fun magazine) for the kids. When they say “there is nothing to do” have them pick out something from the file to try. If they don’t like the options after looking at three activities they need to come up with their own idea, try it and write it down for the file. This is great for the summer. The Boes’ family, of Vista, have their kids play outside 30 minutes for every 15 minutes of computer/game time. After awhile the kids forget to come in for their technology time because they are having so much fun outside.
*Encourage physical exercise. We started a community play date on our street. At 3:00 p.m. on Fridays the kids all meet in front of the “host house” The mom provides a snack and the kids play. The moms visit while the kids go on the slip-n-slide, bouncy, make things with chalk, have an Easter egg hunt, put together a lemonade stand etc. The only rule is that everyone stays outside. I know of one neighborhood where the kids go in each other’s garages and play but not in the houses unless the parents know each other well.
*Get your kids involved in extra curricular activities. Sign-up for sports, music, art, ballet etc. Encourage them to pursue the things they love. Expose them to a variety of activities. Help them unwrap their areas of giftedness.
*Go on a nature walk, to the park or the beach. My kids don’t always want to go but they end up having a great time. One of the kindergarten classes has a Thursday play date right after school at Poinsettia Park. The kids play and get their energy out and have fun.
*Put the kids in charge of dinner (this works well when you have nothing in the pantry). Give them a budget, make a menu, make a list, go to the store, have the kids pay with the money budgeted and supervise while they make it. Kids will be more likely to eat what they helped create.
*Be an informed consumer. There are websites with information on the content in movies(www.pluggedinonline.com) and TV, and games (www.commonsensemedia.org). Kids don’t always watch/play age appropriate things and parents can be aware of the content and help guide them and set the ground rules for shows and games they are allowed to watch/play.
Many parents of school aged children struggle with the balancing the use of technology and imaginative play. Although the balance is hard to find we can be intentional and help our kids discover many of the exciting ways to use their imaginations and have fun without even turning on a game or TV.
Kimberly Nelson MS, MFT
Kimberly Nelson is a Marriage and Family Therapist and mother of twin kindergarteners who can be reached at 760-434-2370 or knelson@FCSsandiego.com