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Your Grandparents Knew it — Why Don’t You?

The report has made headlines this week.  No – not the damage assessment from Haiti.  Not the latest unemployment numbers or the polling numbers from the Massachusetts special election.  No, in the midst of all that, come these findings that are shocking parents across the country (and if they are not, they should!!)

U.S. Kids Using Media Almost 8 Hours a Day

Yep – do the math:  nearly 8 hours a day times 7 days per week equals more time than most adults spend in a full-time job!  Seriously.

As the report’s co-author Victoria Rideout, vp and director of the Program for the Study of Media and Health at the Kaiser Family Foundation says:

Anything that children spend that much time doing is something that needs to be studied.  Media use is neither inherently good or bad, but from a health perspective there are a lot of things to think about.”

The first thing to think about is WHERE ARE THE PARENTS?  Here’s one scenario.  Parents are tired.  (Why is that always mentioned?  Perhaps we feel it excuses them in some way?).  They come home from work, exhausted, right? and see middle school aged Johnny studying away.  Great.  Fabulous.  Of course, Johnny has his iPod headphones on and is jamming away to some awesome tunes as he “studies” but that’s okay, a little background music never hurt anyone one.

High school daughter Susie is working hard too, on the computer, typing up her report that is due tomorrow.  Mom sighs in relief.  No problems here.  Except, unbeknownst to Mom, Susie keeps getting interrupted by constant text messages from her best friend.  (According to the findings, teens spend about an hour and a half texting each day and Susie is no exception). Of course she has to keep popping over to check her Facebook page (74 percent of teens have them) to see if Joe Stud has updated his status yet.  Thank goodness she knows how to multi-task.

Elementary school aged child Stevie only had a math worksheet and 20 minutes of school-assigned reading to do.  He raced through that earlier and is now happily fighting other galaxies on his DS.  Later he’ll flick on his TV (he, like 71 percent of kids now, has a television in his room) and “relax” a bit.

The parents are relieved.  Their kids are occupied and doing what they are suppose to.  Mom throws some food together and calls everyone to dinner just as Dad flicks on the TV to catch the top news headlines.  (This is no different than in the other 64 percent of homes, where the TV is on during meals.)  Ah yes, home sweet home.

Funny world we’ve created, eh?  Parents read on Kindles, spend endless hours creating FarmTowns on Facebook, and feel the need to be connected all the time – even in the carpool pick up line – via their smart phones.

What isn’t happening is just as obvious.  These same kids are not reading, exercising, or connecting with the family as much. (At all?)   We’ve help create a generation of kids that can text their friends under the table without hardly having to glance down, but who overall do not do as well academically in school, and are often usually overweight to boot.  I don’t know about you, but this is NOT the path this Zen Mama Wannabe wishes to take!

I get parents being exhausted, because I often am.  I also appreciate how slippery the slope can be.  It was to my horror and dismay that I finally acknowledged that my son was getting potentially one and a half hours of screen time each morning before school!  I know – I’m embarrassed to write that.  Embarrassed that I would have ever let that happen.  And yet it did.

Oh, I’ve got my excuses.  The fact that he wakes each and every morning by or before 6am does not help.  The fact his parents are not morning people only muddles up the mix.  Yes, I confess, we were thrilled when he learned how to turn on the electronic equipment all by himself.  Instead of waking us up, he could go watch a video (or two) first.  We knew what he was watching, it was child-friendly and age appropriate by even the strictest standards, sometimes even “educational.”  Worked for us.

Our son now prefers to write all his creative stories on the computer, in Microsoft Word or Final Draft Pro – and we said, go for it – far be it for us to stand in the way of creativity.  But, don’t you see – it’s screen time!  And it all adds up.  A video or two, perhaps watching a few baseball clips on the computer, and then delving in to his writing.  By the time 7:30am rolled around and I was on my way downstairs to make breakfast, he had logged in one and a half hours of screen time.  All before heading off to school.  Insane!

So I get the tired parents excuse very well.  But there has to be a time when you say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.   We did.  No more screen time in the mornings during the week at our house.  Period.  If our son wants to write, he can use a pad and pen the old fashioned way.  When he gets home from school, it’s homework time.  Only after that, if there is time, may he get on the computer.  Over a year ago, we set up a rule of video games only being allowed on the weekends, for a limited amount of time, and although he complained a lot at first, that system has worked very well.

That was another shocking finding from this recent study:  few parents put any rules or limitations on how much time their children could have of screen time.  Only 28 percent of kids had parental rules for watching TV; less than one-third had rules for using video games, and only 36 percent had computer usage limits.  Again, WHERE ARE THE PARENTS?

I can only think that parents are exhausted (yes, back to that one) and like the ones in my example, thrilled to believe things are going along smoothly.  Why rock the boat?  But besides all the academic and health implications mentioned, there is also the other one – the white elephant in the room no one wants to talk about:  that many, many parents don’t have a clue what their kids are really up to.  They think if their kids “friend” them on Facebook it is enough.  It isn’t.

One mom told me she now takes her teen-age daughter’s cell phone every night before bedtime and gives it back each morning.  At first, she and her husband could not believe how often her daughter’s phone buzzed, implying a new text message – well past the midnight hour!

Kids don’t need that much screen time.  Certainly not 8 hours a day!  Even with all this exciting new technology we have, what our grandparents knew was true.  Kids need time outside moving their bodies.  They need time to read (for fun).  They need to spend time connecting with their families .  To help fix dinner and clean up the kitchen.  To talk to their parents about their day and the various things they are working on.  Seems to me we could solve so many things in this country if we (as parents) just stepped up and worked on this!

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2 Responses to “Your Grandparents Knew it — Why Don’t You?”

  1. callieandbatido Says:
    January 22nd, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    AGREED. It almost would have been easier not to buy our kids the phones, computer games, Wii, game systems etc. instead of trying so hard to monitor it all. What happend to playing?

  2. Zen Mama Wannabe » Blog Archive » Can Your Kids Pass the Test? Says:
    February 23rd, 2010 at 11:14 am

    […] in the kitchen; they are too busy doing all their scheduled activities, and homework, and oh yes 8 hours of screen time a day.  But as the obesity numbers rise (as do the medical implications of that, such as Diabetes 2, etc […]

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