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Parenting in Today’s World

Parenting is hard and there are a lot of things that parents must figure out about their own views on before being able to teach their children about them. Screen Time is a thing that can be very hard to figure out.

I recently read an article by Allison Slater Tate Parenting as a Gen Xer: We’re the first generation of parents in the age of iEverything. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/09/29/parenting-as-a-gen-xer-what-its-like-to-be-the-first-generation-of-parents-in-the-age-of-ieverything/?tid=sm_fb

The article discusses being a parent of children who are immersed in a digital age. As a parent that did not grow up with cell phones, texting, Facebook, and everything digital, it is a new territory trying to determine how to navigate all these gadgets with children. In the article Tate states “On the one hand, resistance is futile: this is my children’s brave new world, and they need to know and understand all the internet highways and byways to live in it. On the other hand, my children don’t have fully-developed frontal lobes yet.”

I would argue the first point Tate makes. Resistance is not futile and letting children spend countless hours in front of a screen is not your only option. At first it may seem that this is the only option because it is everywhere. However; after thinking about this and really deciding what I want for my family and myself, I have determined that there are other options. The other options are not as obvious at first because marketers for digital devices are extremely good. If you look past the marketing and the addictive quality of digital media, you can see that you really don’t need to have constant access to the virtual world.

When I think about the best moments of my day they are never times when I was online or watching television. Children do not have the capacity to make the best decisions and if given the freedom they will spend hours in front of a video game or television. As a parent you have to be the guide and the one who figures out how much is too much. Children who are “deprived” of a cell phone or television do not have a disadvantage over their peers. They are just as capable of learning how to use the gadget just as everyone who grew up without these things is able to use them now. I never had a cell phone, texting, ipad, etc. as a child and I can navigate them like a pro.

So what does restricting screen time at an early age do to the child? It allows them to use their brain. The children without these digital things and media in their lives have to figure out games to play and stories to read and things to do with their peers. They have to be active and get up and run around. A child who is bored is one who can become the most creative. Allowing your child time to figure out how to have fun instead of providing instant entertainment is giving a great gift to your child.

In addition to being more creative and able to find ways to enjoy the world around them (instead of a virtual one), children develop their social skills while interacting with others.   Being able to look at a person and understand how they are feeling is a skill and it needs to be developed. The adults now were not constantly texting and on Facebook so they were given the opportunity to develop real peer relationships. Now their job is managing that media and determining how much is acceptable in their own life. Children today are not given that same opportunity to be in a world without constant screen time unless their parents make it for them.

People are starting to ask what this does to children growing up in a world constantly surrounded by media. Studies are being done to look at this. One article that looks at children and screen time is Five days at outdoor education camp without screens improves preteen skills with nonverbal emotion cues. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563214003227

The title says it all. Children who are not allowed to have screen time for five days were better at nonverbal emotional cues. This means that allowing your child the freedom to go out and talk face to face with friends instead of being online, allows them to develop better social skills. So after looking at this I determined that being able to be connected with people and nature is much more important than knowing how to use the latest iphone. Once I knew my own beliefs on the subject, restricting screen time was a no brainer. Each time I get a request for more screen time I just think of the wonderful gift I am giving them and all the skills they are developing while they are not sitting in front of a screen.

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Importance of Routine

Why is routine important to our lives and our children’s lives? Routine is what establishes a norm in our lives. For children this is especially important because they need to know what to expect. Children can’t learn and grow if they don’t feel safe in their environment. The first part of establishing this is a familiar routine. This could be reading to them at bedtime, sitting down to eat a meal, or just playing together at a certain time of day. If your child knows that there are rhythms and patterns of the day  s/he can count on s/he will be more willing to explore the outside world and grow as a person. A child who has no structure or routine will often feel insecure and be scared to explore or they might test boundaries to see what is acceptable behavior. Children often develop more extreme behaviors when they are allowed to “push the limits” because they don’t know what to expect. They don’t have a base for what is acceptable and what is off limits. Once established, rhythms help to keep themselves going. You and your child will start to look forward to that special time of the day.  The first part of setting up a daily rhythm is to set aside some time to think about what needs structure in your life and your child’s life. Then find ways to get rid of the distractions during that time of day and focus on a particular routine that you want to establish. Allow yourself enough time to complete the routine (Don’t start reading a book with only two minutes before lights out). Give your child and yourself time to adjust to the new rhythm. Soon you will have a daily rhythm that you and your child feel good about.


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Parent’s Time Out

You might say, “What how can this be? It’s already hard to get a time-out to work for my kids and now you want parents to take a time out!” Yes, that’s exactly what I am suggesting. How many times have you over reacted because your anger got in the way? Often parents punish while they are not thinking clearly because of their emotions.   One way to stop this from happening and set a good example for your child is to take a time-out. This is a break for you so you can calm down, gather your thoughts, and then come up with a reasonable solution. Stating to a child that you are going to take a break to calm down does not mean they get out of being punished. You can even state that you will deal with him/her when you get back. Then remove yourself from the situation. Go in your room, bathroom, somewhere calm. Take a few breaths and think about how you want to handle the situation.

Often our own beliefs get in the way of reacting rationally at first. For example your child might refuse to eat something at dinnertime and this angers you. Your beliefs about it might be that they are privileged to have something to eat and refusing to eat is spoiled behavior or that your child will not get the nutrients s/he needs to grow. Your beliefs are what influence your thoughts/expectations and then lead to your emotions (i.e. anger). Overreacting often intensifies the situation and causes more problems instead of achieving your original goal of having your child eat dinner. Instead, if you take a time-out it helps you to calmly come back to the table and deal with the situation. This also serves as a role model for your child who then sees that you were angry but you handled it well and were able to calm yourself down. Making a statement that you are now feeling calm and able to deal with their behavior lets them know that you are in control and also can be angry without overreacting. Sometimes you might even decide that the behavior does not need a punishment but just a new outlook.

In the future you can ask your child to use the same method of calming down before their behavior gets out of control. The key is before they are out of control. It doesn’t work if you wait too long. When you see your child start to get worked up, offer a quite space so s/he can color, relax, play quietly, etc. until they are noticeably calmer.   Then tell them you are glad they were able to calm down. Once everyone in the family is able to use this method it will lead to a much more positive outcome and help you get what you wanted out of the situation in the first place.


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Children’s tactics to get what they want.

Every child seems to have an instinctively stubborn way of trying to change the word “No” into a “Yes.” It happens to every parent. Your sweet child suddenly turns into a whining, screaming, crying mess when you say “no.”  Usually this is best done in a public place to call more attention to you and make you feel obligated to do something quick to make him/her be quiet. Now other children may have made it through this phase and know that a tantrum won’t work (kudos to you for breaking them of the habit), but now they try more subtle tactics like bargaining or logic to explain why it should be “yes.”  This type of tactic is more sly than the first and you may not even realize you are being had until later when you think, “Why did I let him have that?”  It’s a common problem that all parents face. Figuring out that your child is using these tactics is the first step to developing your own tactics to diffuse the situation and keep your sanity. Children can outsmart the best of us and the only way to beat them at their own tricks is to use the same type of mentality. Discussing “why” with a child that bargains will almost always result in you giving in or having a much longer conversation about candy than you ever wanted to.  The same goes for temper tantrums. Giving a long explanation about why their behavior is not appropriate won’t work. Being clear and consistent are your keys to success. Give the child an explanation ahead of time of what will happen if they try to tantrum or bargain their way into something.  That way when they try it (and you know they will) you can give a reminder about what will happen. Then when they try again (and they will) you follow through. Voila problem solved! Now this will take work because your child will probably wonder why their tactics are no  longer working. They may try again and again to get their tactics to work. But the more consistent you are the quicker they will learn that your rule is supreme. You can once again feel that yes you can outsmart a child (at least sometimes)!