My children have great grades. They insist upon studying with music. What are your thoughts on that?
Generally, my rule is this: There shouldn’t be competing-distracting sounds or visuals going on when studying. But, there are some people who actually seem to focus a bit better with light “background” music. It should be low volume, preferably without words (lyrics are language and tend to distract more than instrumental alone). The bottom line is if your son or daughter is doing well academically and there are no complaints or concerns from their teacher(s), then it’s probably fine. If there is a problem, go back to basics. Quiet, distraction-free environments have worked best for thousands of years to help people think more deeply. Interestingly. some parents have asked their kids to try listening to classical music (which research shows can improve performance), and then switching to anything else when homework is complete. Beyond classical, maybe Jazz, show tunes, new age, or other forms of inspiring music can be be listened to while doing homework. Worth a try!
In a recent post, we talked about kids listening to music while they do their homework. If you do allow music during homework, beware, of the “fake out!” Many kids and teens tell me they digitally cheat – unbeknownst to their parents – when there are iPads, smartphones, or laptops in arms reach. They can switch on multiple screens, steal a few minutes on YouTube, and most distracting, read and respond to the constant volley of texts and tweets and pictures coming from social media. It’s all only a finger tap away. And when parents check in, their children close the screens down stealthily and shine an innocent smile.
It’s not all their fault. We do it too. These digital platforms are designed to keep everyone – especially children with less developed self-control skills – on screen for as long as possible. That’s how these companies make their revenue and profits. It’s a business. That’s fine, but we need to be aware. They are designed to be irresistible and to pull our limited, precious attention (and brain disk space) off from what we really need to be focusing or thinking about. Which in this case, is homework.
Always consider your child’s developmental age when deciding how much screen time is appropriate. At young ages, adhere to the more conservative pediatric guidelines that call for very strict limits. That’s no more than a few minutes a day of exposure. This youngest developmental period involves the most rapid neurological growth. During this period learning and experiencing the world shouldn’t be digital or virtual. It needs to be truly social and involve real-life play with real objects that one can see, touch, manipulate, move about, and combine in novel ways. What these youngest children see and do will directly impact their brain growth and plot out development for years to come.
From three to six years old, some screen time each day is fine. Try to stick with educational TV programming of about an hour a day or less, and try to find programs that have real people, real stories, and aren’t hyper-stimulating or over-animated. Start with shows like Mr. Rogers Neighborhood as an excellent model. Such programs may feel a bit outdated, but that’s what young minds need. Calm dialog, routine, repetition, familiar faces, and people interacting in positive social ways. Educational apps on tablets and other screens are occasionally fun, but don’t get seduced into false promises that they will make your young child smarter and learn faster. Studies show that while some children appear to be learning quickly with these electronic platforms, most end up in the same place academically whether screens are used or not. Some researchers have discovered they may in fact do harm. Learning is compromised when it’s done on screens for certain tasks, like reading ebooks versus words on real paper. Heavy screen exposure also runs the risk of ADHD, near-sightedness, learning disabilities, sleep problems, and poor physical health from being sedentary. Too much screen time, even if it’s believed to be educational, may be conditioning young minds to crave faster and faster stimulation. They can become intolerant in real-life when results don’t magically appear with a click or tap. It can lay a foundation for something very worrisome — an addictive need for screens that is starting to show up in some children in the elementary school years.
Once kids reach elementary school years, seven or eight years old, things get very complicated for parents who are trying to manage screen exposure. Schools are introducing more screens into the classroom. More teachers are encouraging Internet and keyboarding as part of homework. More gaming products and media programming are aggressively marketed to this age group. This is the era when I tell parents to start controlling when (not just how much) screen time is used. If it’s for entertainment, screens should only be available once homework and any other responsibilities are completed. If possible, have a set hour later in the day for screens so that kids don’t think of screens as always available and the go-to-activity when they are bored or alone. No screens if possible within an hour of bedtime.
By middle school and up, watch for social isolation, disinterest in activities, chronic irritability, and sleep problems. These may be signs that your preteen or teen is overdosing on screen time. Boys tend to get heavily involved in gaming while girls spend more time on social media. Watch for teens falling into the trap of seeing themselves – and defining their self-worth – through scores on video games or social media. If your teenager is doing well in high school, keeping up with homework, participating in sports and/or positive activities, and prefers meeting up with friends to hanging indoors alone in front of a screen, I tell parents that they can loosen the rules on screen time. The goal is for teenagers to learn how to monitor and manage their screen time before they leave high school.
A friend shared this:
Each of us is in possession of a magical bank. We just can’t seem to see it. The MAGICAL BANK is TIME!
Each morning we awaken to receive 86,400 seconds as a gift of life, and when we go to sleep at night, any remaining time is NOT credited to us.
What we haven’t lived up that day is forever lost.
Yesterday is forever gone.
Each morning the account is refilled, but the bank can dissolve your account at any time….WITHOUT WARNING.
SO, what will YOU do with your 86,400 seconds?
Aren’t they worth so much more than the same amount in dollars?
Think about that, and always think of this:
Enjoy every second of your life, because time races by so much quicker than you think.
When my empathy feels like it’s running low, I call up a few important memories. One makes me smile every time. It is my mother pulling the car over on the busy Boston Jamaica Way, turning on the car’s flashers, rummaging through our beach cooler, and handing over half of her tuna fish sandwich to a homeless guy. For several summers, he’d claimed a small spot to call his home along the Emerald Necklace, a loop of winding river, old trees, and beautiful parks surrounding the city. Whenever he was there, she’d make it her business that he had something to eat.
How do you show your empathy to your children so they will learn by example?
Empathy is most often a gentle, un-publicized, and ongoing gesture. Empathy isn’t a grand gesture. It is not a one time conspicuous donation or 20 hours that fills a community service requirement. It runs deep in our bones and soul. It is a mysterious mixture of warm feeling towards others paired with our remarkable brain skill of adopting another’s viewpoint, the proverbial walking a mile in someone else’s shoes.
Most often, empathy is nearly invisible, a deeply caring personal gift that we won’t ever see given from one person to another – but fortunately – here’s one that we can read about. It warms the heart during this winter’s cold and pulls us out from our often hurried, impersonal days. I hope you take a moment to read this New York Times article. And please share this post with family and friends.
If you have a child that is struggling, and you want to find a practitioner to help, here are some helpful tips:
Stop doing too much parenting
Caring parents can often do too much for their kids. They remind, cajole, and assist, while their kids foot-drag their way through the morning. Parents get stressed and rush themselves out of the house to rescue their kids from being late to school. Kids begin to feel ordered around and dig their heels. Everyone is tense and unhappy.
One solution is to step aside and let kids manage the consequences of their behavior. Ask someone at school to speak to your child when they arrive late. Teachers and principals are often willing to talk about why mornings are important, what didn’t go well, and strategize how to make things go better. Kids need to know that their teachers and classmates depend on them and that they are part of a community. If you over-assist, children are robbed of owning and managing their own behavior. Many children won’t make changes until they face real-life consequences directly, (e.g., catching an unappreciated look by their teacher, or making up time and work at the end of the day and hence loosing an opportunity to do something more fun that had been planned).
Parents, being adults, try desperately to talk with their sons about deep feelings. They fear their sons are hiding their emotions and that’s causing all sorts of problems behaviorally. Pushing most boys and young men to “open up” and express emotions can backfire. They often shut down. While it’s important to not bottle all emotions up, a surprisingly different approach is often more effective in helping boys feel positive and moving them developmentally forward.
Find what they desire and then push them to make positive changes in order to earn what they want. Case in point, one young man wants an iPhone and guitar desperately. He can think of nothing else. Those are symbols of power and young adulthood, but he’s not acting like a young adult these days. He fights with his parents and doesn’t do basics, like homework and chores.
Rather than explore in long-term therapy how he feels or why he does these things – as if there are deep rooted problems to bring to the surface – I recommended to his parents that they set up a simple behavioral program to earn the guitar and phone based on incremental, realistic changes. If the boy is motivated to earn these things, he will change.
What’s most surprising in my years as a psychologist is how effective this simple strategy is with boys and young men. They adopt greater maturity not by talking through their feelings, but by working harder and harder for what they want to achieve and own.
A parent recently asked about ways to help her young teenagers connect better with other kids. Since middle school, it’s been harder for them to find and keep good buddies. It’s affecting their mood. They are at home more and tend to resort to screens to pass the time. Yet, like most kids, they think they’re “seeing their friends” and “talking with them everyday.” But they aren’t. Turns out, social media isn’t real socializing.
How do we know? Serious problems, related to social media, are now starting to show up in teens. It’s impacting twenty-somethings as well. They are having a very rough time finding and keeping real friends. They feel anxious when meeting new people. Forget dating. They use apps to try to connect, but most report it often results in hookups or endless rejections that lower their self-confidence.
These problems go beyond what is being reported in my office. It’s being talked about nationally. Research is mounting on just how bad heavy social media can be. The saddest part is that these wonderful, caring young people truly believe they are keeping up with and getting closer to friends. Yet, they report being lonely and hungry for real friends and partners and intimacy. By the time young adults leave for college, or take a gap year, or start work, they are far behind the curve socially.
The best way to handle this is to get your kids out of the house where they tend to be stuck on – and have greatest access to – screens. Push them out if you have to. It’s not the norm (developmentally speaking) that they are at home that much by mid to late middle school. They should be hanging with peers more, and in fact, they should be wanting to be with friends and not at home. That’s more the “healthy” norm. Any down time at home on screens isn’t “chilling,” it’s actually escaping and killing precious time and opportunities to gain social skills.
One mom I know makes her kids go to the library after school for an hour. They started to meet other kids there, get some homework done, and it’s blossomed into deeper relationships. Another teaches her kids to navigate on public transportation and has prepared them to go into town and have fun safe adventures in the city. Another demands her kids work small jobs no matter what, and volunteer, so her kids get real experience dealing with real people in situations that they have to be friendly, polite, kind, and productive.
So – when you see your son or daughter today on the iPad, laptop, or smartphone, keep in mind all those minutes and hours add up to days and weeks and months lost experiencing interactions in real time with real people. Do them a major favor and get them outside and engaged in the real world.
Recently in my office, a young girl told me she is fearful of sleeping in her own room. The reason? It’s dark! But she wants to try, so her mother wrote down what I told her, thinking it could be a nice way to remind her each night not to be afraid.
There’s no reason to be scared…There’s nothing in the dark that’s not in the light.
She laughed. She hadn’t thought about it that way.
We agreed she can put on a light if she wants and lower it each night to get used to the darkness. Each step closer to sleeping in her own bed will make her feel empowered and confident.