Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sue Scheff: Kids spending less time outside

Source: Connect with Kids

Less Time Outside

“The more freedom that you give - and if it’s a freedom that doesn’t have a hazard with it - the more independence, self-esteem and everything else the child’s going to have.”

– Don Keenan, child advocate and attorney

American children spend 50 percent less time playing outside than they did 20 years ago, that according to the Institute on Social Research at the University of Michigan. Today, some parents feel its safer for their kids to stay inside, but that safety comes with a price.

Suzianne Garner lives in a safe neighborhood. But when her kids go out to play, she’s usually right behind them.

That is quite a change from her childhood. “We would disappear in the morning and pretty much just listen for the lunch bell,” she says, “and then come back in.”

Garner says she barely lets Cole, her five-year-old, out of the front door by himself. “Only very recently did I let him start doing things like check the mail.”

Experts say parents are more afraid than a generation ago.

“I think we all have to realize that our children live in a much different world than we did,” explains Don Keenan, child advocate and attorney. “Our radiuses were a lot larger, because there were less hazards.”

But, he says, in our attempts to keep kids safe we’re limiting their full potential.

“We’re dealing with children at a point in their lives when they are developing, when they are exploring, they’re understanding, they’re being inquisitive, he says, “and the shorter the play area you’ve got, the more limited that development of that child’s personality and ideas of responsibility and everything.”

Garner agrees: “I really do think I’m limiting them - with issues like childhood obesity and not getting the kind of socialization that you would in a neighborhood.”

Between speeding cars, strangers, even unsafe playgrounds, experts say parents are left with only two choices.

“You either put a lo-jack on your child and have zero play zone,” says Keenan, “or you do the responsible thing - and that is you use your common sense, you go out into the extended play area and you make it safe.”

And the best way to make it safe, he says, is to get the whole neighborhood watching out for every child.

Tips for Parents

Most children will have more energy when they are young than at any other time in their lives. They also are at a critical stage for intellectual and creative development. Statistics have shown watching television excessively may not be the best option for this development, but many parents still use television to keep their children occupied. Consider the following:

■In a typical American home, the television is on for over seven hours each day.
■The average child spends more time watching television than in school.
■On average, kids spend about 20 or more hours each week watching television, which is more time than is spent in any other activity besides sleeping.
■An average person will have watched seven to 10 years worth of television by age 70.
■Advertisers target children, and each year an average kid sees tens of thousands of commercials on the television.
■Television viewing starts earlier than other forms of media, often beginning before the child is 2 years old.

The television can act as a very useful tool when you need to keep your children occupied in order to get things done. However, this can often be a detrimental situation unless is approached with caution and wisdom. Experts at Young Media Australia suggest the following tips concerning television usage:

■Lead by example – Children will model their viewing patterns on what they see you doing. Try to avoid turning on the television as soon as you arrive home and then leaving it on as background. Practice some guidelines for yourself such as turning the television off as soon as visitors arrive or after your favorite show is finished. Watch and support programs you believe are good. Let television and radio stations, network executives, and advertisers know what you like and dislike.
■Choose which programs to watch on television – If we accept that we all use the television as a babysitter from time to time, consider how carefully you would normally choose a baby-sitter for your child. Remember your children will be picking up values and attitudes from the television they watch every day. Try to make sure these values and attitudes are what you believe in, too. The younger the child, the more impressionable he or she is, and the less experienced in evaluating content against the values of family and community. Some images in the news, for example, are extremely disturbing for very young children and could lead to sleep disturbance.
■Keep the television out of kids’ bedrooms – It is difficult to monitor what your children are watching when they are watching television in their own room. They may be tempted to watch it when it would be more appropriate for them to be studying, reading, sleeping or working on more creative activities. Having a television in a child’s room discourages participation in family activities. It also means that you are not able to explain disturbing or misleading information, or explain how your family values may contradict the values being depicted.
■Decide as a family what you will watch in advance – Go through a television-viewing guide and make family decisions on shows to watch for the week. Discuss the reasons for the decisions with your children. Discuss issues and ideas with other adults, friends and parents of your children’s playmates.
■Teach children how to plan their own television viewing – For very young children, have them write a list or draw pictures of their favorite shows that are coming up in the next week. Give them a counter for each one and have them give it to you as they watch it. Many very young children respond to star charts based around this idea. Or, give them a certain number of counters for a week, reflecting the amount of television you will allow them to watch. If they have counters left over, reward them with a special activity they enjoy.
■Tape programs the family wants to see – If there is a program or movie on television that everyone wants to watch, tape it and schedule a special family viewing – complete with popcorn. If a show is on at an inconvenient time, such as mealtime, homework time, creative activity time or family time, tape it to watch later. Tape good children’s programs for later viewing. Young children love to watch their favorites over and over again.
■Choose some times when the television is off – Plan television-free times during the day. Set clear guidelines about when it can be on. Depending on the age of your children, you can work out these guidelines with their input. The sort of guidelines you might want to think about are: no television before school, the television only goes on once homework is completed, only one hour of television per day, etc. The clearer the guidelines, the better. Sticking to these guidelines is important, and children of all ages need and will respond to guidelines if they think they are fair and if they are consistently applied.
■Choose a family area that is a television-free space – If possible, set up an area where people can sit and read, play games or make crafts. Make it comfortable and use it. Don’t make television the focal point of the room. If it isn’t possible to create a separate area, try to rearrange the room so that the television is no longer the focal point. Research shows that people watch less television if it is not in the most prominent location in the room. Try putting it in an entertainment center with doors that close, or drape a rug over it.
■Have meals in a different room – Turn off the television at meal times and sit around a table. Catch up with one another and share stories and activities from each family member’s day.
■Talk about programs seen on the television – Discuss what you are watching and ask specific questions. Ask what your children see; it may be very different from what you see, so ask them to tell you what they think is happening. Express your views. You can be a powerful media educator by pointing out devices that are used – or values that are being promoted – that contradict your family values.Encourage children to describe how television watching affects them – Ask them why they watch specific shows, what characters they like and don’t like, etc. Discuss how family members feel about certain programs – happy, scared, excited, worried, angry, etc.

Play ‘Spot the Gimmicks and Trickery’ in television commercials – Discuss the commercials and their perception of toys, cereals, etc. Talk about the people who sell them. Point out the tricks that advertising companies use and play a game around children noticing these for themselves. Point out the real thing in the shops and compare what has been promised with what the toy actually does.

Make a list of other things for the family to do – Sit down with your children and write down other activities they enjoy. They might think of craft activities, games, toys or visiting friends. Compact discs are often a good alternative for younger children.

Perhaps most importantly, find the ‘off’ button on the television and learn to use it more – Encourage your children to participate in activities that will stimulate them more than just sitting in front of the television.

These guidelines can increase your child’s viewing intelligence and allow open communication lines for questions they may have about what they’ve seen or heard. However, it is important to remember that getting your child involved with creative activities unrelated to television viewing is a wonderful way to stimulate their development and decrease their (and your) dependence on the television.

■University of Michigan Health System
■Young Media Australia
■The Real Truth

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