Battling Screen Time

Sometimes you have to disconnect to stay connected. Remember the old days when you had eye contact during a conversation? When everyone wasn’t looking down at a device in their hands? We’ve become so focused on that tiny screen that we forget the big picture, the people right in front of us.

Regina Brett

If you have been a parent for awhile, you have probably already found that one friend your child has that is addicted to screens. I have had several experiences with battling screen time throughout my parenting career.

One time, on a beautiful summer day, my youngest son had several friends over to play. They were running around the yard, using squirt guns, and making up a very strange squirt gun baseball game that I didn’t quite understand. I was in my usual spot watching them through the kitchen window. I suddenly realized one of the boys was missing from the game. I turned to walk outside, and came upon the missing boy sitting in the family room playing video games. “WOW!” I thought. How could this be more fun than a beautiful day outside with your friends? I sent him outside to play. A few months later, my youngest, at age 8, had a new friend stay overnight. I woke up at 1:00 AM to see the light on in the hallway. I opened my bedroom door and found this little boy sitting in the hallway playing on a portable gaming system. I sent him to bed.

Maybe your child is the one who is addicted to screen time. I have a nephew whose parents worked very hard to limit his time in front of a television screen as he seemed a obsessed with any show he could watch. When he was invited to the homes of his friend’s, he would spend all of his time watching television and would ignore his friends.

How do we as parents compete with screen time? Let’s face it! Screen time has most of us engaged more than we would like. Social media, streaming television shows, news venues, and lots of video games are at arms length waiting for us to join. Can we tell our children to limit their screen time if we are unwilling to do the same? You know the old saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Unfortunately, kids pay attention to what we show them. It’s time we limit our own screen time.

Children from birth to age 18 months are recommended to have NO screen time. Zero. Zip. Nada. Got it? None! At 18 months, parents can choose high quality programming and watch shows with their children to make sure they understand what they are seeing. From age two to age 5, children can have one hour of screen time per day, but, again, the programming should be high quality and parents should participate in the screen time. For children six and older, parents need to place consistent limits on screen time and must make sure screen time does not get in the way of sleep or physical activity.

Children playing video games are physically altering their bodies. The heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, dopamine is released, and quite often, the fight or flight response begins. Blood flows away from the gut, kidneys, liver, bladder, and toward the limbs and heart. Adrenaline is flowing throughout the body. The transition that must occur when you ask your child to stop playing is overwhelming. Children have a difficult time calming down and releasing the pent up adrenaline. Does this sound fun?

The rise of use and popularity of one to one tech devices for children provided by school districts adds another difficult dimension to the battle parents are facing. How do we limit screen time if our kids are saying they need to do homework?

The answer is to begin. How do you eat an elephant?….one bite at a time. With younger children who have not entered school, teach them all the ways children used to fill time. Play outside. Read them a book. Paint a picture. PLAY! Once your children are school age, be in communication with teachers as to how many minutes of homework has been assigned each day. Limit your children to the number of minutes required by the teacher. In addition, NEVER allow the technology to go into their bedrooms. Provide homework space in a common area of your home. This helps in several ways….. you will be available for help to them and you will be able to monitor what is happening on the device. Finally, all technology stays in the kitchen, family room, entry way, or somewhere other than the bedroom at night. Buy a $5.99 alarm clock and stick to no technology in the bedroom- ever.

Will it be easy? NO WAY! Not only do you have to help your children learn to develop limits on screens- you need to develop limits for yourself. We parents didn’t need to learn about self control with technology growing up, so it will definitely challenge us. I am confident we can win this battle. I believe we care enough about our children’s development and their future that we will battle until we win!

References: 1. “Screen Time may Harm Toddlers”. Michelle Roberts. BBC News. January 28, 2019. 2. “This is Your Child’s Brain on Video Games”. Victoria L. Dunckley M.D. Mental Wealth. September 25, 2016.

Be a Good Parent….ok?

The thing about parenting rules is there aren’t any. That’s what makes it so difficult.

Ewan McGregor

You have done it. Just admit it. You have heard it happen all over the place. It happens in doctor’s offices, stores, schools, airports, and at home. It happens EVERYWHERE! Parents set out a guideline for their children and follow it with….. OK? Honey, pick up your toys ok? Johnny, it’s time to get ready for school ok? Macie, stop hitting the dog ok?

Do we really mean to ask this question? Why do we ask a question at the end of a directive? What is happening to the parent/child dynamic when we ask this seemingly harmless question?

By asking a question at the end of a direction for children, parents are giving away their power completely. Parents give direction to their child to do something they want done which is expected of parents and fits the parent/child dynamic. Yet, all of a sudden, the parent inserts an ok? at the end of the direction and now the direction is a question. Do you want to do this or not? I think parents develop a habit of inserting ok? because they are trying to sound nice to whomever may be around at the time. Stop caring what others think of you parenting your child! It’s perfectly acceptable for you to tell your child to do something. “Johnny, don’t walk out in the street…ok?” Sounds ridiculous right?

Children come away from the experience of a direction followed by ok? confused about what they should do. Did mom just tell me to clean my room or not? Is she asking me if I think it’s ok? Seriously, I don’t WANT to clean my room , so I guess I will pass on that. “No. mom. It’s not ok.”

Think how funny it would be if your boss starting using this tactic with you at work. “George, I am going to need that information on my desk by Monday morning…. ok?” Wait….What?! Do you need to get the information to him or not?

Communication is hard in every relationship. We take items that should be simple and complicate them because we don’t want to sound harsh, demanding or rude. I believe communication is worse for everyone when we are wishy- washy. Don’t add confusion to a conversation by adding ok to your sentences. It’s a bad habit and you can break it!

OK” (spelling variations include “okay”, “O.K.“, and “ok“) is an American English word denoting approval, acceptance, agreement, assent, acknowledgment, or a sign of indifference (Wikipedia)

Are Teachers Writing a Book (about me)?

I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.

Lily Tomlin

There were many times in the education of my children that I wondered why their teachers were so interested in me and our home life. I would get questions about whether my children shared a room, what kinds of foods did I offer at dinner, and whether or not we had a pet. I started to get a complex that teachers were stalking me!

Now that my children are grown, and I have the benefit of working in a profession alongside amazing teachers, I realize those teachers were doing their job. Every morning when parents come to drop off their children for preschool….. I see that kids don’t necessarily leave what’s going on at home at home when they attend school. I have witnessed many kids who are distracted by their home life, so much so, that their learning is diminished.

Kids are deeply affected by much more than we adults realize. At my school, I have witnessed kids melting down over a pet that is getting “fixed” during the day. First off, the children don’t think their pets are broken! Right?! Those same kids are likely to be wondering if those beloved pets will be the same when they get home from school. Children are famous for their creativity and this spills into their thoughts about situations we see as simple and small. Is Grandma going in for a little surgery? Kids won’t think surgery is minor , and they will be thinking about it at school.

When my youngest child was in third grade, my father’s Parkinson’s disease was rapidly affecting his health, and my family dreaded the inevitable result. Even with my effort to protect my 9 year old from the fear I had of losing my dad, my little boy felt the stress in our home. He finally gave in to the emotion he was experiencing and had a serious melt down at school. Fortunately, he had a teacher who knew something was off with him and she had asked me what was going on at home. When the meltdown began, she was ready and able to comfort my child.

Teachers are so much like parents during the school day. They wipe noses, give high fives, hand out discipline, and care about the welfare of the children in their class. When this light finally clicked for me, I no longer worried about teachers and their insatiable interest in my family. I willingly answered all the questions about family including all of our pets (including a chameleon). I realized that I wanted teachers to know who my child is. After all, who am I to think I don’t need help raising a human being?

I challenge you to provide additional information to your child’s teacher that will allow for the student/teacher relationship to be meaningful to your children. Raising children truly does take the effort of an entire community, so make your community large and make it a force to be reckoned with. Once you commit to growing the community that is helping to grow your child, the questions a teacher asks you at conferences or parent pick up won’t seem like such a big deal. I promise you….. teachers aren’t stalkers. They simply care about your child!

Why Do I (as a parent) Have Homework?

“If John Lennon was right that life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans, parenting is what happens when everything is flipped over and spilling everywhere and you can’t find a towel or a sponge or your “inside” voice.”

Kelly Currigan author of Lift

You have just gotten home from an exceedingly exhausting day of work after picking up the kids, and now you are doing your best to tackle dinner before you run the kids to music lessons or practice, or whatever new activity they MUST do tonight. That’s when IT happens…….

Your child pulls out homework. It’s a science kit that the entire family should work on together, or an art project that you need to find all of the supplies for, or you have been assigned parent/child reading time. You can’t help yourself- you think “I already graduated- why do I need to do homework?” In my case, I was working on my Master’s degree while my kids were still in school as many educators do. Inside my head, I would scream at the top of my lungs, “I don’t have time to do your homework project!” On the outside, I would plaster a fake smile on my face and do my best to talk my husband into working on the science kit.

He often did help with the science kits. I always tackled the spelling words and sentences. He would also take responsibility for math help for the kids. We survived IT by dividing and conquering the tasks that seemed overwhelming and far too much to ask of parents who are doing their best to get through the tasks of parenting. At the time, we struggled, but we did the science kits, the art projects, and the family interviews or family trees that came home with them in seemingly endless supply.

Our boys are 26 and 22 now. Our parenting duties are greatly changed and severely diminished. I often tell people I am a semi-retired parent as my boys are in the stage of life where they want to figure things out on their own. You know what is surprising? I actually miss the chaos of life at night when we were working so hard to do all that we expected of ourselves to be the best parents we knew how to be. Not too long ago, my older son stopped by to visit. Over dinner, (HEY! He did visit after all!) He talked about his memories of his dad and me working on the crazy dioramas, science projects, and, of course, the last minute run to the store for supplies at 8:00 because they were needed for the next day at school. He said, “Thank you. I know I would not be where I am today if you hadn’t done all of those things for me.”

Yep! It was worth it. The next time you are screaming inside your head about the fact that you are too darn old for homework, remember that this too shall pass. Do your very best. One day, you will also see it was worth all of the effort.

What can They Learn from That?

I think it’s very important — no matter what you may do professionally — to keep alive some of the healthy interests of your youth.
Children’s play is not just kids’ stuff. Children’s play is rather the stuff of most future inventions.

~ Mr. Fred Rogers

In the world of preschool education, we often get asked questions about what children are learning from the daily activities in class that can be seen as “play”. Recently, we spent a good part of class playing board games such as Chutes and Ladders and Candyland.

From playing board games, children can learn how to take turns, follow directions, patience (while waiting for their turn), sportsmanship, as well as colors, numbers, and shapes that they will need to know when they get to Kindergarten!

Recently, in our office, the older adults (like me) were fondly remembering playing games and having game night with our own children when they were young. One of the younger staff members was talking about playing Memory with her 3 year old girls and said “It was hard!” I shared a tip from this older mom to her…. It’s much easier when beginning to play games with your children to shorten the game a bit. Try taking out 5-1o matching sets with the Memory game and start with that. Each time you play, add an extra set or two and you will be amazed at how quickly you will be using the whole set of cards to play the game!

Take time to get down on the floor (or sit at the table) to play games with your children. Your modeling of the aforementioned skills as well as the time spent with your children will be some of the greatest lessons you can give to your children and you will have fun!

The Journey Begins

“There is no such thing as a perfect parent. So just be a real one.”
—Sue Atkins

We at Esko Community Education understand how challenging parenting can be. Our staff consists of mothers, fathers, grandpas, and grandmas with children ranging in age from newborn to over 30. We are here to provide you with tidbits of knowledge when you need them, motivation for the difficult days, and give you a few laughs along the way.

With a staff who hold degrees in Early Childhood Education, Educational Leadership, Journalism, Environmental Education, and a few master’s degrees in the school of hard knocks, we hope to provide you encouragement for the most difficult job you will ever love!

Buckle up! It’s going to be a great ride!