New study: more screen time leads to lower brain development

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My daughter.

A new study published in JAMA Pediatrics is startling! Who knew that screen time more than an hour a day could disrupt a toddler’s brain development? Here’s a story from CNN written by Sandee LaMotte called MRIs show screen time linked to lower brain development in preschoolers with the new findings.

Here’s an excerpt:

(CNN)Screen time use by infants, toddlers and preschoolers has exploded over the last decade, concerning experts about the impact of television, tablets and smartphones on these critical years of rapid brain development.

Now a new study scanned the brains of children 3 to 5 years old and found those who used screens more than the recommended one hour a day without parental involvement had lower levels of development in the brain’s white matter — an area key to the development of language, literacy and cognitive skills.

Higher screen use was associated with less well-developed white matter tracts throughout the brain.

“This is the first study to document associations between higher screen use and lower measures of brain structure and skills in preschool-aged kids,” said lead author Dr. John Hutton, a pediatrician and clinical researcher at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. The study was published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

“This is important because the brain is developing the most rapidly in the first five years,” Hutton said. “That’s when brains are very plastic and soaking up everything, forming these strong connections that last for life.”

 

There needs to be more studies to verify these alarming findings. But, we’ve known for years that too much TV isn’t good for our kids. It seems like common sense that staring at a smartphone or tablet would be just as bad as TV. Our kids need to be active, reading, and engaged with other people to stimulate their brains. Here’s an interesting quote from the story:

“These findings are fascinating but very, very preliminary,” pediatrician Dr. Jenny Radesky wrote in an email. Radesky, who was not involved in the study, is the lead author on the American Academy of Pediatrics 2016 guidelines on screen use by children and adolescents.

If it harms our kids’ brain when they are toddlers, do you think hours of screen time every day is harmful at any age? I find it hard to believe that once a child passes the magic age of five that it would be okay to let our kids stare at screens for hours on end. The article quotes a doctor who says to increase our kids brain power they need to read, juggle and learn an instrument. All of this at an early age may show positive results when they get older and are in school.

The article had some guidelines for parents and tips:

What parents can do

“It can feel overwhelming to think that our every parenting decision impacts our child’s brain development, but it’s important to also see this as an opportunity,” Radesky said.

“There are parent-child activities we know help children’s development: reading, singing, connecting emotionally, being creative, or even just taking a walk or dedicating some time in our busy days to laugh together,” she added.

The AAP has tools to calculate your child’s media time and then establish a family media plan. Basic guidelines are as follows:

Infants:

No baby under 18 months old should be exposed to screen media, other than video chatting with friends and family, the AAP says. Babies need to interact with caregivers and their environment, and not be placed in front of media as a babysitter.

Toddlers:

By the time a baby turns 2 years old, they can learn words from a person on a live video chat and some interactive touchscreens. The chief factor in facilitating a toddler’s ability to learn from baby videos and interactive touchscreens, studies show, is when parents watch with them and reteach the content.

Preschoolers:

Children from 3 to 5 years old can benefit from quality TV shows, such as “Sesame Street,” the AAP says. A well designed show can improve a child’s cognitive abilities, help teach words, and impact their social development.

It’s important for us to get off our own screens and be present with our friends and family — especially our kids while they are young. Kids learn from interacting with us.

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My son.

What do you find most alarming about this new study on brain development and screen use?

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Is It Wrong to Take So Many Pictures of Our Kids?

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Waffles stopping for a smile and pic.

What will happen to children whose parents snap pictures of every moment of their lives? And post them on social media? There seems to be a whole lot of mugging going on and kids know how to pose from a wee age. Even my daughter’s pug is quite the poser.

My own kids are grown and flown and they are so thankful that Facebook and Instagram weren’t around to document every momentous occasion. We didn’t have cell phones with cameras during their early years, either. So, to get pictures, I had to lug around a real camera and drop film off at the neighborhood photo store. Of course, I tried to make up for lost time when I did join FB and had my iPhone with built-in camera. I’ve written about this subject here and here.

On a recent trip to visit my kids, we did a lot of sight-seeing in the Bay Area. We went to Sutro Baths, Lake Merritt, Berkeley Marina, Coit Tower and walked around many neighborhoods. I tried to get pics of my kids, and my son refused to cooperate. My daughter said, “Just get it done! One and done!” or something like that. But he kept refusing and said he wanted to enjoy the moment, not pose for pictures. Here’s the one pic I got of the four of us at Coit Tower:

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In an “Ask NYT Parenting” article called Is It Bad to Take So Many Pictures of My Kid? a mom from Bangkok asked this question:

I take photos and videos of my kid all the time. She loves seeing herself on the screen. Will this affect her sense of self and make her too image-conscious in the future?

Here’s part of the answer by Christina Caron, parenting writer for the New York Times:

Parents, like most people in the digital age, are relentless photographers. We’re rarely without a camera, so we document nearly every moment, accumulating thousands of images of our children.

But sometimes there’s a nagging worry, much like the one Ms. Kirati described: Should we be taking so many pictures? How should we use them? Will our children become more self-conscious or, worse yet, start to value a photograph over an experience?

According to developmental psychologists and other experts, taking thousands of pictures and videos of your children isn’t necessarily concerning. What matters is how parents go about recording or photographing their children and the context in which those images are shared.

With that in mind, here are a few things to keep in mind when documenting your child’s life.

Don’t obsess.

It’s natural for children to want to look at images of themselves, said Philippe Rochat, a professor of psychology at Emory University and director of the Emory Infant and Child Laboratory. “There’s nothing to worry about,” he said.

Yes, we all take a lot of pictures. And our children will take a lot of pictures, too, of themselves and others. That’s not going to change anytime soon.

“I think that we can slow down the trend, but it’s unstoppable,” Dr. Rochat said.

“My advice to parents is that you live with it,” he said — but don’t obsess over it. Do encourage your children to think about how and why we take pictures.

Instead of preventing children from taking selfies, for example, you can take selfies with them, Dr. Rochat said. As parents, you can use those moments to start a conversation about the kinds of photos your child is taking, the image your child is trying to self-manage and how that image can affect others.

When parents are the ones behind the lens, they also ought to reflect on what they’re projecting to the outside world and the impact their behavior has on others.

Constant documentation can translate as being “self-centered rather than kid-centered,” he said. “Parents need to be aware of that, of how much they promote themselves through their kid.”

Her answer addresses fostering a healthy self-image and respecting your child’s privacy. (If you want to read the rest of the article, click on this link.)

When my daughter went to college, she was no longer keen on me posting her pictures on Facebook. She told me more than once to not post anything of her — and if I did — only with her permission. She also told me not to accept any friend requests from her college friends, who were busy scouring FB accounts to find pics from the awkward tween years. Little did I know those photos would be used to tease my daughter online! That’s something to think about before posting any pics that we find adorable. Our kids have some rights on how their images are being used. That being said, I’ll post some really adorable pics of my kids at a couple months old and age three that will really embarrass them!

 What are your thoughts about taking tons of pictures of your kids? Do you think it has any lasting effect on their development?

Parenting Styles Can Affect Children’s DNA

threeI found an article called “Crappy parenting can damage your kid’s DNA: report” by Hannah Sparks  to be eye-opening. Parents today are scrambling for parenting advice from coaches, books, neighbors, friends and complete strangers online.  I don’t remember so much drama and concern over parenting styles and methods when I was young, or when I was a new mom. The big controversy back then was whether to put your child on a strict nap schedule or let them sleep whenever they were tired.

But here’s a new scary reason to think about your parenting skills. Not only have we learned that how we parent can lead to depression and anxiety in our children — now it’s been discovered that bad parenting can change our children’s DNA — and not in a good way. Here’s an excerpt:

Blame your parents for all your problems? Science supports that.

A new report by researchers at Loma Linda University suggests that aloof and unsupportive parenting damages their children’s health on a genetic level, potentially leading to disease and early death in adulthood.

“The way someone is raised seems to tell a story that is intertwined with their genetics,” says lead study author Dr. Raymond Knutsen, public health professor at Loma Linda University.

Telomeres are the protective tips at the ends of DNA strands that shield our chromosomes from damage and decay. When are DNA isn’t properly protected, our cells age quicker and we become more susceptible to illness and disease.

Of the 200 subjects tracked for this study, which will run in the July edition of Biological Psychology, researchers found that those who reported growing up with a “cold” mother had telomeres that were an average of 25 percent smaller than those with “warm” mothers.

“As early life stress increases, telomeres shorten and the risk of a host of diseases increases, as well as premature death,” says Knutsen.

I did a lot of things badly with my two kids. There are definite moments I’d love to forget or be given a “do over.” One thing that’s positive — I was not a “cold” mother, but was a “warm” mom. Thank goodness.

merobkatWhat are your thoughts about how parents can affect our kids’ DNA?

 

5 Tips for Parents of Graduating Seniors

Here’s a story I wrote a few months before I officially became an “empty nester.” Many of my friends are going through the transition from full-time parents with their kids graduating high school and starting the next phase of their lives. This story is for anyone facing the empty nest or having their oldest child graduating high school. Trust me, it gets better and you’ll learn to love some “me” time.

I’ve written about the top 10 things kids need to know before leaving for college. But, what about us? When our kids leave, it’s a drastic change in our lives.

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When we took our son, our oldest child, to University of California Santa Barbara, I was strong. I was emotional about moving him into the dorms, but I was excited for him, too. I loved college. They were some of the best years. I was excited for him to love it, too.

But, then we said our good-byes. It hit. Like a punch in the stomach. Then, the tears. Oh, my! I wasn’t expecting that. The drive home, my younger child, age 15, looked at me in horror. I was falling apart. Thank goodness for her riding in the car with me. I probably would have wailed like a complete idiot without her staring at me.

 

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My son on our friend’s sailboat during orientation weekend.

Now, I have a few months left before I face a totally empty nest. What did I learn the first time around to prepare me for this time?  I wish I knew some secret to make it easier.

During orientation, UCSB gave parents a few tips on how to parent your college kid. This is what I remember:

1. Give them space. Don’t hover, don’t call too often, never call before 10 a.m.

2. Set up a time to make calls on a weekly basis — and not more often than that.

3. Expect them to get homesick. It’s natural they will miss home-cooked meals, their own room, their friends, pets, and you!  Reassure them that this is normal. They tend to get homesick around six to eight weeks. It will get better. They’ll adjust. But, will you?

4. Be sure to send a few care packages. Their favorite cookies, toiletries, something to make them smile. Mid-terms and finals weeks are ideal times to mail care packages.

5. Take time for yourself! Write, paint, sew, take a yoga class. Do something every week for just you. Make a list of things you used to love doing, but through the child-raising and working years, haven’t found time to do. Make another list of things you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t. You’ll find your way.

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The quilt I made my son out of his swim tee shirts.

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My kids not wanting me to take their pic on the UCSB campus.

 

 

 

The Four Agreements

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The view of Mt. San Jacinto during my morning walk.

I was listening to a webinar on my morning walk and when I got home, I had to jot down a few notes. The talk was from one of my favorite sports parenting experts, David Benzel, from Growing Champions for Life. The topic was “Teaching Kids to Manage Their Thoughts.” It had great information to help your kids manage negative self talk and to get them on the right path when they beat themselves up. Benzel said he got most of the information for this webinar from a book called Managing Thought by Mary Lore.

It also had a lot of great stuff for adults, too. Adults and children alike can get bogged down with negative thoughts about themselves. How often have you told yourself, “I’m not good enough,” or something else similar? If we can recognize that our brain is creating 55,000 thoughts per day and we can separate ourselves from them, they will lose their power. When a negative thought pops up, we can say “Where did that come from?” or “Is that useful for me to accomplish my goal?”

Benzel also said that negative thoughts spread like a disease and once you have one, more and more will pop up. Also, our thoughts are a choice. We can choose instead to rephrase a negative thought into a a positive one. If our child says “I don’t want to fail the math test,” instead they can say, “I will finish my homework and ask for help.”  Benzel made the point when we focus on what we don’t want, the more we focus on it, the more likely it will happen.

Now to the part where I was so impressed that I had to write it down: “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. If you do these four things, you’ll be happier, more positive and your relationships with others will improve.

ONE

Be impeccable with your word.

TWO

Don’t take anything personally.

THREE

Make no assumptions.

FOUR

Always do your best.

Those seem so simple, but aren’t they valuable? For example, if someone says something you feel is hurtful, don’t take it personally. It’s not you. It’s more of a reflection of what that person is going through. We shouldn’t make assumptions about people’s motives or intent. Instead we should investigate and ask questions. Try to learn where the person is coming from. As far as always doing your best, your best may change from day to day. Do the best you can on that particular day.

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Views from my morning walk.

What do you think of the “Four Agreements?”

 

How does screen time change our kids’ brains?

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Outdoor time seems so much healthier for kids than screen time.

Does screen time affect our kids’ brains? According to an article by Lisa Lee for Bloomberg called “Screen Time Changes Structure of Kids’ Brains, ’60 Minutes’ Says,” there is a decade-long study underway to answer that question. There will be a major release of information from the study in early 2019. Until then, if I had young children, I’d use caution with too much screen time.

(Bloomberg) — Smartphones, tablets and video games are physically changing the brains of adolescents, early results from an ongoing $300 million study funded by the National Institute of Health have shown, according to a report by “60 Minutes.”

Scientists will follow more than 11,000 nine- to 10-year-olds for a decade to see how childhood experiences impact the brain and affect emotional development and mental health. The first bits of data suggest that the onslaught of tech screens has been transformative for young people — and maybe not for the better.

In brain scans of 4,500 children, daily screen usage of more than seven hours showed premature thinning of the brain cortex, the outermost layer that processes information from the physical world. Though the difference was significant from participants who spent less screen time, NIH study director Gaya Dowling cautioned against drawing a conclusion.

“We don’t know if it’s being caused by the screen time. We don’t know if it’s a bad thing,” Dowling said, according to an advance transcript provided by CBS network. “It won’t be until we follow them over time that we will see if there are outcomes that are associated with the differences that we’re seeing in this single snapshot.”

Early results from the study, called Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD), have determined that children who spend more than two hours of daily screen time score lower on thinking and language tests. A major data release is scheduled for early 2019.

My son used our desktop computer from about age two. At that time, around 1995, we didn’t have much of an internet. I bought educational disks that he’d pop into the computer and he learned by playing games. There was one disk by Fisher Price that taught him the names of all the planets and their moons. I was amazed at how much he was learning by using the early childhood disks that I didn’t see any downside to allowing him screen time.

Fast forward to 2018, and the way kids use screens has changed. They are using them as their major means of communications and instead of sitting at a desktop, kids have iPhones and iPads and take them everywhere they go. They are hardly ever free or away from their screens.

I’m curious to learn the results of this study. It’s pretty scary that the structure of the brain is changed by looking at screens. I wonder if it will change how parents view screen time and if it will affect their parenting? I also think I may put my phone down and not be reading it in bed! I read that parents who work in Silicon Valley for the tech companies don’t allow their own children to use screens, but prefer they play in the park or with board games instead. Do they know something we don’t know?

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About the age my son started on the computer.

How do you set boundaries on how much time your kids spend on their electronics? Do you make them go outside to play?

When is enough parenting enough?

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My daughter was going on job interviews and sifting through prospective roommates, when she returned from an appointment to find her home had been ransacked. Frankly, there’s enough change going on in her life these days that she didn’t need her drawers pilfered through and closets emptied onto the floor. She said it was all topsy turvy in each room, including the garage and small storage room.

She found Waffles, her pug, locked in the garage. As the concerned mother I am and wanting to solve all my kids’ problems, I immediately headed to her house — where I still am several days later. By the time I arrived, she had straightened up the house, and together we shopped for a doggie door and security system. A day later, her handyman came and she got dowels in the windows, more security cameras and alarms installed, and she’s no longer leaving the patio door open for Waffles. He has his own door. Now, he just has to learn to use it. (This is proving harder than expected. He scratches at the screens and barks, instead of bolting bravely through.)

I found on this visit to help my daughter out, there wasn’t much for me to do, except to be with her. She needed company and someone in her home so she didn’t feel scared or all alone. She has a dear friend who came over immediately after the burglary and spent the first night until I got here.

Now, my question for myself is — how long do I stay? Do I wait for her to find a new job? A roommate? Feel more settled? Be completely over her fright? Or, is my parenting job over for this moment? I’m planning on heading home soon to pick up the pieces of my life and continue with the work I need to do.

I’m glad to be able to help. But, at some point, Mom can’t be there for them and I need to live my own life. I am kind of torn on this. I enjoy hanging out with both my kids. I worry when things go wrong for them.

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When do you think enough parenting is enough?