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 defending your kids a sign of snowplowing?

I wrote this story two years ago, looking back on how I would jump in to defend my kids when I detected the slightest wrongdoing against them. This was my tendency to hover, helicopter and be a snowplow mom. I don’t think my own mom was aware of most of the troubles I was going through–let alone fight the school, principal, teacher or coach over them. She let me handle things by myself. The only time I remember them getting involved was when my brother got suspended for his long hair, which touched the collar of his shirt. Somehow, after that suspension, the entire high school’s dress code got changed and long hair was allowed.

When they were young.

I was always a stickler for what was right or wrong and I never shied away from addressing any issue. I would go to bat for my kids whenever I felt they were being slighted. Looking back, I see that is a trait of helicopter parenting and I might have done more good for my kids by letting them fight their own battles.

Here are a few battles I took on when I thought my kids weren’t being treated right:

I wrote an email to my son’s AP History teacher to complain about his grade. He was .05 off an A and I felt the teacher should round it up. I got a note back explaining that if he were to round up my son’s grade, he’d have to go back and do the same thing for every other student in his grade book who was a fraction off the next higher grade. (Not a bad idea, I thought!) My son was being passed over for his school’s nomination for the coveted National Merit Scholarship award because of the B, but he lived through it.

When I felt a coach was picking on my son, I made an appointment to complain about it, only to find out that he had earned the “coach’s award” for best attitude and effort. That surprised me and I’m embarrassed about that meeting to this day.

When my daughter was given five days of after-school detention for forgetting to bring the photocopy of Christmas song lyrics to music class, I complained that the punishment was over the top. In fact, other kids were given two nights detention, so there was a definite crossing the line by the music teacher—in my humble opinion.

There are countless other incidents where I went to battle for my kids. I do believe I taught them the difference between right and wrong and that they should stand up for themselves. At least that’s what I told myself at the time.

I couldn’t understand why other parents would stand by and let bad things happen to their kids. I do now. Sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut and shrug your shoulders. I’ve found that some of the things that would have bugged me to no end, will soon disappear on their own within a few days or weeks. By making an issue out of little things, they can turn into big ones and burn a lot of energy and create angst.

My daughter complained to me last night that during a meeting with students on a group project, the guys were complaining that all the women coming forward about sexual harassment were “just looking for attention.” That infuriated my daughter to no end. I asked her if she was going to put up with it or wanted to go to the professor or counselor and complain. She decided to let it go. She’s a week from being done with the class and just wants to get through it. I told her I would stand by whatever she decided.

When my son received a letter telling him he was kicked out of school during the summer after his freshman year for bad grades, I was horrified. But, then I stood by and watched him research his options online. He wrote a letter to contest the decision and got hospital and doctor records to substantiate his unfortunate circumstances of an injury and surgery which caused too many missed classes. He was let back in without me doing a thing. After that, he earned As.

Me and my boy.

One thing I know about parenting is all we can do is try our best. It’s been my goal to raise kids who know the difference between right and wrong and will try their best as well.

What do you think about parents fighting battles for their kids? Are they helping or hurting them by getting involved?

What I love about being a swim mom

I wrote this the second year of my daughter’s college swim career. It’s fun to look back on how much I enjoyed age group swimming and all that goes into it. I’m looking forward to getting back in the pool myself — after my two-month ordeal with eye surgeries end. I’m almost there! In the meantime, I miss swimming and being a swim mom.

My daughter diving in for the 1000 free during a dual meet. Utes vs. USC.

My daughter diving in (with pointed toes) for the 1000 free during a dual meet. Utes vs. USC.

We went to my daughter’s first college dual meet of the season this weekend. I loved every minute of the meet, but even more, spending time with her. She invited several swim teammates out to dinner. It felt like the sprinkle of rain after a long drought—listening to them laugh and talk about their meet and practices.

I didn’t realize how much I miss the little daily things about being an age-group swim mom.

I miss the kids hanging out. So many personalities, so many different families, all bound together by one common goal. Swimming.

My son and swim team friends.

My son and swim team friends.

I have a fierce loyalty to our team and the couple times when factions of parents split off to form their own teams, I was shocked and hurt. It felt like losing members of my immediate family. I’d always wonder why? I never thought we had a bad experience—maybe at times less than perfect—but I guess that’s part of the reason I didn’t understand.

Good times were sitting together in the stands cheering for all our kids. Getting the new team t-shirts, sipping Starbucks on a chilly winter morning under the pop-up tents. Chatting and laughing with parents while we waited to see what the day’s meet would bring. I loved working with our parents and officials under the admin tent, in awards, or in the snack bar at our home meets.

The team cheer at an away meet.

The team cheer at an away meet.

I loved having kids over to the house to hang out between morning and afternoon practices during long hot summer days. I loved cooking eggs, bacon and sausage in bulk for a pack of hungry swimmers. I was amazed at how much they could eat as a group. I loved having the team over for painting t-shirts for a big meet.

Swim team girls painting t-shirts for a meet in our back yard with their coach.

Swim team girls painting t-shirts for a meet in our back yard with their coach.

I loved listening to the kids laughing about silly things that happened in practice and the goofy songs they played and sang to like “Funkytown  and the “Numa Numa Song.”

Most of all, l I loved seeing my kids smiling, laughing and enjoying their friendships. Throughout the years, my kids were surrounded by amazing kids, families and coaches. Just being in the background was a joy.

I miss those days.

Group photo on t-shirt painting day.

Group photo on t-shirt painting day.

My daughter receiving ribbons from her first coach.

My daughter receiving ribbons from her first coach.

Why September is really the start of the new year

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The end of August with the season changing.

Most people think about New Year’s as the time make changes and list their resolutions. But after years of being a parent–and a swim mom–I believe the true new year begins at the end of summer and start of the new school year.

It’s a motivating time to look back on the relaxing fun summer and how we can transition back into our busy schedules. What worked last year–and what didn’t? Even with the kids out of the house, I still feel a sense of urgency coming into September. What am I going to do differently? What can I do to be better? What projects am I ready to undertake?

In swimming, September was that time when the kids started fresh. They talked about goal setting with their coaches. They worked on stroke technique. They got back into the water after having a few weeks off.

I wrote a few tips for swim parents for SwimSwam about how to make the most out of the new season. I think the tips can be used for us in our busy lives and our kids’ academics, too. There’s lots that works in the pool that can be applied to life.

With a new season approaching, it’s a great time to reflect as a swim parent on how the last season went and what we’d like to change. Was the schedule too hectic for your family? Do you need to cut out a few activities? Or, start a car pool or ask other parents to help?  Maybe the last season was perfect and you’re looking forward to another one just like it.

Here are a few tips to have a great swim season:

ONE
Let our kids take ownership of swimming. Ask what their goals are and make sure they are swimming because they want to. The season won’t be a good one if they are swimming to please us. This applies outside the swimming world, too. By doing things they truly enjoy they will develop their own interests to pursue the rest of their lives.

TWO

Listen more and speak less. On the drive home after a meet, let our children speak first. If we start talking and going over how they swam, they will most likely resent it. They may interpret our helpfulness and critiquing as though they’ve disappointed us.

THREE

What can you do to help the team? Ask the board or coach if there’s an area where they need help. Coaches and boards hear mostly complaints. What a welcome change to have someone offer to help.

FOUR

Be in the moment. How many times have you heard a parent say they can’t stand sitting around at a meet to watch their child swim for a few minutes? It’s all about attitude. Be grateful for those moments—before you know it they’ll be gone.

FIVE

Enjoy the community. Are there new parents you can help at meets? They may feel intimidated and a friendly smile and chat can go a long way to making them feel welcome.

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Time to get back into the water.

What are your thoughts about how to start off the new season?

Is it possible to work from home with kids?

katrob 3When I started my Public Relations business, it was June. By July, I discovered I was pregnant. I did pretty good balancing work and life until my firstborn became mobile. Once he was crawling and spitting up on my keyboard, work became more challenging.

I saw an article in the Citizen Times, a USA network paper in North Carolina, called “Making it all work: Balancing parenting and working from home” by Marla Hardee Milling. She interviewed several families and asked how they worked from home with kids. I enjoyed reading their stories, because I had plenty of my own!

If you are a parent, working from home can rank as a blessing and a curse.

First up — the pros: creating a business at home allows you a flexible schedule. You don’t have to worry about a commute. You don’t have to keep a well-stocked wardrobe for daily appearances at an office (this means you can work in pajamas if you want to), and you may well find that you are more productive when you are working for yourself. 

But there are pitfalls. 

Interruptions can be aggravating. Neighbors and friends may think they can call at any moment because you’re at home. Kids often have the uncanny ability to need something right in the middle of a business call. And you may be surrounded by nagging reminders of things that need to be done at home — the stacked dishes, the pile of laundry, the accumulating clutter. 

So how do you strike a balance between being efficient running a home business and keeping your sanity? 

Juggling life and work

Stephanie Carol of Asheville works part-time from home, writing a sewing blog and a travel blog.

“I juggle work at home life with family life imperfectly,” she admits. “My biggest challenge is that I would prefer to work in long stretches of time, but with kids, it’s more like bits and pieces. The two solutions I’ve come up with or used in the past include one, swapping child care with friends so we each get a full or half day to ourselves while the other watches all of our kids, and two: trying to break down my tasks into small chunks so I can dive right back in and out of my list and stay organized.” 

It can be even more complicated when both parents telecommute from home. That’s the current lifestyle for Amy and John Saunders who live in Waynesville with their 3-year-old son. Amy’s parents own a highway construction company — A&P Services LLC in Brevard  and she serves as the vice president of operations. John is a software architect who works for a company in Chicago. 

John’s job is structured in a way that he is required to be at his computer from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays. But his home office doesn’t have a door, so Amy has to be creative about keeping their son quiet.

“We leave every morning around 9 or 9:30 and then come home for lunch,” she explained. In the afternoon, she fits in work as she can while her son has some quiet playtime. Once her husband is off work, they have a family dinner at 6, go through the bedtime routine and then Amy can hammer out details of her job that she couldn’t get to during the day.  

“As the VP of operations, I do all the scheduling, billing, general project management — I handle everything except estimating and HR stuff,” she said. “As long as the work gets done, it doesn’t matter when it gets done.” 

When I worked from home I had two major problems: how to turn off work and how to get clients to understand that I couldn’t run over for a meeting at the drop of a hat. It was all about boundaries. I had clients who didn’t respect the hours I tried to set and would give me a project at 5 or 6 p.m. and expect it the next morning, because “I worked from home.” When I was pregnant, I could make it to any meeting at any time. Once I had a child, it was a different story. I tried babysitters and nannies and would make set hours when I was available for meetings and appointments. Invariably, I worked on projects at home while the babysitter was there. As soon as she left, I’d get a call from a client to come over immediately.

Here’s how other families deal with childcare:

What can I put off?

Without close neighbors to rely on for babysitting, Amy and John care for their son almost 24/7 except for rare moments when the grandparents can step in. It’s a challenging schedule and can be stressful, but she says, “I wouldn’t change it for anything.”

What she is trying to change is her mindset that every work detail needs to be handled immediately. “If I get an email, I feel like I have to take care of it right away,” she said. “I’m learning that if I put something off until tomorrow, it’s probably going to be fine. Some things are time sensitive, but the majority of my job is not. I’m trying to find a balance.” 

Altamont Inspections is the business of Eddie and Angela Roberts, of Hendersonville. While Eddie is out making the inspections, Angela works from her home office to carry out all the details of running the business: scheduling, billing, troubleshooting, and setting priorities.

“I have a designated office space, so office work stays in the office,” Angela said. “I have set times to devote to work and I make a checklist each morning of the most important things to do.”

Having that list is crucial since they have two very active daughters — teens Anna and Emma — who are involved in band, gymnastics and other activities. “I always put family first,” she said. “If someone wants an inspection time that conflicts with my daughter’s band concert, I’ll offer them another day or time.”

She’s found it easier to keep separate email addresses and phone numbers for work and personal use, and she checks social media during her personal time. Angela also has learned to say “no” when she runs out of time.

“The PTO can find someone else to help with the dance decorations this time, but I’m happy to bring pre-packaged snacks,” she said as an example.  

Outside help

Her daughters are older now and more self-sufficient, but she also realizes the value of getting outside help to keep her household and business running smoothly.

“I hire help like a bi-weekly housekeeper, a lawn maintenance crew, and a caregiver to pick up the kids from school and help them with homework a couple of days a week,” she said. “I will also order groceries online and pick them up or have them delivered through Mother Earth Foods. A family dinner doesn’t have to be home cooked every night. I like to support local restaurants and order to-go or make a list of grocery stores that have weekly specials, like The Fresh Market changes their $20 ‘Little Big Meals’ that feed four each Tuesday and some Ingle’s delis have Friday steak nights.” 

With planning, dedication, and creative strategies, working from home can be a fruitful endeavor. And just think about all that traffic you don’t have to sit in day after day.

The final straw in my working from home was after I hired a full-time nanny. I watched as she raised my child. They splashed in the pool and walked to the park to play. Meanwhile, I sat at my desk jealous beyond belief. I quit the PR business and changed my work. Instead or writing press releases and newsletters, I began writing for magazines, newspapers and drafting novels and children’s stories. I squeezed my work in between raising my kids. I made way less money, but I have no regrets.

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Now there’s just me and the cat while I work from home.

Have you tried working from home? How do you juggle the parenting responsibilities with your job?

Too much parenting isn’t helping

robert bunnyIn an article in Fatherly  called “Science Suggests Parents Are Taking Parenting Too Far” by Patrick A. Coleman, Parents who want to give their kids every advantage are spending more and more time and money on kids, but science is finding that it’s better to step back and find balance.”

I figured this out for myself. The more I did for my kids, the more I crippled them. Sometimes it doesn’t show up for years, but the damage is done.

Here are some interesting excerpts from the article:

According to a recent study by Cornell University, a majority of parents see world-consuming hyper-engagement as the best method of child-rearing. Going all in on kids has become a cultural best practice, begging this simple question: Does it work? Ask a scientist and they’ll likely tell you no.

Parents who really want a kid to get a head start will often push their child to hit developmental milestones early. The problem is that hitting a developmental milestone early does nothing to improve a kid’s outcomes. Also, pushing them to develop early might actually be detrimental, according to a recently published study by infant attachment expert Dr. Susan Woodhouse of the Leigh University CARE lab.

“We were trying to understand what parents are doing that really matters for children to become securely attached by 12 months,” Woodhouse says. In other words, she was looking into parental behaviors that help babies orient to their parent in a developmentally appropriate and secure way. “What our data showed is that when a baby really needs you and is crying, if you responded at least half the time, the baby would be securely attached.”

Woodhouse calls this the “secure base provision” which simply means parents are responding correctly to a baby’s cues enough times that attachment can form. Importantly, in order to reach the secure base provision, parents don’t need to respond to their child’s cues correctly 100 percent of the time, or even 80 or 70 percent of the time. They simply need to respond correctly 50 percent of the time, which Woodhouse likes to call “good enough” parenting. The clear virtue of this approach is that it allows parents to behave less mechanically, lowering levels of stress, and shielding kids from the potentially deleterious second-hand effects of anxiety and parental busyness.

kat chairThe article explains why we shouldn’t be interrupting and hovering over our kids all the time. They need time to figure out how the world works without us interfering:

But that’s not the whole story. Responding to a child is one thing, but so is letting them explore independently. “When the baby is not in distress, learning about the way the world works and exploring, parents get the job done by not interrupting the baby and making them cry,” Woodhouse explains. “When a cry shuts down the exploratory system and gets the attachment system activated. The exploration stops. The baby isn’t doing their job anymore and that creates insecurity.”

That reminds me when my kids were young and they were playing at the park. My husband and I were sitting on a blanket a few yards away. Our toddler girl fell off the swing, face planting into the sand. My gut reaction was to run to her and see if she was alright! My husband held my hand and said “Shhh!”

We watched as she picked herself up, dusted off some sand and hopped back on the swing. What would have happened if I had my way? I’m sure I would have been carrying home a sobbing child.

But insecure attachment in babies isn’t the only risk of being over-involved. According to a 2012 study, published in the journal PLOS One, kindergarten-age children’s risk for anxiety disorders later in life might be correlated to maternal anxiety or excessive maternal involvement. After tracking 200 children into their elementary years, researchers found that children were more likely to have diagnosable anxiety if mothers had responded positively to survey questions like “I determine who my child will play with” or “I dress my child even if he/she can do it alone.”

The fact is that parenting is stressful enough. But when parents take burdens, either social or educational, off their children’s shoulders, kids do not learn the crucial coping and organizational skills necessary to become functional adults.  

Schiffrin’s most-cited study looked into a child’s self-determination — essentially the ability to make decisions for oneself, feelings of autonomy and having relationships. A child who has strong feelings of self-determination generally also has a sense of well-being and happiness. Schiffrin wondered if helicopter parenting, defined as a developmentally inappropriate level of involvement, affected a child’s self-determination. And … yes. Very much so.

The point of the scientists quoted in this article is for us parents to stop helicoptering, quit snowplowing and find some balance. Good enough parenting is being there when our kids need us, but allowing them room to grow and thrive to become self-sufficient.

kat and rob beachWhat are your thoughts about doing too much for our kids?

3 Things to Tell Your Daughter on Graduation Night

 It sounds so cliche, but I honestly don’t know how the years have flown by so quickly. I wrote this during my daughter’s celebration of graduating from high school. I still believe in the message. 
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Today my little girl graduates high school. What a joy she has been to raise, teach and hang out with. I remember her kindergarten interview where she had to be tested for one of the coveted spots at St. Theresa’s. She had fun buns on her head and ankle high “Britney Boots,” marketed for little girls dreaming of becoming Britney Spears. She boldly entered the kindergarten class and announced to the world that she was “Robert’s little sister.”

IMG_4888Today, I have a tall, wise-cracking young lady with a big smile and sparkle in her eye. If I could tell my daughter three things she needs to know for her next adventure called college, what would it be? 

katpromharryFirst…

“To thine own self be true.” Don’t worry about what other people think. Do what you know is right. This famous quote is from Polonius to his son Laertes, before Laertes boards a boat to Paris in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Even though it’s pretty old, it still resonates today.

katsurfSecond…

Happiness is not having a boyfriend or being thin. My mom would tell me the worst things when I was my daughter’s age — mainly focused on the need to “have a man” — or that “a man would make me happy.” This must be a throwback to my mother’s generation, where a woman’s identity and self-worth were wrapped up in a spouse. Instead, I will tell my daughter that happiness is found within yourself — by doing something that you love. Once you find happiness in yourself, only then can you share it with others.

swimmer4Last…

Don’t worry about what your career or major will be. You will figure it out. Don’t feel pressure about it. Most people going into college that have a major, change their minds anyway. Get your basic requirements out of the way and then after taking different classes you will discover what you don’t like and what you do like.katandrobert

 

And most importantly, not even on the list — I love you.

 

Utah Swimming and Dive  Kat WickhamWhat three things would you tell your daughter on graduation night?