I have been intending to write this blog post for some time but have struggled with just what to say and most importantly, to advise. Many parents, including me, debate how much screen time to allow their children. Moreover, it is difficult to monitor what kids are watching or doing on smart phones, tablets, computers, and TV. Parents worry about the effect of screen time, video games of all sorts, and how to make sense of it all. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently revised its decade-old policy regarding screen time, recognizing that the previous "2 hours a day" rule no longer applies, especially given the amount of screen time required for school work alone. AAP recommendations now include having a "media plan" for your child, including turning off screens well before bedtime, and promoting a healthy "media diet". I applaud the AAP recommendations but also understand just how difficult it is to get a child away from a screen, as well as the effect of screen time on the brain. Here are some thoughts:
As the parent of an “all boy” boy, I find research about gender differences and the brain fascinating. One of my son’s early teachers recommended the books of Michael Gurian to me, and this work has been extremely helpful. Gurian writes about the chemical and biological differences between the brains of boys and girls and how parents and educators can help kids develop based on these differences.
Gurian’s books are filled with tips that are both brilliant and obvious. For example, he points out that boys need more room to play than girls. Of course they do! The play of boys involves building, knocking down, re-building (bigger and better), running, jumping, throwing, and rough-housing. Not that girls do not do these things, but generally speaking, the play of boys happens on a physically grander scale than that of girls. My son’s playroom at the time I first read this was our living room. I removed furniture and completely opened up the space for his play. I saw an immediate difference in his play and creativity! I later gave him a spare room as his playroom – all the toys and games went onto shelves in the closet and the entire floor was left empty for him to play and create. He thanked me for 3 weeks and LOVED that space. There was no expenditure of funds – just more space!
Gurian also writes about how to channel what I call the “massive forward motion” of boys. Boys are naturally more risk-taking than girls. Very useful for both brain development and life is to help kids think through risks and consequences. So, rather than tell a child he is too young to climb a particular piece of playground equipment, ask (while he is still on the ground) “What is the first step?” “What will you do after that?” “What will come next?” This helps create new connections within the brain and gets the child into the habit of thinking before acting.
In “The Purpose of Boys” Gurian documents how boys are falling behind in society – fewer and fewer boys are graduating from high school, entering college, and graduating from college – and what parents, educators, and others can do to help. Gurian writes about conversations to have with boys and at what age, how to teach both empathy and a degree of toughness, and how the classroom can be more helpful to boys.
Whether you are parent, grandparent, teacher, or would just like more information on gender-based brain research, I highly recommend these books:
· The Wonder of Boys: What Parents, Mentors & Educators Can Do To Shape Boys Into Exceptional Men
· The Mind of Boys: Saving our Sons From Falling Behind in School & Life
· The Purpose of Boys: Helping Our Sons Find Meaning, Significance & Direction in Their Lives
Find more information here: http://www.michaelgurian.com
If you take just one supplement to boost your brain health, make it fish oil! One of the purer brands is Carlson's. It takes several pills to equal one tablespoon of fish oil, so I recommend using the liquid. It is expensive (about $50 per large bottle) but lasts a long time.
Vegetarians: Flax seed oil is helpful but is not as beneficial as fish oil.
Here is an article that provides more info:
JoAnne McFarland O'Rourke