Not So Summer Reading: Set Free Childhood

The wonderful book, “Set Free Childhood” by Martin Large, focuses on the questions and controversies of media and childhood. Our last post, from Chapters 4 and 5, focused on the actual physical hazards of screens – mainly the effects on the brain and the senses.  Chapter 6 focuses on the social hazards of screens, including addiction, children’s play, advertising, anti-social behavior, cognitive and learning impacts.

The first thing this chapter points out is that time with screens means less time engaging with parents and less real conversation. Screens can lead to isolation within the family under the same roof, because everyone is in a different place on a different device.  It can also have an impact upon cognitive and learning because it impedes sleep.  An article from the Daily Telegraph from 2002 points out that “spending just five hours in front of a computer can hugely increase the risk of depression and insomnia.”  There is a fairly recent study from 2015 that details for adults, excessive computer usage during leisure hours leads to sleeping difficulties (but did not find a connection between using a computer for work and sleep challenges). Another 2015 study with 9,846 participants focused on adolescents in three age cohorts from the ages 16-19 .  The findings were similar in that increased screen usage was related to sleep difficulties.  This chapter mentions that after TV is viewed, viewers found it harder to concentrate after viewing, and their moods were the same or worse then before the TV watching took place.  The effects of video games are mentioned in a separate box on page 100.

The main issue with screens from a social standpoint is that play is being underminded and children are actually play-deprived.  Teachers have found “heavy viewers to be less imaginative and less dramatic in their play, show less initiative, are more likely to expect to be entertained, can pay less attention to stories, sometimes lack coordination, and do not play so constructively as light or non-viewing children.” (page 102).   The rest of this chapter reviews turning children into consumers, and anti-social behavior.

Chapter 7 looks at how screens affect language and literacy. Children can suffer delayed language due to lack of speaking with parents.  This chapter talks about how children learn to speak through imitation, listening and conversing with real people and about the consequences of choosing screens over regularly reading time.

Blessings,
Carrie

Not So Summer Reading: Set Free Childhood

I actually thought of just ditching the last part of this book and moving into something else.  We started looking at this book over the summer and there wasn’t really a lot of feedback about it, and now we are long PAST summer up here in the Northern Hemisphere!  However, I got thinking about holidays. And in that season, sometimes rhythm and normal habits go out the window.  Sometimes more media comes in as parents try to buy some time to wrap gifts without their children or do other things.  So, I thought, maybe it will still be good to finish this up and we can all remind ourselves why no media for littles and media lite for olders is preferred!

We are on Chapter 4 of “Set Free Childhood” by Martin Large, which is a great book for information in moving your family toward a media lite or media free lifestyle. This chapter talks about the actual physical hazards of screens – mainly the effects on the brain and the senses.  The chapter opens with the question, “Parents often ask, “What is the right age for my child to start watching TV or using a computer?”  This is a key question; and it is important that each and every family take the responsibility to make up its own mind, calculating their own overall “balance sheet” of the advantages and the hazards of the electronic media for their children – an assessment which reading this book will help families to reach.”

The first box of information on the next page points out the warning from the British government that mobile phone users under the age of 16 should be limiting calls for essential purposes  due to mobile phone radiation.  This was based on a study out of the University of Utah in 2001.  I looked to see if I could find any up to date information on this subject; I found a  2014 link on WebMD talking about how children and fetuses are in danger of greater health risks from wireless devices in general because the brain tissue is more absorbent, the skulls are thinner.  Other countries have passed laws or are issuing warnings about children’s use of wireless devices, including phones.

The box on the following page lists all the effects of too much exposure (although “too much exposure” is not quantified) including physical effects, social and emotional effects,  cognitive effects, and moral effects.  It was all too much to list here, but be assured the list is quite long and includes obesity, social isolation and withdrawal, less creativity and imagination, attention deficit and the inability to concentrate.

There are two main reasons that children have difficulty switching off the screens – one has to do with the way the actual image is generated on a screen, and the other has to do with what the author terms radiant repetitive light souce .  The idea that the TV is a door into the home and the brain, even if the TV is on and being watched intermittenly, is explored in this chapter as well.  The role TV plays in inducing alpha brainwaves is explored, along with the possibility that TV shuts down the left brain, leaving the right hemisphere of the brain open to incoming images.  Screens also affect the development of the eye. The sense of attention and hearing can also be dulled.  Research in Manchester, England showed a doubled incidence of listening and attention problems in children over the span of six year (1984 to 1990).  I wonder what this is like now that we are heavily into a digital age for youngsters.

Chapter 5 talks more about the physical hazards of screens and includes light research.  There are many interesting facts  in the beginning of this chapter, including studies on beans exposed to television radiation and rates of growth (the exposed beans grew into excessively tall vines with leaves two and a half to three times the size of the outdoor plants or the plants shielded from the television radiation).  Studies were also done with cancer-sensitive mice, looking at the connection between artificial light and rickets.

The rest of this chapter looks at brain integration and how that is affected by screens, childhood obesity and lack of exercise and movement disorders.  Children at the time of this book publishing (2003) were engaged in 75 percent less physical activity than they did in 1900.  This is not a surprise, and this article regarding obesity prevention  from Harvard points out that children need at least an hour a day of vigorous exercise.  As a pediatric physical therapist, I would like to see children get even more than an hour, but at least an hour is a starting point!  Remember, movement is an activator of intellectual growth!

Blessings and love,

Carrie

 

 

Summer Reading: Set Free Childhood- Screens and Temperaments

This last post in this series talked about Chapter Three; today I wanted to finish up the last little bit of this chapter.  The very last section talks about screens and how children sometimes react based upon their temperament. (If you need more information about temperament, I suggest this back post.)

Choleric Children, also noted to be “active children” in this chapter:  they may soon tire of screens as it is not active enough for them, but they may be very attracted to computer games and such. It is noted that these types of children need very strong boundaries and structure so the child can feel safe and secure in these limits.

Melancholic, also noted as “sensitive children” in this chapter:  sensitive children need their parents to hear them, they need a lot of empathy and as they are often full of feeling and sometimes vulnerable, screens can increase their isolation. Not only that, program content can also be overwhelming for their level of sensitivity.  They often cannot just shrug off what they have seen on a TV show or what happened in social media.

Sanguine children, also called “responsive children” in this chapter:  these children usually like change, have many interests, and are outgoing and very social.  They are easily distracted and can “flit” around.  From page 47, “They enjoy reacting to life’s experience and need stimulation, but can throw tantrums if they don’t want to move on.  If left to the screen, they can be caught by the ever-changing images – and this can really over-stimulate them.”    These children need help turning the screens off – usually some sort of even better distraction will do the trick.  Since the early years are noted to be a time of sanguinity, I find this description applies to many small children.

Lastly, phlegmatic children, called “receptive children” in this chapter are the children who need a regular rhythm, who like repetition and routine and like to know what is coming up.  They often enjoy just sitting and being dreamy.  Since these children often enjoy comfort, they may get into a rhythmical habit of screen time that is difficult to change.  They need help from their parents as well – they need tasks to do, and they need help to develop their own interests.  They need a rhythm to the day and week that capitalizes on other things than screens!

Of course, every child is a UNIQUE individual.  However, the temperaments can be a helpful, loose guide of what some children need from their parents regarding screen time and what would be helpful in the pursuit of balance.

Many blessings and on to Chapter Four.  Who is reading along?

Carrie

 

 

 

Summer Reading: Set Free Childhood Chapter Three

We are working our way through Martin Large’s “Set Free Childhood”, published by Hawthorn Press.  We are in Chapter 3, “The Secrets of Childhood Development.”

The author writes, “Parents can benefit from access to practical knowledge about what helps healthy child growth and development, so as both to back up their own good sense, and also to cope with the relentlessly increasing pressures in modern culture.  Such pressures include the withering-away of the extended family – with relatives and grandparents typically no longer living nearby. Gone, then, are our traditional support networks; and a smaller family means that you no longer learn childcare at your parents’ or neighbours’ knees.” (page 34)

Support is so important in raising small children; and so is slowing down. One of the main tenets of this chapter is that children are suffering from stress because they are being hurried, rushed and feel overwhelmed and busy.  The work of psychologist David Elkind noticed this tendency of hurried children and has written extensively about this; where children are forced to take on adult schedules and treated as miniature adults.  In order to combat this, the author takes us on a tour of healthy child development by age.

Children need time and space to grow.  Childhood goes through phases.  The baby is noted to be completely open to noise, bright lights, rough movement, rough handling.  The baby is a giant sense organ and totally dependent upon the care of the parents and the home environment provided.  As time goes on, an infant learns to filter sensory impressions, progresses from horizontal movement to vertical movement.  Infants do not need television or screens to develop.  What they need is to move, to be held and cuddled, and to have a parent who delights in them and plays with them.

A toddler learns through incredible powers of imitation.  They are intrepid explorers experiencing the world through all of their senses. The first three years of life sees a child learning to walk, to speak, and to think.  Language emerges through contact with real speaking human beings – not those in a screen.

There is some great information about up through age 11 or so, and then a little section about screens and the temperaments.  I think the temperament section I will save for the next post in this series.

Blessings,
Carrie

Summer Reading: Set Free Childhood Chapter Two

This chapter is subtitled, “Watching Your Child Watching The Television”.  The author starts out by stating whilst people make a big deal about WHAT a child watches on television, sometimes the most overlooked point is the process of watching and what this does.   The reason the “process of watching” is important is because it displaces other activities such as being outside, playing, reading books, conversation, artistic experiences.

“Time and again, parents describe their children watching TV as ‘zombie-like’, ‘passive’, ‘stupified’, ‘mesmerized’, ‘totally absorbed but not interested’, ‘tranquilized’, and ‘hypnotized.’  The exceptions were children watching short programmes with their parents, when there were frequent interruptions by questions and conversations about what was going on.  Even then, parents observed how quickly their children lapsed into the ‘TV trance-state’ of just watching.” – page 17

Parents often say watching a screen is “relaxing” for their child but also describe the burst of energy, tantrums, edginess, nervousness that occur after the screen time is done.  I think it is always worth observing your own child to see “how” they watch  – and what happens when it is turned off.  Are they able to go and play well on their own?  Are they calm and happy?  Or not?

There is a box on page 19 regarding “Guidelines for Evaluating Children’s TV” , including looking at the news, languague, advertising, social skills, comprehension level, and then the suggestion to watch the screen with your child and see if you like what you see.  The author also writes about “Trying the Technical Events Test”, which is very interesting and looks at the technical events it takes to make even a 30 second advertisement.  He ends the chapter talking about screens and addiction.

He remarks that TV can be easily used as an electronic baby-sitter and that sometimes parents see the effects of screens on their children but fail to follow through and set limits on the screens.  His other comment that “the electronic media are extremely powerful, geared to keeping your attention even if you’re not especially interested – so young children need you to switch off the television, and older children also need help with developing their capacity to choose to switch off.” (page 31), really resonated with me. 

How much more pertinent is this chapter today with so many children walking around with television/movie access on their phones?  Children and teenagers need our help in setting limits on this powerful medium.  Here is an article from Forbes about teen Internet addiction and the cycle of  academic burnout and depression.   Teenage boys are most likely to be affected.  According to the article, the most critical time to address Internet addiction and usage is between the ages of 13-15.  So do your teen a favor and set some boundaries!

More to come in later chapters….

Blessings,
Carrie

Summer Reading: Set Free Childhood Chapter One

We are headed through the book “Set Free Childhood” by author Martin Large in our summer reading.  You can see the post about the forward to this book here.

The  author notes on page 1 that :

Whilst children’s needs remain relatively constant and enduring – for example, for loving relationships, good food, time for learning and play, and a calm rhythmical family environment – the world is relentlessly speeding up.  The result can be that children simply don’t have a childhood any more.

He goes on to mention the ever-present media in children’s lives, from computer software to help babies “increase their intelligence” to computer games aimed at school-aged children to the increased presence of electronic media in schools.  Many parents are concerned about the overload of screens on their children, and for good reason.

I disagree with the last paragraph in this article from Psychology Today, but one thing it points out is that a critical time for brain development is between the ages of zero to three, (and I would argue also during the other periods of known increased neurologic growth) and how using technology does nothing to stimulate what is needed for healthy development.   This article talks about the fact that the neurons recruited during the teen years becomes hard-wired – so, if your teen is mainly sitting around and playing video games, this will be the the cells that survive.  To contrast this, we know that outdoor play and movement are critical to academic success, and Martin Large addresses the increasingly “indoor” population of children in this chapter.

Author Martin Large also  brings up the other difficulties with screens in this chapter: the marketing piece and how children are being inundated with marketing; the information overload in general.   He also discusses the affects of media on  behavior – increased behavioral problems, anti-social behavior, anxiety, sleep difficulties, eating disorders and language impairment.

This book provides many suggestions regarding screen usage that we can explore together in the next chapters.  I look forward to hearing what you think about this chapter!

Many blessings,
Carrie

 

Summer Reading: Set Free Childhood

Our summer reading for the next few months is Martin Large’s “Set Free Childhood”, published in 2003 by Hawthorn Press in their Early Years Series.  Today we begin with the forward by Joan Almon, who at the time of publication was Coordinator of Alliance for Childhood.  She wrote a wonderful introduction to this book that you can read along when you pick up your copy. At the publication of this book , in 2003, more and more children were becoming sedentary, obese, and diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.  There was also growing awareness that the effects of screens went beyond the physical for young children.  My favorite quote on page v is:  “On the other side, there is  more awareness than before that screen time is unhealthy for children – not just physically unhealthy but also socially unhealthy.  It interferes with children’s desire to move and be active; but it also diminishes their imagination and creativity.”

If you are interested in how many hours children ages 8-18 are using screens a day currently, here are some statistics from 2010 . Also, this is a report from BBC News from March, 2015 with statistics for children ages 5 to 16.  There was also this article from TIME Magazine, 2013.    Tweens and teens are using about six to nine hours a day on screens, according to this 2015 NBC news report. (This also excluded time spent on devices for homework; these numbers were for sheer entertainment).

This book has suggestions for both children under 7 and some suggestions for children over 7. As we go through this book, I hope to keep linking to the most current statistics, research and recommendations I can find and to add in some ideas about teenagers and screen usage.  Hopefully this book and the associated links and research will be a beginning in gathering information for every family so each family can formulate what is right for them.

Blessings,
Carrie