July 27, 2010
Tip of the Week: March 15th, 2009

Dumbed-Down Parenting
By Nancy Carlsson-Paige

Lots of parents tell me they rely on screen activities such asGameBoys, DVD players, and computers to entertain their kids when theyare traveling, waiting for appointments, or sitting inrestaurants. "It's so easy," they tell me, "it really keeps themquiet." Yes, the screens do engage kids, for sure. But are thereways to occupy kids that are more beneficial to them?

Over the years, I've gone to restaurants now and then with my grandsonsJackson and Miles. Before we head out, I always stick someopen-ended toy or material in my bag-a handful of legos or smallblocks, a few sheets of paper and some markers, or a hunk ofplaydoh.

What I find really amazing is that once we're seated and waiting forour food, the boys become deeply engrossed in these activities withoutfail. They seem really happy and peaceful as they sit with theirgrandparents and create. And we have some really niceconversations about what they're making-buildings with lots of windows,or how you can draw really big muscles. Have you ever tried totalk to a kid who's on a GameBoy? You can shout quite loud andstill not be noticed.

Children learn the most when they are directly involved with hands-onactivities and when they interact with people. With open-endedmaterials like playdoh, building toys, and art materials, children canexplore, problem solve, and make up stories and characters from theirown imaginations; the possibilities are limitless.

But when kids engage with the screen, their involvement is morerepetitive; the activity doesn't foster new and original ideas. Withhandheld games and screens, children don't invent what they want tomake or do; they play the games or watch the stories that someone elsehas created.

I think we parents have fallen into an all-too comfortable trap sincewe've had the electronic option. It's so easy to turn on theswitch-bingo! The kids are occupied.

It becomes an easy habit for us-we quickly turn to electronics when thekids are bored, when they're arguing, when we want them to bequiet. We choose this option first instead of searching for otherpossible ways to engage them. And this has dumbed down ourparenting: we no longer have to use our own ingenuity to findinteresting alternatives for our children.

I think it's time we reclaim our parental creativity, time we lookbeyond screens to find better, fuller activities that can optimallyengage our kids and help us be the fully involved parents children needus to be.

Nancy Carlsson-Paige is aprofessor of education at Lesley University and the author or co-authorof five books. Her most recent book is Taking Back Childhood: Helping YourKids Thrive in a Fast-Paced, Media-Saturated, Violence-Filled World. Nancy writes and speaks about how media, violence, consumerism,and other social trends are shaping children today and what parents andteachers can do to raise caring and compassionatechildren. For more information visit
www.nancycarlssonpaige.org. Permission granted for use onDrLaura.com.

Posted by Staff at 7:23 PM