Our Brains, Our Backbone: When Experts’ Advice is Not Brain-Compatible for Our Youngsters

Last week the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) updated two of its policies regarding screen time for young children and for older children and teens. The doctors relaxed their guidelines for toddlers, making it not in alignment with brain science.parenting with brain science

Amending their previous caveat of no screen technology before the age of 2, they now recommend:

“For parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media, advise that they choose high-quality programming/apps and use them together with children, because this is how toddlers learn best. Letting children use media by themselves should be avoided.”

I believe young parents caught in the tech tsunami need clearer and more direct guidance. For instance, while it is certainly preferable when parents interact with their children while enjoying a high quality app or an educational program rather than youngsters using media on their own, it is not true that “toddlers learn best” that way. In the same policy statement, the doctors acknowledge:

“Children younger than 2 years need hands-on exploration and social interaction with trusted caregivers to develop their cognitive, language, motor, and social-emotional skills. Because of their immature symbolic, memory, and attentional skills, infants and toddlers cannot learn from traditional digital media as they do from interactions with caregivers, and they have difficulty transferring that knowledge to their 3-dimensional experience.”

If we truly understand the brain science and want to give toddlers the best start in life, we have to state firmly and clearly: “Dear American pediatricians, you got it wrong. Please re-instate your previous recommendation, at the very least.”

The Canadian Pediatric Society currently recommends no screen time (eg, TV, computer, electronic games) for youngsters under age 2. And French pediatricians concerned with obesity and the life-style trajectory that is set in the early years recommends no screens under the age of 3. The French also have stricter recommendations for older children than we Americans do:

  • No video games before age 6
  • No social Internet before age 9
  • No social media before age 12

The French doctors’ stair step guidelines make so much sense because they are in alignment with brain science.

 

These pediatricians recognize that children’s brains are in a process of development and help parents make better parenting decisions as a result.

From my research of the last 20 years, I believe that keeping kids away from video games as long as possible—ideally not until age 10 or 12—helps greatly in preventing video game and Internet addiction. “You can’t fool Mother Nature.” Developing human brains were designed to interact with the 3-D world. When the machines of a 2-D world replace our natural, at-home environment, our children and teens become de-humanized. Make no mistake about that. This pattern and process has inevitable outcomes—dire, tragic outcomes.

I do wish it were otherwise. But it isn’t. And now, the sad truth is: Troubles for families in our digital world only exacerbate when experts don’t do their jobs.

Consider the AAP’s opening statement in their new screen policy for young children:

“Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are now growing up in environments saturated with a variety of traditional and new technologies, which they are adopting at increasing rates.”

This statement has two major problems with it:

  1. While it is very true that infants, toddlers, and preschoolers are now growing up in environments saturated with a variety of traditional and new technologies—it is not true (and very misleading to say so) that “they are adopting these at increasing rates.” The reality is that their parents are allowing them access to the devices at increasing rates. Youngsters cannot adopt these. Adults adopt the new technologies for them.

This is an irresponsible statement—constructed, it seems to me, to avoid the truth and even to obfuscate. If the block you lived on had 10 liquor stores on it, you wouldn’t think: Oh I have to buy my toddler some whisky and get him to start drinking since he will be growing up surrounded by liquor stores. No, you would do everything in your power to prevent untimely exposure to liquor, teach about healthy choices as he grows, and only offer him a shot of whisky when his brain/mind body was ready to deal with it—as an adult. And if he had a genetic propensity to alcoholism, you might move your place of residence to healthier environs or do everything in your power to prevent him from taking one drop.

  1. The vast majority of young parents who are adopting the new technologies for their infants, toddlers, and preschoolers do not understand at all what havoc they are bringing to their youngsters’ developing brains. There are very few courageous souls who are “out there” telling it like it is. Dr. Victoria Dunkley is one of those courageous souls. As an integrative psychiatrist who noticed the negative effects of screen technologies on children and youth she worked with over a fifteen-year period, she has articulated the research, effects, and what to do about it in her outstanding book, Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time. (2015)

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Dr. Dunckley explains in detail what happens to children’s and teens’ brains and their sensory nervous systems with over-use of screens. She calls this ESS—Electronic Screen Syndrome and shows parents exactly what to do about it. If you are a parent of a child who is “out of sorts” in any way, I highly recommend you read her book and decide for yourself what actions to take.

With experts like Dr. Dunckley so rare, it’s getting to the point that we can no longer rely on experts to guide us. In my book, Parenting Well in a Media Age, I lay out 6 major challenges—unprecedented challenges—moms and dads encounter because the industry-generated culture has replaced the culture of people and honored traditions and ancestral values. This culture is a counterfeit one. It is a culture made up of mega-conglomerates who influence attitudes and behaviors on a massive scale, using manipulative measures to do so. I find it quite ironic that in an information age with all the information technology at our disposal, we cannot manage to grow children in alignment with what we know works for their most optimal development. Obesity, attention problems, hyper-activity, sensory integration problems, poor self-esteem, bullying, and childhood depression haunt us at every turn. Yet, the one thing parents can do—reduce screen time—to reduce—or even eliminate those problems entirely—is not made clear to parents.

I invite you to become the brains for your child’s developing brain. It’s not rocket science to understand the brain research and the reasons why young brains need to be protected from screen technologies. I encourage you to read Dr. Dunckley’s book and inform yourself. You must be the CEO of your child’s brain since their brains aren’t fully mature until about age 25. So until then, the decisions they make come from a still-developing brain. Think about that and then make the fundamental choice to become the brains for your children. With that fundamental choice in place your daily, tough decisions will be easier to make.

Then, make a second fundamental choice: To engage your backbone. Stay convicted. Your knowledge will only become your power if you have the courage to align your parenting with brain-compatible practices—no matter what.

Please contact me: info@gloriadegaetano.com. I have resources and practical tips I can send you that have worked for thousands of parents. You don’t have to be alone in all this.

I do believe we can create the world we want for our children if we use our brains and our backbone in the best interests of our children. What about you? What do you believe?

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.

 

 

Thoughts on Screen Addiction—40 Years Later

Screen addiction worries me so I was excited to receive the April 1976 Psychology Today magazine I had ordered through Back Issues.

screen addiction

I leafed through “The Benefits of Boredom,” “Our Failing Reverence for Life, and “Guru Bawa and His Disciples: The Mind is in the Heart,” and there it was—what I was looking for: “The Frightening World of the TV Addict.”

George Gerbner then dean of the Annenberg School of Communication, at the University of Pennsylvania, and his colleague, Larry Gross, discovered that “heavy viewers,” who watch four or more hours of television daily, are more fearful, less trusting “of their fellow citizens” and see the world as a much meaner place than those who watch less TV. Dubbed, “the mean-world syndrome” their research broke new ground, demonstrating that adult perceptions and behaviors could be shaped by TV’s influence (Gerbner and Gross, 1976).

Heavy viewers have a hard time separating their world from the TV world. Sometimes that results in becoming a scary person, more aggressive or a more scared person, more fearful than one might have been without all that programming. Other times, TV can make seemingly sane people do bizarre things. If you ask those 250,000 adults who wrote and sent letters requesting medical advice from the fictional Dr. Marcus Welby why they would do such a thing, they may not be able to give you a reasonable answer. (You may be too young to remember the venerable man. Played by Robert Young of Father Knows Best fame; Dr. Welby embodied the heroic essence of “the good doctor.”)

Those youngsters who ran around lifting up sewer grates, looking for the Teenage Mutant Turtles, (Grossman and DeGaetano, 2014) have an excuse, after all, children’s brains aren’t fully developed and what is imagined in mind easily becomes real-life. But adults who actually take time to intentionally pen/type a letter to someone who doesn’t exist? (Back then the letters had to go through US mail and took more time and thought to construct and deliver than today’s three-line e-mail.) And yet…maybe these folks weren’t all crackers. Maybe they sincerely wished like mad that the good doctor would/could/if only exist?

Whatever the reasons adults can’t separate reality from fantasy, the fact that these things happen shows the power of the screen to influence. That was true in 1976 and it’s still true today, despite all the massive changes. 40 years ago, as the article points out, “Television, unlike theater or the movies, does not require leaving your home.” Today, of course, you carry all your favorite TV shows and movies with you, accessing them anyplace with Wi-Fi, which is just about anywhere.

40 years is a long time. 40 years can turn a toddler’s tantrum into a mid-life crisis. He’s gone from throwing red convertibles to buying one. 40 years mellows many turbulent teens into earnest moms—now arguing with their turbulent teens. A lot happens in 40 years. We aren’t the same people we were (unless of course, we are the Rolling Stones and we continue to live as if it still were 1976).

So while so much has changed in the technology world over the past 40 years, and we aren’t the same people we used to be 40 years ago, actually little has changed to prevent or eradicate screen addiction.

With the ease at which screens flitter through our lives and fill up our time, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that the average time spent with screens for today’s kids is 7.5 hours daily (Rideout, 2010). One out of eleven are addicted to video games—that’s at least three million kids whose lives revolve around video games (Grossman and DeGaetano, 2014).

The fours hours-a-day-1976 description of the “heavy viewer” now seems quaint by comparison, nostalgic even. And if we want to get technical—fours hours was the average time adults spent viewing. Children back then watched TV an average of 2-3 hours day.

Stephen King calls TV “the glass teat” and he has a point—these days media use begins in infancy.

On any given day in the US, 29% of babies under the age of 1 are watching TV and videos for an average of about 90 minutes. Twenty-three percent have a television in their bedroom (Linn, et. al., 2012). Time with screens increases rapidly in the early years. Between their first and second birthday, on any given day, 64% of babies and toddlers are watching TV and videos, averaging slightly over 2 hours. Thirty-six percent have a television in their bedroom (Linn, et. al. 2012). Many parents now offer their infants and toddlers their cell phones as a way to calm them; families dining out often are paying more attention to their digital devices instead of conversing with each other—as you probably observe everyday.

While we progress from toddler to mid-life; from being a teen to parenting a teen—in 40 years as a collective intelligence we haven’t figured out how to prevent screen addiction.

While the information necessary to make positive changes to prevent screen addiction exists, (tons of research; loads of best practices) it is not in the hands of enough parents. When children are on the “glass teat” more than they are doing things in real life, it demonstrates to me that the parents do not understand the negative consequences of too much screen time on developing brains. They don’t think that creating a habit of quieting youngsters with devices can result in a screen addiction a few years later. But once parents do understand the immense fragility of the young brain, they often need help to implement new parenting strategies in their day-to-day. (I will put in a shameless plug here: That is why I started parent coaching as an effective solution for helping parents align their parenting decisions with what’s best for optimal brain development. It works!)

I don’t want to be coaching parents ten or even five years from now because they lost their children in virtual reality. I hope in the future I don’t hear a mom or dad complaining, “Gloria, the holograms are taking over every nook and cranny of the house. What am I to do?”

I long for a high-tech world that we manage well and use for the highest and best purposes of humankind.

Who will create our a high-tech/deeply human world?

Your children will. Teach them to love the natural world, to be at home in the world of earth, sun, sky, breath and life. Teach them that the screen world is for new information to better the natural world; for entertainment—times to escape and have fun; for communication—to stay connected to those you care about and most of all, the screen world is for their creative expression—to design new forms that enhance the natural world and life and everyone’s life.

The screen world is never, ever, the only world.

Yes, teach them these things and your children will be care-full thinkers with the wisdom, will, and know-how to make sure in 2056 the real world on planet Earth is still livable, and most folks (your grown children included) choose it over the screen/virtual/holographic one.

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.

References

Gerbner, George and Gross, l. “The Scary World of TV’s Heavy Viewer.” Psychology Today, April 1976. Pp. 41-45.

Grossman, David and DeGaetano, G., Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A call against TV, movie, and video game violence. Random House. 2014.

King, Stephen. (2010) On Writing. Scribner, p. 148.

Linn, Susan, Ed.D, Almon, Joan, Levin, Diane, Ph.D. (2012) Facing the Screen Dilemma: Young children, technology and early childhood. The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood and the Alliance for Childhood.

Rideout, Victoria, Foehr, U., and Roberts, D. (2010) “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year Olds.” Kaiser Family Foundation.

 

 

Great Article, But Is It the Same Old Story (S.O.S.)?

Jane Brody’s July 6 New York Times article, “Screen Addiction is Taking a Toll on Children,” clearly lays out the negative consequences of overuse of electronic media. She gives accurate stats, quotes experts, and shares personal concerns about her own grandchildren to make important points.

As much as I admire the article, while reading it, I thought—with a frustrating sigh—Same. Old. Story. Similar clarion calls about screen dangers have been with us for a long time now.children reading newspaper

For instance, Brody repeats predictable on-going complaints:

“Teenagers who spend a lot of time playing violent video games or watching violent shows on television have been found to be more aggressive and more likely to fight with their peers and argue with their teachers, according to a study in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.” Please don’t herald this as new information.

Actually this critically important research has been with us since the 70s, but researchers keep researching it. I guess that’s what researchers do—they research and writers make the research known, as if the new research is new when in reality it is the S.O.S. Few readers realize that when writers make old news seem like new news it distracts us from key issues and even viable solutions.

Brody also states: “Schoolwork can suffer when media time infringes on reading and studying.” Yes, of course. Who wouldn’t understand this connection?

Brody also makes the important point, citing research, of course. “… the sedentary nature of most electronic involvement — along with televised ads for high-calorie fare — can foster the unhealthy weights already epidemic among the nation’s youth.” But wait, isn’t this obvious by now?

In an August 16, 1991 article, Boston Globe columnist, Ellen Goodman discussed the American Academy Pediatrics call “for a ban on television food ads…hard on the heels of a study showing that one Saturday morning of TV cartoons contained 202 junk-food ads. The kids see, want, and nag. That is, after all, the theory behind advertising to children, since few 6-year-olds have their own trust funds. The end result, said the pediatricians, is obesity and high cholesterol.”

Sounds too familiar, doesn’t it?

I would enjoy seeing mass media tackle such questions as: “Why is school work and health taking a back seat to screen entertainment and communication for most kids, when most parents, schools, and all of sane society promote and know the value of excellent health and a solid education? Now there’s something interesting, dare I say even new to most, for discussion and debate.

You’re probably too young to remember Maria Winn’s seminal work regarding TV addiction. First published in 1977 (and revised in 1985, 1987, and 2002). Television: The Plug-In Drug, (A quaint title through our Goggle glasses, don’t you think?) related story after story of families unable to stop watching TV, even after a year of being paid not to watch—they went back to watching even more TV after screen-free time.

So dear friends, please remember, especially come next April with hyped Screen-Free Week: Weeks, even months off screen crack don’t work, never worked, and never will work. But that’s another story for another time. Yet, it’s the Same. Old. Story, isn’t it?

Jane Brody’s follow-up July 13 New York Times article. “How to Cut Screen Time, Say ‘No’ to Yourself First” offers sound advice to parents—the people fully in charge of and responsible for children’s screen time. Suggestions such as not to be on the phone when picking up children from school or keeping dinner time phone-free, so parents and children can talk to one another are excellent suggestions. Put in perspective, though, they are the S.O.S.

Why do today’s parents need such common sense advice in the first place? Why are they seemingly abdicating their responsibility? No easy answers here.

Consider Goodman’s astute 1991 observation, a refreshing deviation from the S.O.S. “…it occurs to me now that the call for “’parental responsibility’” is increasing in direct proportion to the irresponsibility of the marketplace. Parents are expected to protect their children from an increasingly hostile environment.” She goes on to emphasize, “Americans once expected parents to raise their children in accordance with the dominant cultural messages. Today they are expected to raise their children in opposition to them.”

And as Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, then a research associate at the Institute for American Values, explained in this same article, ”Parents see themselves in a struggle for the hearts and minds of their own children. It isn’t that they can’t say no. It’s that there’s so much more to say no to.” Remember, she said this in 1991. In 2015, Brody admonishes parents to say “No” to themselves, adding yet another “no” on the toppling digital cake.

In 1994 Dr. Thomas Lickona’s seminal book, “Raising Good Children: from Birth Through the Teenage Years,” cited research that showed US parents talked with their elementary school aged children in actual conversations (Not counting parental questions as, “Did you do your homework?” Or commands like, “Pick up your room.”), ten minutes a week. Yes, you read that correctly. Parents and children were disconnected back then, too.

Today, with portable devices shadowing what used to be real life, with even more to say no to, we are beyond a crisis in parent-child communication. And with more to say no to, how do parents figure out what to say yes to?

I would like mass media to consider deeper questions such as: Why a small screen so easily replaces life so completely that well-intentioned, well-educated, loving parents can’t see what havoc it wreaks on their everyday life—not to mention their child’s cognitive, social and emotional well-being. And what if anything should be done about it? And if anything should be done about it, why do we think something should be done about it? What are the purposes of screens, anyway? How do they enhance our lives? What would life enhancement by screens look like? Feel like?

Of course,  mass media can’t tackle such questions. Complex ideas necessitate more to think about—let alone write about—than the typical S.O.S.

But we can and must think new, complex ideas and share them profusely—with our friends, associates, relatives, on our blogs, in our emails, and PTA Newsletters—unless we want to remain in the oscillating pattern of the S.O.S, which keeps us trapped, pointing out the ever-increasing problems, proclaiming parents need to do something about it, and then telling parents what to do about it—ad nauseum.

A major piece missing from the S.O.S. is the fact that parents are caught up in a tech tsunami and have little, and often no understanding of, how their digital habits are affecting their children. Even with the thousands of articles and hundreds of books.

Writing about the issues doesn’t mean that parents are learning about them.

And even when parents know the dangers of over-use of screens on their children’s psyche and development and really want to do something to change the situation, that doesn’t mean they can put the great ideas of the S.O.S. into practice in their daily lives.

Telling is not educating and information is not working knowledge.

To change the S.O.S. one of the first steps is to simply acknowledge that we are in a complex system with many influencing factors. (What Ellen Goodman was doing in 1991.) We need to get off our high horses thinking that telling parents what to do will solve our problems.

We all want to belong, even moms and dads. This is fully human, but easily side tracked in our society. Researching through Siri or finding the best app to monitor our calorie intake or texting a friend for a new recipe or during any of all the myriad of human uses for the machines, we show we are an integral part of the whole of an amazing technological world. We demonstrate we are caught up (in more ways than one); we know what we are doing in our high tech world. And yes, maybe we are even cool because we have the latest i-phone or now wear that watch.

Yet, in the midst of our screen use, most of us aren’t saying, “Wow, now I belong to a handful of men who own and operate the technological world. Isn’t it wonderful that they constrain my choices, decide the time I will spend in actual conversation with my children, and basically dictate my daily schedule?”

No, the S.O.S. won’t discuss that underlying reality. But I hope you will.

 

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2015. All rights reserved.

Swiping Isn’t Creating, But We Know That, Don’t We?

I am currently coaching a conscious single mom who diligently limits her two-year old’s access to her cell phone. Not. Easy. Yet, this mother truly understands that swiping doesn’t give her little one a chance to create. She knows her son needs to feel this beautiful world with all his senses, using the stuff of this beautiful (wood, straw, sand, clay, paint, etc.) world to manifest something—anything—into reality that springs forth from his creative mind. It’s this conceptual anchor that buoys her up when she is tempted—and she is tempted often, of course—to hand over the cell phone and just be done with it already.

But she doesn’t. She knows she won’t and can’t be done with it until her child is an adult. Until then she gets to make the decisions about what she will and won’t allow into his experiences. That’s her job, after all.

I love coaching parents like her who really want to do their best and are doing their best in the face of so many odds against getting it right for their children. I believe it is a moral imperative of our times to help parents figure this out—since the high tech industry isn’t. And won’t. So, I do. And I help other family support professionals do the same.

One way I found to be successful is to re-frame the situation as a creative opportunity for parents—now they get to dig deeply into their inner Creative Source to figure out how to entertain a a young child without using a smart phone. Using a smart phone to keep a baby occupied is a dumb idea writes Michael Miller in Washington Post article. I concur. And that’s why I affirm this mom (and all my clients): “You are a smart mom, smarter than any smart phone and you know that!” And she does. baby swiping

Swiping isn’t creating. Don’t be fooled by the bill of goods pushed on you. That it’s OK for babies and toddlers to use screens to learn. Hogwash. Their brains’ architecture isn’t constructed yet to take the full advantage of learning by screen. A baby or toddler who swipes will be more at risk for attention and self-regulation problems, aggressiveness, and anti-social behaviors. You can count on it. Since swiping robs the young child of precious time necessary to explore the natural world, the child can’t possibly grow up in tact as a human.

The magical child within in today’s society has no voice and is fast being replaced by the tiny technocrat which is absurd when you really think about it.

I have devoted a chapter on Creative Expressions in my book, Parenting Well in a Media Age, including it as one of the 5 essential needs that make us and keep us human. In our screen-machine age a lot of folks are getting mixed up about what constitutes creative expression and what doesn’t. Handing over a flat surface, screen-machine to any human creature under the age of 3 doesn’t constitute an opportunity for his/her creative expression within the definition of creative expression appropriate for that age and stage of development.

2D vs. 3D Reality or Screen Machines are Not the Natural World, But We Know That, Don’t We?

The cell phone or the i-pad or surface tablet, or whatever, is a two-dimensional flat surface. When swiping, the youngster’s attention is on a partial view not the whole view. Losing one entire dimension is a big thing at this age and stage of development. The way society remains neutral about this fact frustrates and angers me because with just a bit of accurate information and non-judgmental encouragement, well-meaning parents could do so much better by their youngsters. And eliminate  many future pitfalls as well.

If we think we have problems with autism, sensory integration problems, lack of self-regulation and the other plethora of  concerns emerging in recent times, just wait a few years and watch these skyrocket as young humans deprived of their most essential need—to explore their natural environment—become ever so reliant on screens for feelings of satisfaction and pseudo-fulfillment. And if we think our schools are failing our kids now, in five years (60 months) from now when these swiping babies enter kindergarten, you will see teachers and school districts scrambling to figure out how to put their fingers in the dike, when they are not using them to pull out their hair.

Is it too late?

The trouble began when six month old fingers started swiping instead of cuddling a soft toy, shaking a rattle, or holding a hand. The trouble got more complicated when those two-year old fingers swiped even more and missed opportunities for molding mud pies, digging in sand, even finger painting–on paper.

Let’s face it, after age five years of swiping those fingers will have completely forgotten their earlier marching orders. Swiping is what they will know best and what they do best. All the rest…well, why do it?

Before that time arrives, let’s hope that adults’ Creative Expression will soon kick in. If adults can quickly figure out productive ways to keep a baby and a toddler interested in the natural world more than the screen world and participating in the natural world more than the screen world, we have a fighting chance of giving our children an enriched human life—a life in which they know themselves as creators. A life in which they enjoy creating from their highest Self, for their highest purpose.

Without such a life they can’t possibly love and respect the natural world and their place in it. But we know that, don’t we?

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2015. All rights reserved.

Revelation: PCI Parent Coaching Effective

In 1999 I was purposefully trying to figure out how to do more of what I loved and have the work make deeper positive differences in the lives of families. I very much had enjoyed the past decade I spent as a media literacy educator. But I realized, after the tragic event of Columbine, that workshops, presentations, books, articles, or lists (12 things to do for…) can’t help enough moms and dads fast enough in significant ways.

It occurred to me that traditional information delivery systems like books and workshops lose much of their influence within a world of mass communication. Why is this so? As media and technology industries gain power, they also gain control to shape screen content, as well as how we initially come to know about that content. Information is only information if it informs you and if you have access to it. These two criteria get distorted as society shifts significant increasing attention toward a popular culture driven by a handful of industries that, that in turn, are driven by profit, not what’s best for children and families.

The information that the media and technology industries choose to make available to us, and to amplify by daily repetition, gets ingrained in us if we aren’t vigilant. But to be vigilant means we must first be accurately informed. And the reality is that accurate information about what’s best for human development is counter-productive to the profits of the industry generated culture.

Think of today’s 50% of parents who allow their six year-olds to play violent video games, or all the busy young moms you see giving their babies i-phones while they grocery shop, and then afterward, when the baby’s in his car seat as she puts the groceries in the trunk, and then during the drive home. No responsible expert would tell these parents: “This is accurate information that you have. Go ahead and allow your six year-old to rehearse murder, rape, and torture for hours a day.” Or can you imagine a pediatrician telling a new mom, “Sure, give your baby your i-phone whenever she wants it.” Neutrality on these issues means experts aren’t doing their jobs.

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you are aware of brain development and what best serves children’s and teens’ brains. You may have even seen Samsung’s latest TV commercial where the baby in the car seat is given a cell phone to play with, and it doesn’t influence you to do the same because you have conviction this isn’t the best thing to do for a baby’s brain.  Maybe you even told some young parents about the compelling brain science, along with the important reasons why cell phones should not become child’s toys. You may have even attempted to explain this information in conversation or by giving an article to read.

Did any of that information change the parent’s behavior or choices? Perhaps. But most likely not.

If the parent was already open to new information; if the parent wasn’t overstressed and could take the time to find and do alternative activities with their child apart from screen activities; if the parents had the knowledge and know-how to deal with the tantrums and anger the withdrawal from screens usually brings; if the parent had determination and stamina to deal with these over a period of time and nothing interfered in the parents’ life such as an unusual stress like job issues, or even the flu, which would prompt the parent to resort back to the easy short-term screen soothing experience for the child; if the parent had conviction that the new actions were best for baby despite what the parents’ peers were saying and doing (like letting their youngsters play violent video games and giving i-phones to their babies); if the parent could and would believe you and the brain science despite what the masses were saying and doing and despite what the parent was reading that there is “not enough research” to be definitive; and if the parent could spot and resist the propaganda promoted by the mass commercial culture.

That’s a lot of “ifs” and probably not all of them. Most likely we can’t know all of the “ifs” because the systemic factors vary so much from one parent to another.

My great a-ha back in 1999 was that books, workshops, etc. have limitations to influence enough parents in effective ways to stem the tide of media’s negative influences on the masses of our children. I still write books and give workshops, don’t get me wrong. These are still viable ways to help parents who are able to use the information and put it into action without any support or expert guidance.

But a lot of parents may have the information they need to make a positive change, but cannot put that information into effective actions in their homes. In today’s reality, unfortunately, there are usually too many stress-points for most parents to implement new behaviors with ease and for sustainable, long-term results.

How do parents choose on behalf of their child’s optimal development in the midst of dishes, diapers, work-family-life “balance,” bills and of course, media’s considerable impact on the kids? And how many of today’s parents, when they do get access to accurate information about what’s best for kids, they dismiss it because, well, everyone else is?

Back in 1999, I realized a more effective way had to be found. And I feel so very fortunate to have found it.

That way is PCI parent coaching. Let me explain. PCC_Seal_NoCreds

Fifteen years ago I was working with a business coach in my quest to be more effective. During the process, he asked me challenging questions. To come up with answers that aligned with my integrity, I had to get to the core of what was most important to me.

During the process it occurred to me: “Now, here is a business coach who is asking questions for the good of my business. Aren’t parents the CEOs of their families? Don’t they deserve a coach, too, to ask them questions on behalf of their families?”

Starting parent coaching in 2000 with the Parent Coaching Institute allowed me to still do what I love, and do it much more effectively. As you may know, I put together a specific coaching model geared intentionally to address the complex challenges parents face today. I started training those parent educators whom I knew and who were game to try something different. Those early adapters had to move out of a mindset of advice giving to a heart-space for inviting parent’s focused engagement in a positive change process. Instead of putting on their problem-solving hats, these courageous family support professionals had to be willing to ask parents the most profound of questions, “What do you wish to create for yourself, your children, your family?”

The PCI Coaching Model proved effective and is now being used in over 25 countries with much success. Parents are participating in life with their children. They are energized and making better decisions to support their children’s and teens’ optimal cognitive, emotional/social, and moral development. And, parents are successfully helping their kids—of all ages—use screen technologies with meaning and purpose.

When parents are in a relationship with a PCI Certified Parent Coach® they are guided back to what’s truly important to them. Consequently, they, and their children, flourish.

As one of our graduates in China tells interested parents:

 “Give PCI parent coaching 12 hours of your life, and it will transform your life.”

 

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2014. All rights reserved.

Counter Media Violence With What Matters Most

With the recent release of my book, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against TV, Movie, and Video Game Violence (Harmony/Random House), co-authored with Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, I renewed my commitment to speak out against the harmful effects of graphic, gratuitous media violence. This type of media violence keeps kids identifying with the perpetrator instead of empathizing with the victim. It’s especially prevalent in popular video games.

 “Cut off her head!” “Wow, look at all that blood gushing!”

 “Listen to those screams, they sound real.” “That’s nothing; it gets even better.”

 “Hey, in the new GTA you have to torture people to get to the next level.” “Cool, I can’t wait.”

 Kids thinking and talking like psychopaths. I am definitely against it. And I’ll bet you are, too.

 Yet, the reality is not a lot of people are speaking up. In fact, many look the other way.

And I can actually understand why even well-meaning parents aren’t putting up more of a fuss. Caught in the crossfire between big industry that pushes this stuff onto kids, and kids who whine, incessantly nag, and drive even the most stalwart parent crazy—it’s understandable how a parent can get to the point of thinking, “Since all the kids are playing these games, they can’t be that bad, can they?”

Sadly, though, making this choice usually reinforces parental ineffectiveness and often ends up putting kids at risk for increased aggressiveness as they turn more to their peer group for guidance.

If we had a stranger living in our homes teaching our kids how to fire headshots with precision, or if we encountered a teacher in the school training kids to communicate with others so they would want to harm themselves, we wouldn’t allow it. We would put a stop to it at once. But with violent video games, it’s a different story.

Perhaps that’s because the discrepancy between what we want for our kids and what would actually be happening to them would be so clearly evident in 3D that we couldn’t and wouldn’t ignore it. Or maybe the reason is most parents just don’t take the influential power of screen images seriously—despite the billions the advertising industry pours into intentionally constructing specific images that successfully compel the masses to buy. Or perhaps the reason is that despite compelling brain science most adults are still ignorant in understanding that the repetitive practice of emotionally charged behaviors does alter the mind and muscle memory, even though athletes develop their skills, and military and police are trained to kill, in similar ways.

Moms and dads who do want to take a stand find often give up in this sea of challenges. Asian woman and daughter watching TV

They want to address media violence pro-actively with their kids, but attempts to do so often ends in an argument. It’s a contentious, uncomfortable subject and exhausted parents find it takes too much effort to fight this battle. The kids want what they want.

I have found that the most effective parental strategy that saves parental sanity and also engages kids to make their own wise choices about media violence (which is what we want anyway, right?) is to figure out what matters most to us as parents and then make that perfectly clear to our kids. And go from there.

How do your kids perceive your stance on media violence, for instance? Children, imitate what they see in their daily lives. If they don’t see and hear parents condemning abject, graphic screen violence, they will not comprehend why it’s bad for them. They’re taking their cues from us, so its best to make it clear that hurting people in all its forms is unacceptable. Very young children need to hear statements like these: “If people truly cared about children they wouldn’t put that on for you to watch.” “You are not old enough to understand that show, so we’re not going to watch it. Let’s see what else is on that will teach you about you and your life.”

Older children and teens are hungry for parental guidance and input, even though they take pains to act otherwise. Still, it’s often hard to sit them down and discuss violent screen images without having them think we are cramping their style. But it can be done. Suggest watching movies at home together; compare older films with violence (Patton, Ben Hur, for example) to newer films and discuss the differences (there will be many!); chat about why popular violent video games are offensive and belittling to their audiences. And throughout, it’s important be very vocal about your thoughts and feelings about sensational, graphic media violence. What role does it play in entertainment for a civilized society?

As we share our perceptions with our kids, we are imparting our values–what’s most meaningful to us in helping them to be the people we want them to be. Consequently, they become more perceptive themselves, more capable of seeing through the lens of the values we have taught them.

And that parental lens will become an important filter for them as they grow into emotionally healthy, competent, and creative adults who know what matters most.

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano. 2014. All rights reserved.

The I-Potty: Left To Their Devices, What’s Left?

This recent post on my Facebook page about a new i-potty for toddlers prompts me to stop what I’m doing today and to reach out to you dear readers, asking you to take a moment to consider:

  • Once a technology gets imbedded in our society, there’s no turning back. We adopt and adapt. Can we do both mindfully?
  • Do we actually want little ones to grow spending more time with screen machines than with real life? (We can still agree what real life is, can’t we?)
  • How do we help moms and dads make wise decisions for their youngsters in the service of optimal child development? (Even though yes, they are busy, overwhelmed, stressed beyond measure. I love how scholar and digital literacy advocate, Douglas Rushkoff puts the absolute need to tame the devices in childhood: “…the physical world — a place kids must learn to navigate before they are equipped to venture into virtual ones.”

I and the PCI Coaches I train, so agree. When we support parents with understanding the negative impacts of overuse of any form of screen technology, they muster up the will to make the tough daily decisions. Why? Because they begin to understand what is lost for their children forever if they don’t.  

The iPotty is a child’s potty with a built-in iPad stand. Its makers say it can be used “for entertainment”, or to help children toilet train.

I’d like to share the title poem from my book, Left to Their Devices, What’s Left? that I wrote to capture some of that loss. After seeing this new i-pad potty, I am needing to be reminded to muster the energy and the will to work for age-approriate, wise use of digital devices. How about you?

Left to Their Devices

The gadgets seduce our young in a modern-day siren song, promising power, but delivering addiction.

Children imprisoned in a screen-world, can’t remember what they never experienced—God’s close world of warm breezes touching apple cheeks, soggy soil squeezed through pudgy fingers, the wonder of dandelion fluff blown sky-high by a single breath.

Distracted from essential earth, how will children know real human connections tested in trial and renewed in embrace?

Preoccupied by the trivial, do they hear their deep Selves starving for the authentic?

Attention distorted, spirits mangled, will crushed, still—we leave them to their devices.

Left to their devices, childhood becomes a barren terrain and adolescence a consumer carnival.

Left to their devices children see empty reflections in the mirror of a social network, desperately seeking themselves in others.

Left to their devices, we abandon children to predatory practices and call it capitalistic competition.

Left to their devices, we strangle parental power to insure our kids belong to the crowd.

Left to their devices, children miss what they want most and don’t even know it passed.

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2013. All rights reserved.

 

Information and Wisdom—Important Distinctions for Successful Digital-Age Parenting

We’re a stalled society—not where technology is concerned, of course. The devices continue to grow and improve. Technological society seems sound and doing well, headed for more Siri-type know-it-alls, VR, and embedded chips. But what about the people using the technology? How are we doing? Are we growing and improving as humans, alongside technology’s progress?

I hate to throw a damper on your day, but the age old questions since the early 50’s when TV entered the family living room still need answers: How do we control it? (Today “it’ means the Internet, along with TV, video games, and all our hand-held devices) How do we use it and not be used by it? How do we manage to attend to and enjoy 3-D reality without getting all wrapped up in 2-D “reality” and teach our children to do the same?

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Preserving a Primordial Sense of Wonder

Nestled in a Chinese watercolor painting, (at least it feels like that!) I look out to a panorama of the Quinling Mountain range, 23 kilometers south of Xi’an City. Twenty-four hours ago I thought that this session for Parent Coach Certification® Training was to be at a hotel in the city, so I had braced myself for polluted, smoggy skies, made tolerable by in-door air conditioning. But instead, my hosts took me on a narrow, zigzagging road up Cuihua Mountain to a Buddhist retreat center, a spartan edifice on the side of a hill. The PCI week long training was to be conducted here on “the mountain of the immortals”—a sacred place where energy and sanctity meet—a place you immediately want to penetrate your marrow. Here I take in brisk, clean air, blue sparkling skies, the view.

And what an amazing view it is! The tall spruce tree stands at the forefront, its green feathery branches attracting crow-like black and white birds—boisterous and ornery. In the background runs a fierce mountain stream, curving speedily around boulders, the intense roar, constant and comforting. I love this flamboyant stream. And further in the background, the mountain range rises magnificently enclosing all, in a circle of magic—sometimes mysteriously hidden by ribbons of fog—other times clear as a mirror—even at night, reflecting the lights of thousands of stars.

I am in awe. I want to remember this transcendent feeling during future days in more mundane settings. Like the waterfalls on the steep trail, I want to have an ever-renewing sense of wonder.

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Message to Corporations: You Don’t Own Our Children

Recently there was an interesting dialogue in the New York Times about whether moms and dads were practicing sound parenting when they stay involved with their children’s social media or were they really just “snooping?” Snooping implies covert action and hidden agendas—gutter-like behaviors loving parents avoid. Mainstream media usually serves this issue on a tidy plate as an either/or—(either you are snooping or you’re not). The issue is more complex and more nuanced. I like to think of four major categories of factors to consider.

1.     The age/stage of the child, the child’s maturity level, trust factors, the child’s media/literacy IQ, the child’s sense of self-identity.

2.     The fact that no matter how bright, trustworthy, and Internet savvy a child or teen may be, brains are not fully mature until age 22 or 23. To me that reads: Parents have a responsibility to be their child’s brain—at least until age 18. Parental decisions are the decisions kids are incapable of making. Protecting kids from their impulsivity and lack of discernment skills makes sense.

3.     Parents must communicate clearly. How do parents best do this while explaining the need to do this to a brain not yet fully mature? Can an immature brain understand that parental involvement is not snooping? Can an immature brain trust a loving, participating parent?

4.    The parental right to protect children from potential dangers is in itself endangered, eroding in our commodified culture—so much so that parents who want to stay involved in their child’s Internet use are seen as snooping.  

When I coach parents on this issue, we consider all these factors carefully through a thoughtful process that over 3-5 months results in positive outcomes with the parents back in the driver’s seat, setting appropriate boundaries and gaining their kids’ respect in the process. All PCI Certified Parent Coaches® work with parents in a similar way because I have formulated a principled parent coaching approach for addressing such contentious problems.   Continue reading