Summer Brain Gains - Helping Children Prevent the Summer Slide
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(Guest Blogger John Salama)
As digital learning has become a widely preferred alternative for school, children everywhere are now "required" to be on devices in the wake of the pandemic. This is quite a change from the screen time limits that parents have attempted to enforce for years. Now, allotting time for school online, connecting with distant relatives via video chats, and participating in physical activities virtually are all a part of our everyday lives. Therefore, our new reality is challenging parent’s view of how much screen time is too much. Parents everywhere must shift their rules regarding their children's use of technology and implement a balanced online lifestyle with other offline activities.
Technology has become a part of our daily lives in many positive ways. And while we have quicker and easier access to things and people, it has also caused many to live in a continual state of hyperstimulation. For children, this constant dopamine fix is the reason so many become “addicted” to devices. This can lead to negative behaviors and bad habits that will be more difficult to break. After hours of digital time, children become tired and irritable and often have meltdowns when told their time is up. And while the toxicity from technology overuse can be harmful, it’s not going anywhere.
Especially now that many children are attending school online, it's essential that parents alter their viewpoint and set clear boundaries for tech time that correlate with our current situation. It is equally important for children to have scheduled breaks though. Research has shown that we blink less when we are on devices, which leads to eye pain and headaches, so breaks are essential. In addition, encouraging good learning habits during school hours will help children get work done more efficiently so they have time for other activities. These non-tech activities can then counteract the overstimulation and anxiety that devices can cause. Habit 7, “Sharpen the Saw – Balance Feels Best" in the book, "The 7 Habits of Happy Kids" by Sean Covey, is a great way to find balance. Even though we can now learn, connect with family, and exercise online, too much of anything can still be bad.
The SKILLZ program that we use for our kids martial arts classes was developed after years of research in science and psychology. The progressive child development technique that SKILLZ implements encourages development and balance. While essential skills in physical, intellectual, emotional, and social development are nurtured in each class, methods used by instructors also foster the production of positive brain chemicals that help to counteract stress and anxiety. The stability that comes from a creative balance helps benefit children's development.
As screen time has increased because school is online for many children now, parents must adjust their stance on screen time limits while also continuing to promote device-free time and activities. Creating opportunities and encouraging activities for children to develop physically, intellectually, emotionally, and socially without using technology is essential, especially now. And while it will take more creativity and patience on the part of the parents to instill the importance of balance, the result will be better feeling children with more positive habits.
Most often, when we think of implementing structure into our children’s lives, it is because we have a newborn that needs a feeding schedule, a toddler that needs a nap schedule, or a child that needs an activity schedule. When children become teens, they are often left to implement their schedules. And yes, they are on the verge of asserting their independence so learning to manage their schedule is an important challenge that we actually want them to face. However, not implementing any structure for them can be counterproductive and leave them “real world unready.”
Adolescence is a period of massive changes in all areas of development. During this time, puberty triggers the neural systems, and the hypothalamus sends signals to the body to produce certain hormones. This, along with an underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex, makes way for intense emotions and impulsive behaviors. Not to mention how wacky sleep patterns become, all contributing to testing limits and parental frustration. However, leaving teens to their own devices will most likely lead to more impulsive decisions and, ultimately, trouble. Parents must remember that teens don’t have the cognitive control to resist temptations, and it’s better to steer them towards healthy, positive risks than to do nothing at all.
Believe it or not, teens need and want structure. Since they are already dealing with multiple changes in their bodies and minds, having boundaries in place gives them a sense of security. Clear limits and structure can keep riskier behaviors at bay, especially when parents take the time to discuss these things ahead of time with their teens. And although we may experience some pushback, the life lessons of time management, self-control, and responsibility will ultimately win out. And to top it off, when everyone is on board, confusion and frustration are reduced, making relationships stronger while trust is cultivated. So as teens have rules imposed on them, it is important to explain the “why” of the rule or boundary. As teens learn more about the reasons for the limits parents place on them, they begin to learn to set boundaries for themselves, thereby increasing their self-control.
To help parents feel confident putting structure and boundaries in place, our Extreme SKILLZ class for teens, incorporates methods that are used in and out of the classroom. In-classroom tactics give boundaries while also allowing some freedom of choices. Out of class, we support parents with guidance through resources such as these blogs. Our At-Home Practice Workbooks help parents keep their teens accountable to regular practice of their skills. Our goal is to assist parents in being attuned to their teen’s ever-changing mood, connecting with them on a more mature level, prompting them to make better decisions, and consistently implementing structure and boundaries, while remaining patient through the process.
As teens travel the pathway to becoming responsible young adults, parents can rest assure that routines and boundaries are powerful, positive influences. And while teens may resist some, they ultimately understand that their route to more freedom comes from the development of trust, responsibility , and accountability. When parents enforce structure on their teens, they eventually learn to manage a 24-hour day independently, which leads to lifelong habits of success.