Distracted Parenting

If you have been to the playground, you know “that kid.” He is the one running around wild and crazy while his parent is on the cell phone or talking to the mommy group completely oblivious. Or, perhaps at times, you have been “that parent.”

I know there have been times that I get lost in conversation with a friend, only to find out that my son decided stick fighting with a baby would be a good idea. Even at home, I hear shouts of “play with me” or “look at me, Mommy.”

Unintentional childhood injuries are up 10% from 2007 to 2012 according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Most likely, this increase is due to the increased disengagement of parents due to cell phone usage.

However, distracted parenting has been around long before the days of media. We can get engrossed in even seemingly good things, such as reading books, crocheting a blanket, talking to a friend, filling out paperwork at the doctor’s office, or playing with another child.

It is important to note that we cannot always give our children our full attention. But, we do need to be intentional with our time with our kids. Here are a few strategies to employ with your use of media.

Be a Role Model

Kids learn from us. Model the media behavior that you would like to see in your child. Choose high-quality content and set limits on your use of media. By having these boundaries in place, you will be more engaged with your child and both of you will have less “screen time.”

Use Media Together

Engage in media usage with your kids. Pick out a good family film and discuss the central themes and characters afterwards. Play a game with your child and discuss the strategy behind it. Check out the “Families can talk about…” section on Common Sense Media for conversation ideas.

Put Down the Phone

Play with your kids without a screen! Go outside and kick or throw a ball around. Throw on some music and have a dance party. Pull out a board game. Read a book to your child. The most important thing you can do for your kids is to spend some quality time with them every day.

Let Them Talk and LISTEN

Give each of your children a few special minutes each day to talk one-on-one with you. This can be over breakfast, before bedtime, or any other moment during the day. I like to lay with the Champ on the floor and talk about his day while looking up at the ceiling. Most of the time, our talks are about “nothing much,” but they are important to his self-confidence.

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Apps For Young Children

Choosing high quality entertainment media is difficult. Just because something is called educational does not mean that it is high-quality. Look for apps and games that are not passive in nature. You can make the experience more meaningful by playing with your child and engaging them in conversation before, during, and after. I love Common Sense Media reviews. Check out the “Families can talk about…” sections that give suggestions to make the most of media time.

Here are a few places to start when looking for good apps for your younger children.

Bible for Kids

Bible for Kids is a fun and interactive storybook Bible for children. The app allows you to download over 40 Bible stories for free. The app reads the story out loud to your child and then allows them to interact with illustrations, search for hidden objects, and answer questions about the story. Available on iTunesAmazon, and Google Play Store.

Starfall.com

Starfall.com is a free site dedicated to young students that are both learning how to use the computer and learning to read. The site has poor graphics; however, it is very interactive. Starfall also offers a free app called Starfall ABCs. Available on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play Store.

My PlayHome

My PlayHome is an interactive roleplaying game that allows your child to create a dollhouse family and interact with them. As your child plays the game, talk to him as he explores the dollhouse. Make connections between situations in the game and real world scenarios. Available on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play Store.

This is My Story
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This is My Story allows children to use simple sight words to fill in the blanks and create basic stories such as “The cat played with the kite.” The app then reads finished stories out loud. After you get the hang of playing the app, teach your child to make up their own silly stories in real life! Available on iTunes.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar & Friends- First Words
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We love Eric Carle at our house and The Very Hungry Caterpillar & Friends-First Words contains many of his illustrations. The app introduces common words in five different languages. Available on iTunes.

Dr. Panda’s Toy Cars

Dr. Panda’s Toy Cars is set up like a car play mat. Kids can play different cars and act out different community helper roles as they play in the town. Play the game with your child and talk to him about different vehicles and jobs in your community. Available on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play Store.

Drive About: Number Neighborhood
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Drive About: Number Neighborhood is a set of nine games that feature math skills for preschool students. After playing the game, talk to your children about numbers and shapes in the real world. Available on iTunes.

Screen Time and the Young Child

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, kids take in an average of SEVEN hours of media time a day!

At the same time, the AAP advises that children and teens should only engage in one to two hours of “high-quality content” entertainment media per day. Furthermore, children under two should not engage in television or other forms of entertainment media at all because of their rapidly developing brain.

These guidelines come from scientific research, showing that “excessive media use can lead to attention problems, school difficulties, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity. In addition, the Internet and cell phones can provide platforms for illicit and risky behaviors.”

We are living in a world where young children are getting their own smartphones, restaurants are placing gaming devices on tables, and daycare centers and schools use television as a part of routine instructional time. Avoiding entertainment media is impossible, and also not recommended. Instead, parents should establish clear boundaries on screen time for their children.

Setting time limits on media usage is a great place to start; however, quality is just as critical as quantity when it comes to screen time.  So, what is “high-quality?” A “high-quality” form of entertainment media emulates real-world social interactions, introduces educational concepts, and/or requires active participation on the part of the viewer.

Beware of some so-called educational games that are not considered “high-quality” because they are passive in nature and do not involve any engagement on your child’s part.  Some “non-educational” games, such as role playing games, encourage creativity and may be preferable to mindless entertainment such as Candy Crush. Facetime with Grandma can be considered quality media time because it emulates a real world social interaction.

This is not to say that the occasional mind numbing game should not be allowed. Just as you should try to get your child to choose healthier food options, you should try to get your child to choose higher quality entertainment when possible.

When it comes to choosing appropriate media, I ADORE Common Sense Media reviews. Their movie reviews analyze content based on positive messages, positive role models, violence, sex, language, consumerism, and drinking, drugs & smoking. They review app content based on ease of play, violence & scariness, sexy stuff, language, consumerism, and drinking, drugs, & smoking. Each category is rated on a scale of 1 to 5 and includes an in depth analysis of each category. There is even a section called “Families can talk about…” for each review that allows parents to make the most of media time.

When engaging in media with your child, make sure to have a dialogue with them about the media. Talk about central themes, characters, and scenarios from movies and television shows. Discuss strategies and educational content from apps and games. By taking an active part in your child’s media usage, you are extending the educational value of their screen time.