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About the Author
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The Importance of a Well-Balanced Family in Today's World
I BEGAN THINKING ABOUT the need for families to work on achieving a balance in daily activities after reading the latest guidelines on the use of media by children, which was published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in November 2016. Previously, the recommendations focused on the amount of screen time that is appropriate for each developmental stage, as well as the age-appropriate selection of content. These guidelines continue for children under the age of six. For older children and adolescents, the AAP took a broader approach — looking at the need for balance in how they spend their time each day. The guidelines stressed the need for kids and teens to spend an adequate amount of time daily on the following:
Engaging in play activities that don't involve electronics
Spending time with other members of the family
The AAP even developed the Family Media Plan, a useful tool available at www.healthychildren.org. This resource helps families schedule and create goals around the amount of time that each member of the family spends watching TV, using a computer, tablet, smartphone, or playing videogames.
Seeing the word 'family' in the title instead of 'children' reinforced for me the concept of how important the family is in the life of a child. During my years as a child psychologist, one fact that became clear to me is that you can't treat the child without also working with the family unit.
For example, a recent study of children's screen time found that a parent's screen time use had a significant impact on their child's use. Further analysis indicates that a child's screen time appears to be the result of the interaction between a child and their parent, which is further influenced by parental attitudes. Studies on other habits, such as diet and exercise, have also found that parental actions are a significant influence on the behavior of children and adolescents. Thus, a well-balanced approach to these habits and more should benefit every member of thefamily.
The emphasis on increasing other activities to reduce screen time is consistent with what we know about changing behavior — the best way to eliminate an undesirable behavior is to replace it with a more desirable one. Consistently practicing the new behavior builds habit strength while the old behavior weakens. Gradually, the new habit takes over, which is reinforced by the positive outcome it produces.
All members of a family benefit when the dynamic is one of sharing life and providing support for each other. Children and teens need parents that give love unconditionally, along with guidance and encouragement. This not only helps kids to grow and develop, but it promotes a family life full of mutual love and respect. Such an environment can result in additional benefits, including reduced stress and a healthier lifestyle. Given the recent increase in anxiety and depression among children and teens, a well-balanced family would serve as a preventative measure. This lifestyle promotes a positive self-concept to achieve success and the necessary resiliency to handle difficult situations when they occur.
I've been in practice as a psychologist since 1980 and primarily worked with children, teens and their families. During this time, I've observed three major developments that have had an impact on families:
1. Increased workload and hours for workers in the United States.
2. Increased emphasis on academics in education, from preschool to high school.
3. Increased use of electronic devices and digital media.
Today, quite a few adults are working more than one job to make ends meet, while others are working longer hours. Some employees today work almost 24/7, as they are tethered to their workplace by their cell phones and other electronic devices. While at home, in the car, or out and about, employees receive a constant flow of emails, phone calls, and texts, and are expected to drop everything and respond. The lack of sufficient sick days, vacation, and family leave also impact the amount and the quality of time they can spend with their families. This also cuts into their time for relaxation, recreation, sleep, and exercise.
The number of applicants to college has increased. This has caused the acceptance rate — especially for the top universities — to decrease significantly. Many parents feel that their child needs to get a degree from a top university to be successful this has resulted in parents keeping kids busy in tutoring, music lessons, volunteer activities, prepping for entrance exams, being involved in sports and other competitions. Because of recent federal legislation, the push by schools to get top rankings in math and reading scores has resulted in less free-play time in preschool and less recess and exercise time in elementary and high school. A "hurried" or "over-scheduled" lifestyle leaves little time for family activities reducing the time spent in the valuable experience of play for younger kids and less time for exercise and relaxation for older kids.
Finally, the rapid development of digital technology and social media has cut into time for family, exercise, and relaxation for children and adults alike. Electronic devices intrude on quality family time and communication between family members. It's not uncommon for kids and adults to engage in media multitasking, such as watching TV while texting. I also see more families out for dinner with the parents busy on their cell phones while the children are playing on their tablets — nobody is talking. Studies show there is less interaction in the home as well, despite research indicating that younger children don't learn as much from the use of educational apps as they do through communication with parents.
Research also reveals that excessive screen time is a significant factor in the rate of obesity in children and teens, interferes with sleep, and increases the likelihood of using alcohol and tobacco. Teens are more likely to engage in adverse activities such as cyberbullying, sexting, or becoming victims of online predators.
The Key Elements for Building a Well-Balanced Family
My goal in writing this book is to provide you with ideas and tools that will help you to build a family lifestyle that promotes the well-being of all members. Hopefully this leads to great times together that will instill a lifetime of fond memories and long, enduring family ties. Based on research and both my professional and personal experiences, I suggest that the key elements for a well-balanced family are:
Connectedness creates a sense of belonging and feeling safe and secure. The basics include engaging in fun and meaningful activities, creating moments of close personal one-on-one time, developing family traditions, and providing personal space when needed. Reading with your children is also another way to stay connected as well as improve academic skills and open communication.
Open Communication results in each family member feeling loved and respected. It also makes it easier to handle conflicts when they arise. The basics include listening, empathy, supportive communication, and collaborative problem-solving.
Healthy Living is achievable in a well-balanced family by taking the following steps: developing a family agreement on screen time and phone time, committing to family mealtime, and working together as a team to promote personal fitness and a healthy lifestyle. This includes getting plenty of sleep and eating nutritiously and responsibly.
Organization happens when a family works together to develop a plan to achieve these goals. For it to be effective, all members of the family need to provide input, and the plan should be developed collaboratively with the acknowledgment that the adults have the final say. The process includes:
Preparing a family mission statement
Scheduling family meetings
Establishing family routines
Holding open but age-appropriate discussion of family finances
Creating a plan to address homework and school issues
Throughout this book, I'll present a general approach on how to adapt the concepts for your family, as well as provide "how-to" lists of ideas and tools you can use. In a resources section at the end of the book, I'll also share online resources for more information, as well as a list of recommended books for further reading.
Based on current research, implementing the concepts and strategies will not only improve family life, but your efforts will also improve the health and wellness of all members of your family. Decreasing screen time and substituting with some of the recommended activities (including creative playtime and reading) will promote the development of language, problem-solving skills, and cognitive functioning. Using the approaches presented for improving communication and interpersonal relationships improves social skills, self-confidence, the ability to empathize and emotional regulation. Finally, engaging in family activities at home and the community develops character and social responsibility.
Covered in the book are the key elements outlined above in order of importance from a sense of psychological and physical wellbeing. My suggestion for the reader is to read or at least skim through the entire book. The starting point for implementation, however, should begin with Chapter 16 regarding establishing regular family meetings. At first family meeting or two, each family can decide their overall goals as well as individual goals. You can then move to develop a family agreement related to screen time as well as start a family activity schedule to promote spending more time together having fun and becoming more active.CHAPTER 2
The Time Has Come to Strike a Balance in Our Use of Digital Devices
DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY HAS PRODUCED many new avenues for us to be entertained and informed as well as stay in touch with others. It wasn't long ago that screen time was limited to TV and movies. Communication was either in person, by telephone or by writing and mailing letters. Digital technology has also provided tools to increase our productivity at work and school, as well as made it more accessible and often less costly to acquire goods and services.
There's no doubt that our smart televisions, cell phones, tablets, computers, and game boxes have enriched our lives in many ways. However, research along with personal observation has led many of us to realize that as with any other activity, the use of these incredible tools can become "too much of a good thing." For the last few years, professionals in healthcare, education, and the social sciences have stressed the need to find a balance.
Today, more than 95% of US households own a mobile device. The use of mobile devices by children under the age of eight is almost ten times higher than it was in 2011. The latest Common Sense Media survey found that children under two years of age spend about 42 minutes per day using digital media, children two to four spend 2 hours and 39 minutes per day, and children five to eight spend 2 hours and 56 minutes using these devices. The survey also noted that since their previous study in 2013, the use of mobile devices by kids from zero to eight tripled, while the overall use of all types of media was about the same (2017, Common Sense Media, commonsensemedia.org).
In a nationwide study, the Kaiser Foundation found that children ages eight to eighteen spend an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes a day using various digital media devices, including 4.5 hours watching TV/videos, 1.5 hours on the computer, and over 1-hour playing video games. The study also found that this age group spends only 25 minutes per day reading (2010, Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8 to 18-Year-Olds, kff.org). Adults spend over 12 hours per day watching major media, with about 5 hours of that time using digital devices (eMarketer.com 2015).
Social media use has also increased. According to Social Media Today, the average person will spend two hours per day on social media (YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter) and up to 45 minutes per day messaging. They report that teens spend up to 9 hours per day on social media (data for years 2012-2015 published in 2017 by socialmediatoday.com).
Some Good Reasons to Limit Digital Media Use
Health Problems In a growing body of research, there is a correlation between obesity and excessive screen time for both children and adults. This is caused primarily by a decrease in physical activity due to sedentary behavior. Another cause is the influence of commercials promoting snacks, soft drinks, fast food, and sweetened cereals to name a few, which result in unhealthy dietary habits. Some also indicate that the consumption of snacks and soft drinks relates to watching TV. The research not only suggests that these behaviors increase the rate of obesity, but also increase type two diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Research studies have shown that decreasing TV time reduces both weight gain and a lower body mass index (BMI). Reducing video game use and replacing it with outdoor game time will not only help reduce the likelihood of weight gain. It will also prevent below normal serum levels of Vitamin D, which is now seen more frequently in children and adolescents.
As an example of the trend to more time spent with video games and less time playing outdoor games, I've noticed a change in the choice of topics on the Essay Competency section of the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (WIAT). The task asks the child or adolescent to write an essay about their favorite game. For years, I would see written pieces on physical sports or sometimes a board game or card game. Now kids usually ask, "Is it okay to write about my favorite video game?"
Sleep Deprivation has also been linked to screen time. All electronic devices, including TV, cell phones and tablets emit blue light from the screen — which the brain interprets as sunlight and issues a signal to wake up. Many health professional organizations recommend that screen use of any type should cease at least 30 minutes before bedtime.
Research also indicates that children and teens who have electronic devices in their bedrooms get less sleep than those who don't. I've heard many times about kids getting back on their devices after bedtime and spending hours engaged with their iPads or iPhones. Sleep deprivation is another cause of obesity. Furthermore, it results in impairments in attention and concentration, problem-solving skills and emotional regulation (can we say crankiness). Adults are affected in similar ways. They often get out the last emails or texts before they go to bed and sleep next to a cellphone that remains turned on throughout the night.
Vision Problems are now sometimes correlated with excessive screen use. Both eye strain and eye pain are attributable to long periods of staring at the screen. According to Web MD, excessive screen time can result in "Computer Vision Syndrome," with symptoms including dry or red eyes, blurred or double vision, and headaches. Vision professionals frequently mention the 20-20-20 rule as one way to help prevent this. It calls for looking away from the screen every 20 minutes or so and looking at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Of course, cutting back on screen time and engaging in other activities such as exercise, working on a hobby, listening to music, or reading is also helpful. While extended time reading books can cause eye strain, it's less harmful because of the lack of glare and flicker from screen use. One of my favorite ways to read is by listening to a book while taking a walk.
Aches and Pains have been associated with the use of digital devices as well. I've actually experienced thumb pain from spending too much time scrolling on my cell phone. Neck and wrist pain can also occur due to holding them in awkward positions for extended periods of time. Associated with more severe conditions and the excessive use of various electronic devices are migraines, back pain, repetitive motion syndrome, and even arthritis.
Social Skills Development can be delayed due to children spending less time in face-to-face interactions with children and adults. When I ask some kids or teens how many friends they have, they may say, "I have at least ten friends I spend lots of time with almost every day." When I ask who they are, where they hang out, and what they do for fun, it's not uncommon for these kids to say, "Oh, we play video games together online, or we spend hours texting or chatting on our cell phones." In an experimental study on the effect of screen time and social skills, researchers at UCLA found that children who went for just five days without any screen time were better at reading human emotions than other children (October 2014, Computers in Human Behavior). Social isolation is becoming more frequent among children and teens. Lack of spending time engaging with others can lead to inadequate or inappropriate social skills, resulting in rejection and/or teasing by peers.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Well-Balanced Family"
Copyright © 2019 Robert F Myers, PhD.
Excerpted by permission of BookBaby.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1 The Importance of a Well-Balanced Family in Today's World,
CHAPTER 2 The Time Has Come to Strike a Balance in Our Use of Digital Devices,
CHAPTER 3 The Myth of the Typical American Family,
SECTION 1 – Connectedness,
CHAPTER 4 Connectedness is a Top-Down Process,
CHAPTER 5 The Importance of Play in the Lives of Children & Families,
CHAPTER 6 Family Traditions and Family Activities,
CHAPTER 7 Connecting with Your Kids,
CHAPTER 8 Personal Space,
CHAPTER 9 Family Reading Time,
SECTION 2 – Open Communication,
CHAPTER 10 Supportive Communication,
CHAPTER 11 Motivation and Encouragement,
CHAPTER 12 Handling Conflicts,
SECTION 3 – Healthy Living,
CHAPTER 13 Family Fitness,
CHAPTER 14 Family Mealtime,
CHAPTER 15 The Importance of a Good Night's Sleep,
SECTION 4 – Organization,
CHAPTER 16 Family Meetings,
CHAPTER 17 Managing Screen Time and Cyber Safety Measures,
CHAPTER 18 Getting Your Family Organized & Working Together,
CHAPTER 19 Homework / School Issues,