Tag Archives: brain development

API Reads August 2014: Attached at the Heart/Parenting from the Inside Out

download (1)We will be ending our discussion of Attached at the Heart (2nd edition) by Barbara Nicholson and Lysa Parker. The  topics we’ll be discussing in August will be :

  • Principle 8: Strive for Balance in Your Personal and Family Life – Peace Within Creates Peace at Home

  • Chapter 10: Nurturing Children for a Compassionate World

  • Wrapping it all up


We will also begin our discussion of Parenting from the Inside Out by Daniel J. Siegel, MD, and Mary Hartzell, MEd once Attached at the Heart is finished. Starting on August 17, we’ll be discussing the Introduction and Chapters 1 and 2.

 We have a new and exciting launch to API Reads that will begin in September! We will be launching the option of reading a book focused on the younger child set (birth to preschool) and one focused on the older child set (school-age and above) to be read simultaneously. This will allow you to focus on the book that seems of the most interest to you at the time. We are truly excited about this new offering and hope you will be too. Come check out GoodReads to see what books are in the queue so far!

Our discussions happen on GoodReads, so don’t hesitate to join in the conversation. We read a chapter a week. Sometimes you can’t get through the chapter but you’ll find you’ll still be able to participate in the conversation. So come join the other 400+ members who are already part of the conversation!

Screen-Free Week: An Interview with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood

By Rita Brhel, managing editor of Attached Family magazine, API’s Publications Coordinator and an API Leader (Hastings API, Nebraska, USA)

for-white-TEE-e1390923415217Television, computers and other technology can offer a lot in terms of education and entertainment. Living in a temperate region with bitter winters and sweltering summers, there are seasons when my outdoors-loving family prefers time inside, and I have found creative ways to turn screen time into interactive family time as needed.

However, I also have to admit that it can be tempting, especially in the seemingly endless winter months, to overdo the screen time. Screen-Free Week—being observed this year from May 5-11—serves as an annual reminder to balance screen time with time away from technology.

Attachment Parenting International (API) promotes a balance of screen time within the family as one of the many ways to prioritize the parent-child relationship. Each year, API’s online magazine, blog, social media sites and other online resources go quiet in support of Screen-Free Week. We’re excited to be able to bring you this interview with Sara Adelmann, MA, with the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, home of Screen-Free Week, to further inspire your family to take part in this international event.

RITA: Thank you, Sara, for your time. I understand that this is a very busy time of the year for you as Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) gets ready for Screen-Free Week. API embraces Screen-Free Week as an opportunity to educate and support parents in reducing screen time in their homes. Let’s start by learning more about CCFC and Screen-Free Week.

SARA: CCFC is the proud home to Screen-Free Week. We set the dates each year, provide resources and help spread the word. But it’s the thousands of individuals all over the world who organize local events. Anyone can organize Screen-Free Week in a classroom or entire school, with a scout troop, faith community, neighborhood association, at a local library or in any community group. Organizers and volunteers promote the week, reach out to partners, and help children and families discover fun, screen-free activities.

Screen-Free Week celebrations vary from family to family, school to school and town to town. Every year, we hear from organizers and participants around the globe about all of the fun screen-free activities they’ve discovered. Visit www.screenfree.org to find out how you can get involved—for the children in your life, for yourself and for a more positive, healthier future.

RITA: Screen-Free Week is an innovative project and so needed in our tech-heavy culture. What originally inspired CCFC to organize Screen-Free Week?

SARA: Reducing children’s screen time and advocating for screen-free, commercial-free time and space has always been essential to CCFC’s mission. That’s why when the Center for Screen-Time Awareness closed its doors [in 2010] and asked us to become the new official home of what used to be called “TV-Turnoff” [since 1994], we leaped at the chance.

Children are spending way too much time with screens—a staggering 32 hours per week for preschoolers and even more for older kids. And now, with mobile devices, children are immersed in screens, and the things they sell, nearly every waking moment. Regardless of content, excessive screen time changes children’s fundamental connection to the world. It deprives them of hands-on creative play—the foundation of learning, creativity, constructive problem solving and the capacity to wrestle with life to make it meaningful. And the costs are extraordinary: poor school performance, childhood obesity and problems with attention are just a few.

Turning off screens for seven days helps participants realize that life without screens is not impossible and is actually fun. A week-long turnoff allows sufficient time to explore a wide range of screen-free activities and develop more productive and healthy habits. Giving children the chance to play actively, develop relationships and learn to evaluate options will help them become more well-rounded people, better educated citizens and more alert consumers.

RITA: API loves how Screen-Free Week promotes families spending time together beyond technology, but we recognize that in many families, at least some screen time is the norm. How much screen time is too much?

SARA: Research links excessive screen time with many of the health and social problems facing children today, including learning, attention and social problems, childhood obesity and sleep disturbances. In addition, the more time our youngest children spend with screens, the less time they spend interacting with caring adults and in hands-on, creative play—two activities proven to be important for learning. It also exposes kids to lots of harmful advertising and can be habit forming.

It’s vital that parents monitor the amount of time their children spend with screen media. With so many different devices available these days, parents might not realize how much time their children are spending with screens—minutes can easily turn into hours. Setting rules early on about when, where, what and how much is important.

Strengthening Secure Attachment Through Food

By Kelly Bartlett, author of Encouraging Words For Kids, certified positive discipline educator and Attachment Parenting International Leader (API of Portland, Oregon, USA), www.kellybartlett.net. Originally published in the “Feeding Our Children” 2009 issue of Attached Family.

Photo credit: Piku
Photo credit: Piku

“Beep! Beep! Beep! Oh, bread’s ready!”

This was my 24-month-old son “cooking” as he took his bath. With only one tiny ceramic cup in the tub with him, he found a way to entertain himself, and I was listening to his running commentary.

“OK, got some water. Now add the flour. Stir. Got some yeast. Sprinkle it. Mix it, mix it, mix it ’til it’s yummy.”

He was adding “ingredients” and stirring the contents of his cup. He turned and placed his cup of “dough” under a washcloth on the side of the tub; this was the oven. After a few seconds, his “timer” beeped and the bread was ready. He took it out of the oven and presented me with his freshly made bread saying, “Hot, Mama, hot! You need to cool it, so don’t eat it yet!”

This is not the first time that either of my kids have “baked” with water, sand, dirt, leaves or other yard debris, but it was the first time that I took pause for a moment and marveled at my barely-2- year-old’s understanding of food. It wasn’t so much that he knew the ingredients or the process of making bread, but really I was proud that moments like these exemplify my kids’ understanding that food doesn’t come from a box or plastic bag. It comes from elements of nature. It comes from someone’s time and effort. It comes from worthy ingredients combined with love.

A Natural Progression from Breastfeeding

Oh, the love that goes into my cooking and baking! Years ago, when we were introducing our 6-month-old daughter to solid foods, I considered the breastmilk she had been receiving full time up until then. It was nutritious, natural, had no preservatives and contained no artificial ingredients or colors. It was everything she needed, nothing she didn’t, and was always prepared and served with the utmost love. I wanted her “fine dining” experience to continue and began to consider more carefully the foods that we introduced.

When I glanced down at the ingredients on my tiny container of yogurt and read high fructose corn syrup, carrageenan, red dye #40, and 30-plus grams of sugar, I wondered if something like that was the best choice of foods to allow her to ingest. No, I decided, we can do better than this. Thus began our journey of whole-foods eating, which has given us so much more than a healthier diet.

I say “us,” because I figured that if there were healthier options to feed our baby girl, why shouldn’t I incorporate them into my husband’s and my diet, as well? I knew that a lot of positive parenting comes from leading by example, and this would include eating habits, too. Moreover, just like Attachment Parenting, the most nourishing cooking happens when it’s created from scratch—nobody else’s prefabricated recipe, no superficial packaging, just the basic ingredients required to meet everyone’s needs.

Whole Foods Now a Lifestyle

Many years after adopting a clean and simple approach to eating, our lives are subtly but greatly enriched through the foods we choose to eat. It’s the effort in getting those foods and the experiences we share in doing so that adds an aspect of closeness to our lives. Because we cook from scratch, our goal is: If we want to eat it, we have to make it. This includes fun challenges such as marshmallows, butterscotch pudding, and chips and salsa.

Our adventures in obtaining ingredients include going to farmers’ markets, heading to the flour mill (and marveling at the huge stone mill), getting to know our milkman, quests in picking all kinds of Oregon berries, trips to various farms for fresh eggs and nuts, and many informative discussions about where meat comes from.

Together, our family has found our own rhythm for meal times. Breakfasts and lunches are just for the kids and me, and my husband joins us after work for dinner. We start our days with a hearty combination of whole grain and protein, like whole wheat waffles and yogurt or homemade granola bars and scrambled eggs.

Breakfast is also when we get our bread started for the day. Four ingredients into the bread machine, hit the start button, and it’ll be ready for lunch.

Lunch goes in phases, beginning with a protein plate that the kids share while they’re still in the midst of their morning play. We are omnivores, but usually eat vegetarian for breakfast and lunch as it helps curb the expense of organic meat. So, the kids will grab bites of beans, nuts, tofu or cheese while they finish their work. Because they are hungry and they choose the proteins for lunch, the plate usually empties.

Then we all sit down at the table for fruit, vegetables, dip and beverage. I’ve seen both kids eat raw vegetables, with or without dip, that they would not eat if they were cooked. By the time we’re done with the “vitamin and fiber” phases, the bread machine is finished. At this point, the kids are satisfied with about half as much bread as if it were served at the beginning of lunch, and they’ve consumed a more balanced meal overall.

Of course, some days we scrap it all, and have macaroni and cheese instead (made from scratch)!

The Family Part of Eating

Our dinner rhythm varies each day, but it always includes sitting down and eating together as a family. Depending on what our activities are for the day, I might have dinner already in the slow cooker, I might quickly put together a pasta dish or I might have time to invite my kids to cook with me. But we always come together at the end of the day for this important meal.

This coming together is the most vital ingredient. Having dinner together is like an automatic family meeting every night!

Sometimes my husband asks everyone, “So, what was the best thing that happened to you today?” Or sometimes my daughter makes statements about what’s on her mind like, “I want to talk about how plants grow.” Even my 2-year-old gets into the conversation and shares what’s been occupying his thoughts lately.

This ritual of eating together not only allows us time to share what’s on our minds and connect with each other but also is yet another way for our children to cultivate their trust in us. They know that every day they will unquestioningly get the sustenance they need: physical nourishment and emotional connection.

Adding Positive Eating Habits in Your Home

I know it must sound like we spend our entire lives focused on obtaining, preparing and eating food! You must wonder, do we have time for anything else? And with all of our busy lives, who would want to spend this much time in the kitchen? Is it possible to adapt some whole-foods, secure-attachment-promoting techniques regarding eating habits, yet not spend so much time in the kitchen?

Here are tips for adding positive eating habits into your meal routine:

·         Start small. Make one change at a time and allow your routine time to adjust.

·         Choose one commercially made/prepackaged product that you regularly buy, and replace it with a homemade or homegrown version. It could be anything from frozen burritos to chocolate syrup!

·         Choose one meal for which you sit down together regularly as a family at least one day a week. Start increasing this as often as you can.

·         If you have a bread machine, dust it off and try it out!

·         Find one food that you can start buying locally. Take your kids with you.

·         Whenever you prepare your child’s favorite dish, give him a task in helping prepare it. Take a photograph of him with his work.

We spend a lot of time in the kitchen because we like it. I enjoy cooking and baking, and my kids love eating. So, we’re very comfortable spending an afternoon together chopping, mixing, talking and snacking.

I do enjoy our trips to local farms and markets to buy the fresh ingredients we need, but they could easily be found in a grocery store. Even large grocery store chains are stocking more and more organic and locally grown products. Sometimes when we just don’t have the opportunity to turn shopping into a daylong family bonding experience, I will go to an online grocery store and have frozen (unsweetened) fruits, pre-cut vegetables and a supply of basic pantry ingredients delivered to my door.

Despite the occasional requirement for modern convenience, I do treasure the time that my kids and I spend making our meals together, and I try to provide that opportunity as often as I can. This time in the kitchen can be spent in a number of ways, depending on what my kids need. They might need to be physically close to me—being in another room, or even across the room, might not be in the cards that day. They might need something to keep their hands busy, an opportunity for “real” work. I love satisfying this need, because I can see the pride on their faces as they do meaningful, independent work.

They might need to experiment and analyze, to satisfy their innate curiosity by learning about mixing, pouring, textures, scents, machines and general cause-and-effect. They might need to work together–cooperating by adding ingredients to the dough and problem solving when only half an egg makes it into the bowl (scraping it off the counter works just fine for them). They might need to talk—to tell me things, small things, which help me understand them better, like: “Mom? All I like to do is read books and forget about stuff.” This time in the kitchen feels so worthwhile.

Through fresh ingredients, working together in the kitchen and sitting down for regular family meals, I am giving so many things to my children. The most important of which, and the reason why I continue to put so much effort into our meals, is that it brings us closer together. Like breastfeeding, a made-from-scratch approach to family meals incorporates physical closeness, uninterrupted time together, emotional connection, high-quality nutrition and family security.

I hope that one day my children will look back on our time in the kitchen with fond memories, as I know that right now they cannot articulate all that is going on before, during and after our mealtimes. Mostly what they take away from our dining experiences are feelings of security and love. They feel the love that goes into our meals, and they instinctively know that they are worth it—worth the time, planning, expense and effort of whole-foods preparation.

The Importance of the Family Table

Coming together to eat as a family is an essential way for many families in today’s fast-paced world to slow down and take time to connect with one another. This is important not only for the parent-child attachment relationship but also for the child’s future. Here is some recent research showing how the family table can benefit your child:

·         Children who partake in family meals have smoother and faster cognitive and behavioral development, because they observe and learn from their parents in communication, morality and other areas of social skills, according to a study by the Dyscovery Centre at Newport University (Wales).

·         Teens who regularly take part in family activities, including eating together, are less likely to have sex, according to a study by Boston College (USA).

·         Teen girls who regularly eat meals with their families are less likely to smoke, drink alcohol and use drugs, according to a study by the University of Minnesota (USA).

·         Children of families who eat together consume more fruits, vegetables, calcium-rich foods, vitamins and minerals, and eat less junk food, according to a study by the University of Minnesota (USA).

·         Children of mothers who think eating together as a family is important are less likely to struggle with obesity as adolescents, according to a study by the University of Queensland (Australia).

·         Teens who regularly eat meals with their families are less likely to engage in alcohol and substance use, according to a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (USA). Eating together reduces tension in families and leads to more teens saying their parents are proud of them and that they can confide in their parents about a serious problem.

·         A paper by researchers at Washington State University (USA) discusses how family meals improve relationship-building communication and contribute to better school performance, better language development among preschoolers and more well-adjusted adolescents. As teens, these children were less likely to use drugs or be depressed and were more motivated at school and had better relationships. Families who eat together are also more likely to eat nutritious foods. The paper also found instances when family meals are harmful: when children are forced to sit face-to-face with controlling or dysfunctional parents, such as those who dominate the conversation, bring up hostilities and suppress children’s opinions. These parents are also more likely to use food as a tool for punishment or manipulation, such as offering food as emotional comfort.


You might also enjoy the other articles in our National Nutrition Month series:

Kids in the Kitchen: An Interview with Sally Sampson, Founder of ChopChopKids

Feeding the Whole Family: An Interview with Cynthia Lair of Cookus Interruptus

Malnourished by a Western Diet, or NDD by Dr. William Sears

Malnourished by a Western Diet, or NDD

By Dr. William Sears, pediatrician, author and member of API’s Advisory Board. Originally published in the “Feeding Our Children” 2009 issue of Attached Family.

billsearsOftentimes, parents bring their child to me for consultation on learning or behavioral problems at school. They typically open their concern with, “We and our child’s teacher believe he has Attention Deficit Disorder.” After taking a nutritional history, I often reply, “Your child doesn’t have ADD; he has NDD.”

Obviously, they look surprised. They don’t know what NDD is, but it doesn’t sound like something they want their child to have. I go on to explain that what I mean by NDD is a Nutrition Deficit Disorder.

In my experience, many children described as having ADD lose this tag once their NDD is treated. Here’s how: Since the brain is 60% fat, it stands to reason that growing brains need high-quality fats. Smart fats make the brain grow and perform better. Smart fats are the omega-3 fatty acids found in high amounts in seafood. Omega-3 fats are also found in some plants (for example, flaxseed oil, canola oil, nuts and seeds), but the omega-3 fats found in plants have to be converted from shorter-chain fatty acids to longer ones before they can be used in the brain. Seafood and supplements are the most direct source of long-chain omega-3s, including the most important omega-3, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Smart vs. Dumb Fats

Research shows that omega-3 fats make brains healthier, especially the brains of young kids and older adults. Researchers believe that the high levels of omega-3 fats in breastmilk help to explain the differences in IQ between children who received human milk in infancy and those who did not.

The body uses omega-3 fats to make cell membranes. Omega-3 fats are also needed to make myelin, the insulation around nerves, and to help neurotransmitters function at the optimal levels. Omega-3 fats are known as essential fatty acids from food. Other types of fats can be manufactured in the body, but the body cannot make essential fatty acids. That is why it is important for growing brains to get adequate amounts of these “smart” fats from food.

If there are not enough smart fats available to make brain cells and other key substances, the body uses lesser-quality fats and produces lesser-quality cells. The “dumb” fats—known as replacement fatty acids—such as the kind that come from the trans fats in hydrogenated oils, clog the receptors in the cell membrane and the brain cell does not function well.

Neurotransmitters, the biochemical messengers that carry information from one brain cell to another, fit into receptors on cell membranes like a key fits into a lock. The keys and locks must match. If the cell membrane is composed of the right fats, the locks and keys match. But if the receptors are clogged with the wrong fats, the neurotransmitter keys won’t fit and brain cell function suffers. Omega-3 fats keep the receptors open so the neurotransmitters fit and the brain can function optimally.

Eat Smart Fats: Learn and Behave Better

In the past few years, several studies showed that growing children diagnosed with ADD who were given omega-3 supplements, especially DHA, improved their attention and learning.

In order for kids to learn, they have to be able to concentrate. Studies show that omega-3 fats help the brain pay attention and make connections. Researchers at Purdue University found that boys with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) had lower levels of omega-3 fats, especially DHA, the main omega-3 fat found in fish. The boys with the most abnormal behavior had the lowest levels of DHA. School-age children with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had the fewest learning problems. In addition, students who were given DHA supplements prior to exams showed less hostility and aggression during this time of stress.

Feed Your Family with Smart Carbs

Around 50% of the energy from the carbohydrates children eat goes to fueling their growing brains. Muscles can store glucose, the body’s main fuel extracted from digested carbs, but the brain can’t store much glucose. It depends on a steady supply of glucose in the bloodstream. If the blood sugar dips too low, brain function can deteriorate within minutes.

The brain is very selective about the carbs it craves, and it prefers that you eat the right carbs with the right partners at the right time. If brain cells could comment on the best ways to give them carbs they need, here’s what they would request:

·         Partner carbs with fiber and protein – The brain prefers carbs that are naturally packaged with protein and fiber. These two partners slow the digestive process and steady the rate at which glucose enters the blood. Without protein or fiber in a food, the carbs are digested quickly and rush into the bloodstream so fast that they cause a sugar high followed by a sugar low, as the body releases a large amount of insulin to handle the sugar. Unstable blood sugar levels lead to unstable brain chemistry, which makes it hard for kids to pay attention and control their behavior.

·         Graze on good carbs – Kids and adults don’t think well when they’re hungry. Frequent mini-meals throughout the day are good for the brain.

·         Eat protein for brain power – High-protein foods perk up the brain by increasing levels of two “alertness” neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine. A high-protein meal really is a “power breakfast” or a “power lunch.”

·         Add more protein to each meal and snack.

·         Avoid fiber-less carbs (for example, candy and soda) – Instead, choose the fiber-filled carbs in fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains.

·         Feed your child a brainy breakfast – Since proteins perk up the brain, send your kids off to school with a high-protein, healthy-carb and healthy-fat breakfast, such as whole-grain cereal and yogurt.

Brain Food by Dr. William Sears

·         Smart foods: blueberries, nuts, salmon, spinach

·         Dumb foods: excitotoxins (for example, monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartame, food colorings, preservatives), fiber-poor carbs, hydrogenated oils, sweetened beverages


You might also enjoy the other articles in our National Nutrition Month series:

Kids in the Kitchen: An Interview with Sally Sampson, Founder of ChopChopKids

Feeding the Whole Family: An Interview with Cynthia Lair of Cookus Interruptus

Strengthening Secure Attachment Through Food by Kelly Bartlett

Modern parenting may hinder brain development, research shows

By Susan Guibert, reprinted with permission, Notre Dame News, http://newsinfo.nd.edu/

Social practices and cultural beliefs of modern life are preventing healthy brain and emotional development in children, according to an interdisciplinary body of research presented recently at a symposium at the University of Notre Dame.KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

“Life outcomes for American youth are worsening, especially in comparison to 50 years ago,” says Darcia Narvaez, Notre Dame professor of psychology who specializes in moral development in children and how early life experiences can influence brain development.

“Ill-advised practices and beliefs have become commonplace in our culture, such as the use of infant formula, the isolation of infants in their own rooms or the belief that responding too quickly to a fussing baby will ‘spoil’ it,” Narvaez says. Continue reading Modern parenting may hinder brain development, research shows

TV as a Parenting Tool?

By Rita Brhel, managing editor and attachment parenting resource leader (API)

TV timeMost parenting experts advise that parents use extreme caution in allowing their child to watch television, especially younger children, and even with educational programming. And many attached parents either don’t allow television at all or only sparingly. But there are some of us who do allow our children to watch TV and are OK with it.

What Makes TV Bad

A study by the University of Washington and the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, published in Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in June 2009, determines that television-watching significantly delays language development in young children. The reason is, children learn to talk from listening to their parents and when the television is turned on and is audible, parents are less likely to talk to their children.

TV-watching is also associated with obesity, sleep problems, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, violent behavior, and poor school performance.

But what exactly about TV puts children at risk for these problems? The reason is because TV is meant to be a source of entertainment, not a teacher or babysitter. Yes, television captivates children’s attention and can keep them from busy for long periods of time – long enough for a parent to get some chores, work, or a hobby done. But, it’s because TV makes it so easy for parents why it makes it so wrong. It’s not the TV in and of itself putting children at risk of these problems; it’s the parents who aren’t interacting with their children and who aren’t setting boundaries on what their children view, as in the case of violence, sexual behavior, and bad language.

According to the National Institute on Media and the Family, media exposure on children affects their brain development as any other influence, such as parents and teachers. Allowing children to watch sexual or violent material isn’t entertainment – it’s education. As parents, we need to be careful what we’re allowing our children to learn.

So, why not just turn off the TV? Well, many parents do choose this option. But, TV is a part of our culture, just as are cell phones and Internet, and all of these electronics are being incorporated into more of our lives. We can just turn the TV off, or we can teach our children how to use the TV appropriately.

When TV is Good

Regarded for what it is, mostly entertainment, families can use television much as they would a book – helping to provide children exposure to new ideas. As long as the show is developmentally appropriate, small doses of television aren’t harmful. For example, my children enjoy watching Nature on the Public Broadcasting Service which takes viewers all over the world to see wildlife and natural habitat.

Some educational programming is OK, too. According to the Center for Media Literacy, some educational programming each week improves preschoolers’ standardized test scores. Many a foreign-speaking family credits television to learning their home country’s language. And, obviously, the older the child, the more she can learn from watching television, such as keeping up on current events or watching shows that explore science or history. Although many experts don’t give too much credit to TV, educational shows are created using child development specialists and on the back of research studies.

Still, parents should screen all shows before allowing their children to view it, including so-called kid-friendly cartoons, and also watch their child’s reaction to the show. For example, I only let me children watch the “Elmo’s World” on Sesame Street because some of the rest of show didn’t sit well with me. There is sometimes a play on a popular song whose original lyrics I know are not kid-friendly. Plus, while my children were entertained, I would rather have a television program that engages my children enough that they are excited to tell me what they learned later. I am a big fan of Word World on the Public Broadcasting Service, which literally taught my three-year-old her alphabet, and Barney because it inspires my children to get up and dance to the music, and not just sit passively watching the TV.

Used appropriately, television can help some families bond. My family has a movie night each week. We make homemade popcorn together, snuggle up on the couch, and turn on a movie, sometimes a DVD and sometimes on a television network. If the movie is on the television network, we mute commercials and take that time to talk to each other. My children look forward to movie night as a time to do something together just like when we go on a bicycle ride or do another family activity.

The big take-home message is, watch what your kids are watching and know the influence of the content they’re viewing. Also, it’s very important to put some limits on your child’s viewing time. The American Academy of Pediatrics and other experts recommend no TV time the first two years of life and a limit of two hours for children ages two years old and older, no TV in children’s bedrooms, and no TV during family mealtimes.

A Word about Commercials

There is a component to television that all parents must beware, and that is the advertisements. We can screen television shows and choose age-appropriate programming, and we can limit our children’s time watching television, but commercials are insidious. You may think your children are safe watching Dora the Explorer, and up pops a commercial touting the deliciousness of some unhealthy snack.

Advertisements are designed to persuade. Many commercials aimed at children are to sell a product, such as a toy or food, and besides when your children bother you about wanting to buy such and such, you may not think much more about it. But it’s important, if you allow your children to watch TV, to realize just what the television is exposing your child to. Start to study the commercials that interrupt the shows your child and your family watch. From sexual innuendos to sell clothing to a promo for a violent movie, you’ll start to notice what advertisers are using to try to influence you – and your children – to do what they want you to do.

According to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, marketing is directly linked to childhood obesity and is a factor in the development of eating disorders, precocious sexuality, youth violence, family stress, and children’s reduced ability to play imaginatively. And advertisers want our children’s minds: Companies spend about $17 billion each year marketing to children. TV alone bombards children ages two to 11 years old with more than 25,000 advertisements, which doesn’t include placement of products within television shows and movies. Children under 12 years old influence about $500 billion in purchases every year. Children under 14 years old spend $40 billion each year, and teens spend $159 billion.

There are a number of ways you can reduce influence from commercials while watching the television:

  • Turn off the TV while commercials are on.
  • Change the channel.
  • Mute the TV during commercial time.
  • Watch a TV network without commercials, such as the Public Broadcasting Service.
  • Educate yourself on the influence of marketing. For example, children younger than eight years old are developmentally unable to understand advertising’s intent and therefore rely on their caregivers to regulate marketing exposure for them. With older children, advertisers tend to denigrate adults and exploit children’s desires to fit in with their peers and rebel against authority figures.
  • Teach your older child how to use critical thinking tools to decipher what an advertiser is trying to persuade him to do, how to find the truth in the advertising message, and to take charge of his own buying habits using family values as a basis. To learn more, read the article in the upcoming Summer 2009 “Feeding Our Children” issue of The Attached Family magazine.
  • Use videos/DVDs.