How to Raise Healthy Children in our Fast-Paced Media Age

Helping them develop an interior life

Posted Nov 18, 2011

Nearly 400 years ago, English poet Thomas Traherne described how in childhood his perception of himself and the world was distorted  by "the customs and manners of men," which "put grubs and worms in [our] heads that are enemies to all pure and true apprehensions, and eat out all [our] happiness" (Traherne, 1908, III, 7, 13).

Today's industrialized culture distorts children's perception to a degree Traherne could never have imagined. My college students walk to class plugged in to cell phones and Ipods, and—unless faculty are vigilant—they check Facebook, e-mail, and text messages during class. At church one Sunday I was puzzled when a teenage girl in front of me began fidgeting, with her hand in her back pocket--until I realized she was texting during mass.

Research has revealed the deleterious effects of excessive electronic distractions. Psychology professor Larry Rosen of California State University reported at this year's APA conference that students who use Facebook heavily have lower grades, more depression and more sick days than their peers (Chamberlin, 2011). Studies have also shown that excessive use of screen technologies—TV, videos, and the Internet-can damage children's developing brains (DeGaetano, 2004).

How can we help our children navigate successfully through this fast-paced high-tech world? Gloria DeGaetano, educator and author of Parenting Well in a Media Age, advises parents to limit children's screen time and encourage more reading, play, exercise, and exploration. In 2000, she founded the national Parent Coaching Institute (PCI) with headquarters in Bellevue, WA. The PCI trains family support professionals with the latest research in brain development and positive psychology to help parents develop successful parenting strategies.

"With the overload of information many parents are confused about what will work best for their child," DeGaetano says. "Professional parent coaches are there to serve the parents, to be a support, a mentor, and a clarifier." Working in partnership with parents, PCI coaches combine deep listening with strengths-based strategies to help parents manage stress, improve communication, address behavioral problems, support limit-setting, promote school success, and create healthier, more harmonious family lives. PCI coaches are also skilled in helping parents manage today's media onslaught.

In today's media culture, children are often overstimulated. As DeGaetano explains in her book, "too much stimulation takes away the capacity for introspection," and "many disobedient or defiant children are children who have not yet acquired an interior life." "Without time to be inside self and craft an interior life," she says, children become emotionally reactive, unable to self-regulate. She tells of two nine-year-old girls with contrasting interior lives. Melissa spends up to four hours a day watching television, has a hard time sitting still, becomes impatient doing her homework when she can't get answers quickly, and is falling behind in school. Beth watches less than one hour of TV a day, has a bedroom filled with books and art supplies, likes to draw pictures after school, is working on a quilting project with her mother. Unlike Melissa, she is doing well in school and can concentrate on her homework without much help from her parents (2004, pp. 105, 101-102). Beth has cultivated an interior life.

We can develop a strong interior life for ourselves by taking time to reflect at the end of the day, taking walks, giving ourselves breathers—small breaks to collect ourselves. We can help our children develop interior lives, DeGaetano (2004, 2009) says, by keeping the TV off unless someone is watching it, creating a special place for "quiet thinking," and reinforcing our children for taking time to think things through by themselves.

In this busy media culture, our most vital resources are still within us—our human ability to reflect, communicate, and connect with ourselves and one another to create healthier lives for ourselves and our children.

For further information: The PCI credentials certified parent coaches through a 12-month graduate-level, distance-learning program in collaboration with Seattle Pacific University. Many coaches are Marriage and Family Counselors, who have added parent coaching to their scope of practice. Many others are teachers and school counselors, retiring or transitioning from full-time careers. To download informative articles on raising children with healthy brains and more information on the PCI, see http://www. parentcoachinginstitute.org/.

References

Chamberlin, J. (2011, October). Facebook: Friend or foe? Monitor on Psychology, 42(9),

De Gaetano, G. (2004). Parenting well in a media age. Fawnskin, CA: Personhood Press.

DeGaetano, G. (2009). Parent success stores. Bellevue, WA: PCI Press.

Traherne, T. (1908). Centuries of meditation. Oxford: Mowbray. (Originally written c. 1670).