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Screen Time: Our Children's Brains on Pause

Reading is mentally active. Watching television is mentally passive. Writing is labor intensive. Clicking icons is effortless. Communicating with one another is mentally engaging. Viewing images that move, talk, and are full of color can be mind-numbing. Reading the printed word requires the mind translate symbols into words. Certainly the majority will choose what is easier until the harder way has been mastered. When I am asking my clients what they do for pleasure, most confuse this question with what they find pleasurable. Our culture has become mentally and physically passive.


The brain activity created by reading and writing is significantly different from the brain activity created from image-based technologies. Reading and writing has shown to stimulate the left, logical side of the brain. Television programming and gaming enhances the right-side of one's brain with its rapidly changing visuals, loud noises, single-word exclamations rather than complex sentences, and immediate resolutions rather than logical sequencing of actions.


Toddlers Minds Develop the Quickest


More than any other time in our life, our toddler years are when we learn and mentally mature the greatest. Neural pathways in our brains are established, creating a map for which we depend the rest of our lives. The early years of language development is crucial for verbal development. This is why foreign languages learned in early childhood are far easier to retain and ultimately become more fluent, yet languages learned later in life aren't often as fluent. It is absolutely vital that children become fluent in reading and writing during the elementary years - and acquire the brain development from this fluency which is altogether different from that attained from video and computer images.


I find it interesting that when someone seems to not "get it," people respond, "Do I need to draw you a picture?" Intelligence implies that one can dwell comfortably without pictures as they can think in concepts and generalizations. This is an important concept for educators at the higher levels. Children should be taught to think without pictures and to be so comfortable with nonvisual concepts that they are capable of contemplating more complex issues such as morality, liberty, and personal responsibility. When they approach their learning through words, they are better capable of comprehending that material, interpreting it, and articulating their understandings and thoughts. Students need to be actively involed in their learning to really gain from it, which videos don't offer. Television is for entertainment; it is passive.


Videos Replace the Child's Imagination


One of my favorite homeschool activities is to read a book and then find the movie to watch with the children, better even if the movie is coming out in theaters. I wait every single time for my child to say, "The book was WAY better!" Do you know why? Because their imaginations are way better than the realities of the movie they've just watched. Had we watched the movie first, this would have limited their ability to imagine something greater!


Certainly there are times when video games and television can be offered to your child but limit their time to no more than half an hour per day or only on weekends. We only have a television on the third floor (attic) and had gotten rid of our Xbox so that the only time this was accessible to the children was at their father's house. Of course, this created a constant begging to go to their father's and then time spent there was entirely on the Xbox, so I've had to rethink that strategy. Certainly, completing their chores and educational goals for the day is motivational when they may gain time for entertainment.


Consider however, that you may steer away from highly visual or quickly changing programs with a constant barrage of sound effects. This may even mean cute children's shows. What are they giving up when you offer them these shows and games? Might they play outside if they haven't these options? Might they create a time machine from your recycles? Would they play boardgames or even wander off to read a book?


Educational software may even beat Mindcraft, but it is still entertainment. Don't be fooled. Phonics on the computer can't replace your working with your child one-on-one. This is a supplement to your print-based curriculum. Computer and television time may be classified in the same way that candy is to our diet. It should be limited. Science might be the only exception. Eyewitness videos or National Geographic specials can really enhance their education, but this is not part of school, but rather family time later in their day.


"The brain becomes expert at whatever it does the most of during the formative years" (Bauer & Wise, 2004, p 203). Reading, writing, communicating, learning facts and understanding information is the foundation of learning in the younger, more formative years, so that children can develop mature minds for logic and rhetoric into their later years.

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