Freeman Cebu Lifestyle

Gadgets Off for Family Time

The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines - How are electronic devices affecting family bonding in your own home?

The rise of mobile devices with anywhere-access to the Internet, coupled with engaging video consoles and the hundreds of TV channels now available, has eroded family time, even when everyone is under the same roof.

"Parents and children are spending more of their free time than ever before in solitary electronic activities," says Linda Centeno, PhD, a clinical psychologist. "Oftentimes, family members are in the same room, each consumed privately with his or her e-device."

As much as parents might feel that their kids are distracted by their electronics, Centeno says that one of the most common complaints she hears from children and teens is that they long for more quality family time. "They tell me that they wish they could go for a meal, a walk, or shopping," she says, "anything to spend one-on-one time with their parents."

Parents have to become attuned to their children's needs for family bonding time. As a first step to having a healthy, close family, it's important for Mom and Dad to turn off their own electronic devices - to model for kids that there's a time to switch from electronic devices and work to personal relationships.

Kids Need Family Bonding

Disengaging kids from their devices and re-engaging them in family life is important for parent-child relationships. According to research published in "JAMA Pediatrics" in 2010, the more hours teenagers spend in front of a screen, the weaker their emotional bonds with their parents.

"The development of emotional bonding occurs in layered stages," says Arianna Jeret, MA/MSW, a mediator and certified divorce coach in practice in Los Angeles. "An infant's initial experiences of trust and mistrust are shaped by his or her parents' prompt soothing. Toddlers first develop self-esteem from their parents' positive reactions to, say, their increased motor skills. When parents, and children themselves, are distracted from these major milestones by the constant buzzing of text messages or flashing video images, micro-opportunities to achieve crucial bonding slip away unnoticed."

The impact of quality family time was clear in a Columbia University study. It found that family dinners are associated with significantly lower rates of substance-abuse disorders among teenagers. And, in heartening news to parents, 72 percent of teens think that eating dinner frequently with their parents is very, or at least fairly, important. Teens who don't often have family dinners are twice as likely to use tobacco, almost twice as likely to use alcohol, and 1.5 times more likely to use marijuana

Fun Ways for Family Bonding

With family members going in different directions all day long, activities surrounding the evening meal can be good ways to regroup. Families looking for ways to bond should consider preparing a meal together, says Mollie Grow, MD, MPH, a general academic pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital at the University of Washington. Making pizza from scratch is an activity that even young children can enjoy. Just have a sturdy step stool available for smaller children so they can participate at counter level. "My daughter likes to help me add ingredients that we measure," Dr. Grow says. "She also helps to roll out the pizza dough and mixes ingredients in a bowl."

Dr. Grow recommends involving older kids in menu planning and making foods they like, as well as introducing them to healthier choices. "It can be fun to search online for recipes and learn about what makes foods healthy," she says. Online games such as those at foodnme.com can keep younger kids engaged. Dr. Grow likes to set a festive mood in the kitchen by playing music and making special spritzers of sparkling water with a splash of juice.

Tracy Lynn Coyle, an elementary school teacher, says that making fruit-flower bouquets is an entertaining way for children to show their creativity while having some healthy family bonding time. "Add some wooden skewers and your favorite fruits," she says. Older children can cut out flower shapes from pineapples or strawberries, and younger children can fit grapes and other fruits on the skewers. This treat can be enjoyed by the whole family throughout the week.

For adventures outside the kitchen, Coyle suggests bringing a favorite board game to life by making a life-size version. To supersize Candy Land, for example, gather some healthy goodies, like dried fruits and nuts, and colored construction paper. Your children can be the playing pieces, and you can help them develop counting skills as they seek to visit all of their favorite treats.

After-dinner walks are a favorite pastime in Dr. Grow's family. "It can take some motivation to get the kids out the door, but they enjoy it once we do," she says. "It's a great opportunity to move the body after a meal, and also a chance to chat with neighbors and friends."

What you do as a family isn't the most important element, though. "The activity matters less than the actual commitment," Centeno says. "Each family has its own unique situation. Not every family can be home and sit down together at 5 p.m. In today's society it takes more creativity and effort than it did generations ago to establish family time." But it doesn't have to be a large amount of time. As she notes, "Ten minutes of focused quality time spent together with all e-devices off can be equal to many hours of family members using e-devices and not interacting."

Coyle suggests telling your children about a special time you shared with your family when you were a child, and explaining that you'd like to make memories with them too.

And if kids are resistant to turning off their smartphones or computers for a family activity, try planning the activity ahead of time and allowing the kids to be involved in picking it. "Kids want to have forewarning and also want to have choice," Dr. Grow advises.


(Medically reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH for www.everydayhealth.com) (FREEMAN)

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