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Parenting: Where Has “Playing” Gone?


SOURCE:  Elizabeth Maynard, M A – Heartlife Professional Soul Care

Technology Wins!

 Long gone are the days of playing outside until dark, playing board games/cards together, or sitting around reading as a family.

Our world today is characterized by technology, especially for children at younger and younger ages. The Internet, cell phones, and television can be considered the “trinity” of technology.  It is no surprise that children are logging on to the Internet and engaging in technology at younger ages than ever before.

In addition, parental supervision of a child’s involvement in technology is also generally very lax. As a result, children are engaging in online relationships in ways that demonstrate a clear lack of knowledge in what is safe and appropriate behavior.

According to a study done by the Rochester Institute of Technology, 48 percent of children in kindergarten and first grade reported that they interact with other people on websites. Of these young children, only 50 percent said that their parents watched them as they used a computer, showing that the other half was exposed to unchecked web browsing and interaction with others online. About 48 percent of these young children saw online content that made them feel uncomfortable, and one in four of them said they did not report the uncomfortable experience to a trusted adult.

Compare this to their phone usage.

Back in 1983, phone companies were only spending $100 million per year towards marketing to kids; today they are spending around $17 billion to gain business from minors. A recent study shows that 22 percent of young children own a cell phone (ages 6-9), 60 percent of tweens (ages 10-14), and 84 percent of teens (ages 15-18). Also, kids spend more time watching television every day than on any other single activity, aside from sleeping.

So, what is the lasting impact that technology is leaving on our children?

Here are a few statistics to consider.

The Internet can potentially have a negative impact on cognitive development. Young children depend on adults to validate what they see, hear, and feel. Since the information on the Internet is uncontrolled, there is no way to check its reliability (Pierce, 1994). In terms of social development, if abused, Internet usage can also take children away from doing important social activities such as homework, chores, and spending time with family and friends.  Michael A. Weinstein, professor of Political Science at Purdue University, believes Internet users will “lose the savvy and skills and patience to conduct social relations in the corporate world,” and that the Internet will intensify the negative effect television has already had on our social skills. For cell phone usage, researchers have found a link between low self-esteem and problem cell phone use. A study measuring the link between cell phones and mental health found that teens that used cell phones the most were more likely to be anxious and depressed. They also found that some teen cell phone users are likely to be woken at night by incoming text messages or calls, and are therefore more likely to be tired and less able to focus throughout the day.

Finally, for the past 20 years, studies have linked excessive TV viewing to childhood obesity, poor brain development, lagging educational performance, sleep disturbances, and diminished physical activity. In fact, new studies show that fast paced TV shows, such as Sponge Bob and Phineas and Ferb, have a profound impact on a child’s cognitive development and executive functioning.

Researchers speculate that the more rapid pace and fantasy-like characters on the SpongeBob show might be too much for preschoolers’ brains to take in. “It confirms something that parents have observed for some time,” Dr. Dimitri Christakis says of the study. “They put their kids in front of television, particularly fast-paced programming, to quiet them down, but when the TV goes off, the kids are more amped up than they were before”.

 More Play Time, Less Technology Time

 So why is it that technology has so many potential negative cognitive, physical, and social impacts on children?

What is the better alternative?

Let’s take a trip back to the past.

Many parents may still “play” with their children. However, it is rare to see a parent sit down on the floor with their child, with no distractions, and give them undivided attention. Busy schedules, multiple children, full-time jobs, and homework are all things that take us away from play time.

A specific, child-centered, non-directive therapeutic approach to “playing” was developed in the 1960’s to show the impact that a parent playing with their child can have on many facets of a child’s development. Filial Therapy was born out of the belief that many children do not have their need for emotional nurturing met (Landreth, 2002). Sometimes, communication gaps between parents and children may exist because many parents are unaware of their children’s emotional needs and lack the skills necessary to interact effectively with them on an emotional level (Landreth, 2002). Therefore, filial therapy provides “focused attention to the child from a person who holds emotional significance to the child, thus encouraging anxieties learned by the parental influence to be unlearned, and provides opportunities for miscommunications to be clarified to the child by the parent” (Guerney, et. al. 1999; Sweeney, 1997).

One of the most important aspects to filial therapy is that the parent focuses exclusively on the child without interruption for 30 minutes.  The second is that the child gets to lead the play, not you.  The third is that the parent puts the child’s feelings, thoughts and even actions into words, without questioning, teaching, or praising!  Most parents find this very strange at first.

Play is a child’s natural way to explore their world.  In playing, children find solutions to problems, as children’s thoughts and emotions come to the surface during play. Play also can be healing.  So why is it so important, especially in light of our society today?

Children are looking to the Internet, cell phones, and television to define their world. They have become reliant on society’s definition of what is appropriate and shape themselves after the “role models” they see on television. It’s no wonder that our children are growing up faster than ever before. It’s no wonder that they are faced with more behavioral and cognitive problems than ever before. By simply playing with your child, you can often find out more about how they view the world by watching and joining in their play than you can by asking them to tell you what is wrong, or asking why they did something.

Lasting Impact

 Whose impact do you want left on your children?

Technology and society today or your family’s principles and biblical instruction from the Lord.

In Matthew 19:13-15, we are told, “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there”. In Luke 11:13, Jesus says, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”.

It is clear in the Bible how God feels about little children. It is evident that they are to be cared for and brought up in the fear and admonition of the Lord. “Be imitators of God” to your children. Take the time to play and pray with them and you will see huge rewards.

Let’s bring “playing” back into our families.

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