Summer is here and while it was somewhat easy to control media use at our home during the school week, the summer schedule presents a whole new media management problem. Your sweet child who had trouble getting up for school every morning during the school year now has all of a sudden figured out how to get up at the crack of dawn and watch cartoons or play video games for 2 hours before you get up. What is a mom to do? You are tired and want to enjoy that extra hour of early morning summer slumber as you should be able to do. Is it really that bad for him to turn to media for his early morning activities? After all you did the same thing when you were growing up. Right?
The dilemma: Why morning media is unhealthy for kids.
- Cartoons today are different. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, fast paced cartoons that change scenes more than 3 times a minute (like SpongeBob) are over stimulating your child’s brain leading to short and long term problems including attention problems. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2011/09/08/peds.2011-2071.citation ·
- Sleep is the fuel that keeps our brains going, and our (non addicted) brain is refreshed and restocked with loads of natural dopamine early in the morning. This is why things always look and feel better in the morning. It is the time of day when many people do their best creating, art, thinking, and problem solving. It is the perfect time for learning and soaking up everything that it is exposed too. Brain neurons are recharged and ready to go in the morning, like a runner at the beginning of a race. So set your goal to get a great start and don’t waste those precious neuron connections on mindless media!
- Morning media sets the bar low for the tone of the whole day and potentially will make your child sluggish emotionally, behaviorally, and physically. He will find other normal activities not as exciting as the media roller coaster he was just on for two hours and will not be motivated to get moving. Like eating dessert before dinner he will not want to do the good stuff if he if full of sugar already.
- Your child is generally most creative during the morning so don’t waste it on junk media. You may want to veg out when you get up but remember that your brain is different from your child’s brain. You can watch a morning show and possibly pull away for other productive work but your child can’t do that as easily.
Some solutions: (from youngest to oldest)
- Have him stay in his room for quiet time until you get up. There is no reason why he needs to head downstairs to plug in. He will play with the toys in his room (make sure there is no tech in his room including handhelds brought up the night before or a TV ). Realize that he will not die if he doesn’t get an early morning cartoon fix Cartoons today are not the ones we watched growing up – they are much more fast paced and studies show that they do effect our child’s brains and ability to learn.
- Have a special morning basket of morning toys or activities that you fix the night before. Things that he doesn’t normally get to play with during the day and are only available to him till you get up. When mom gets up the morning basket gets put away. You can have a lot of fun with this by finding cool stuff i.e. special book on tape, sticker books, coloring books, play dough.
- Buy a large Lego set that he is only allowed to do first thing when he gets up. After a certain time he has to put it away and work on it the next day. He will think about it when it is put up and look forward to it.
- Teach him how to put some music on in the morning while he is playing. Music opens creative doors and is great to keep him company till the house gets up. A cool headset will make this a better (quieter) experience for the house.
- Set out breakfast for him on the counter. A bowl of cereal covered with plastic wrap and a small milk container on the bottom shelf of the fridge.
- Set out drawing paper with a note written the night before about what you want him to draw.
- Give him a few morning chores that he will get paid double time if he gets them done before you get up. (empty dishwasher, clean cat box, pull weeds (better when it is cool outside).
- Read the paper. Organize the sections he will read the night before and leave it under his door (like they do in hotels). The sports section, cartoons, crossword section etc.
- Take the dog for a walk before everyone gets up if he is old enough.
- Practice music early.
- Allow him to play basketball in the driveway. This is the favorite activity for one of my sons and we are not sure if the neighbors are hearing the early morning bouncing but …. it is a lifesaver.
- Go outside. Suggest that he go outside to eat breakfast. There is something magical about the back yard early in the morning, the dew on the grass, the birds getting up, the coolness of the air. These are all God given bonuses that most of us miss.
- Have him pick a running buddy neighbor for his early morning activity. Walking and bike riding works too.
If you don’t allow morning media he WILL find something else to do. He may even sleep longer if he knows that he can’t turn on the TV or game.
Switch up the schedule: Monday and Wednesday he has a morning basket, Tuesday and Thursday he does some type of exercise, Fri he has quiet time in his room and Sat he is allowed some cartoon time.
Reward the behavior you want: Give him a higher reward for doing his chores or practicing his music first thing in the morning. You want to help train a habit for getting things done early in the day and not procrastinating. This is a life skill that he will benefit from greatly. Start helping him learn it now. Overusing media is a huge waste of time but overusing it in those valuable morning hours is worse. Don’t allow him to drain his creative batteries before breakfast!
Take the TV remote with you the night before to take the temptation away and make sure the computers are locked down. Early morning and after school is the time when many children are exposed to porn.
If your child continues to get on media early against your instruction you will have to get out of bed (sorry) and direct him to other activities.
Remember that this period will go by quickly. When he becomes a teen this issue will go away as he will want to sleep till noon and you will have a whole other challenge (of getting him to bed earlier instead of gaming all through the night). Will it take a little effort on your end? No, it will take a LOT of effort. But it is worth every bit of going against the tide and every creative idea you can muster on your end to set (or reset) this pattern.
What works for us? In our home we don’t allow morning media. We would be fine with an occasional Saturday morning cartoon but they are interested in other things now. There was a period when we struggled with this and I understand how hard it can be. Just like they would want one more level in their game, I would want one more minute of sleep. I would not be happy when I would have to come down and start pulling the plug before breakfast so we stopped it all together. Remember that you are the parent and you, not the game, is in charge. If your child is overusing morning media it is not his fault, it is your responsibility. The pay off of reducing conflict over morning media has been tremendous and I will never go back. It will never be routine in our home. The nine thirty wining about there being nothing to do after the media was turning off was very difficult for me to manage and it would break my heart to see the look of the game coma so early in the day. You may think that it is a little extreme but when you see the benefits of recovering those hours in the day you may not go back either. Try it for two weeks.
Cherish these years when you have the blessing of opening creative doors for your child. Don’t let him go down the dead end of media overuse. Help him develop a creative childhood full of rich play experiences that will trigger his imagination and love for childhood activities, meaningful hobbies and an understanding of balance. The window is so small so enjoy it and don’t wish it away. What you allow him to do in the morning hours will affect his whole day; you are setting up a strong foundation that will last him a lifetime!