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Get Ahead Kids - Vol. 3, No. 3 - May/June 2011

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Bringing Up Confident Happy Children in the Age of Technology

By Maggie Hamilton

While the gradient may seem steep for 21st century parents, there are many effective, easy-to-implement solutions to the issues our children now face. It's essential that parents understand the marketing pressures on children from birth and are judicious about the products and brands they have in their homes.

For children to develop and for their brains to grow they need direct contact with the world - initially through their senses. As they grow, they need to be involved in regular real-life activities in the home and in nature.

Good communication and reading skills come from a family culture of books and conversation, rather than passive entertainment. Homes where TV or DVDs are on most of the time compromise the opportunity for reading, discussion, quiet time and imaginative play.

Professionals encourage new parents to value what they bring to their child. There are dozens of fun and imaginative ways for parents to open up their baby's world. Simplicity is the key.
As soon as children are old enough, start to alert them to the ways marketers target them. Recognize little boys need as much nurture as girls. Switch off the TV as much as possible, and encourage live play instead.

If parents set up one corner of the lounge room as a mini activity area, different types of play are within easy access for children. Be aware of your own viewing and shopping habits. Don't be tempted to dress your children as a mini version of yourself. This deprives them of their individuality, pressures them into feeling they have to act older than they are, and can give you a false sense of what they're ready for.

Have your own selection of educational, wildlife, and other uplifting DVDs/videos for home viewing. Avoid cartoon channels. Make gifts whenever possible. Donate money, goods or time to environmental causes. Encourage recycling. Give old toys to local charities or to children in countries of need. Make bedtime, bath-time, clearing up fun. Use safe online search engines such as Ask for Kids and Yahoo! Kids.

As your children reach the tween years (10-12) teach them to spot product placement and understand what it's about in a fun way. Encourage them to see why enough is never enough and ensure they understand that self-worth isn't about what they own.

Talk about the vulnerabilities advertisers play on, and discuss why marketers target kids and how much money they make from them. Keep conversations light and informative. Discuss the content of ads, TV programs and billboards, and search out entertaining and meaningful films to watch together. Set clear rules about time spent on the computer and watching TV. Turn off the TV during meals and when you have guests. Limit their screen time and don't allow TVs and computers in the bedroom. Make family spending an occasional activity.

Find out what your child is interested in and encourage them to peruse these interests. Visit museums and art galleries and encourage their responses to what they see. Introduce a range of simple leisure activities at home and in the garden. Help foster friendships across the generations, and encourage your child to feel part of the local community by getting involved in local activities. Ensure there's one-on-one dad time. Create time to talk about things that matter to your child and don't forget kitchen table meals are invaluable for fun, celebration, downloading and discussion.

Be aware of the immense pressure teens now face. Use time in the car and out walking to chat. Make sure your teenager knows what to expect during puberty. Encourage open discussions and ensure they realise uncertainty, frustration and confusion can be part of teen life. Celebrate milestones. Continue to let them know you care. Be honest about your own teen angst, leaving out details that will embarrass. Respect their growing need for privacy. Balance time on their own and with peers, with family activities that will engage them. Never make their physical changes the subject of family comment or discussion.

Be sensitive to peer pressure, the pressure to have the perfect body, perfect grades, and to the pressures around sex, alcohol and drugs. Teach your teenager how to balance personal achievement with fun times. Help them have a good self-image, by modelling a healthy self-image. Celebrate food by dining together regularly as a family. Discourage throwaway comments about weight and what makes someone attractive. Be aware of sleep deprivation issues and have a chill out regime in the home before bed, when TVs and computers are off.

As alcohol issues continue to bite be aware of your own drinking habits. Know your child's friends and their parents. Be sensitive to the stress in their life and how hard it is to be a teen, also when they are bored. Help them deal with boredom as this often sparks unhelpful behavior. Teach your teenager how to regulate their behaviour and why. Catch them doing things right, and be reasonable about minor mistakes. Be balanced and approachable. Let them know you're the 'come to' person if something goes wrong.

While we may struggle with aspects of contemporary life, it's important we're optimistic about the challenges ahead, as much of the media is not. When we tell our children they are the reason we're looking forward to the future, we remind them of the important role they have to play in shaping their world. When we as adults can be engaged, informed and inclusive, we help empower our children and awaken their imagination, their vision. Then, all we hope for them, and more, can become a reality.

Checklist

  • Create a family culture of reading & conversation
  • Use safe search engines
  • Alert children to the purpose of marketing campaigns
  • Limit passive recreational activities-TV, video games
  • Foster self-esteem & individuality
  • Encourage children to pursue areas of interest
  • Encourage open discussions
  • Be aware of peer pressures
  • Celebrate milestones
  • Set a good example
  • Catch & encourage good behaviour

Biography

Writer, publisher and social researcher Maggie Hamilton is the author of many books including "What Men Don't Talk About", which examines the lives of real men and boys as opposed to the stereotypes, and "What's Happening to Our Girls?" and now "What's Happening to Our Boys?" These books look at the 21st century challenges of our girls and boys are facing, and the solutions.

More Information

www.maggiehamilton.org

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