Welcome to The Deep science and technology column where we cover topics from the deep sea to deep space and beyond.
As many of you know, I’m the Star Lady and I run the UOG Planetarium. I’ve been especially lucky this year because I’ve had a number of Head Start classes in the Planetarium. With the little guys, I talk about what constellations are, and then I show them the sky on the evening of their visit and tell them how they can take Mom and Dad outside and show them bright planets, bright stars and famous constellations.
The Planetarium is a new and kind of scary experience for Headstart kids and many times their parents accompany them. This year, I’ve noticed something disturbing. Instead of interacting with their children while they waited for the show to begin, many parents took out their cell phones and interacted with them instead. And I’m not the only one who’s noticed it.
University of Missouri human development specialists say powering down digital devices is a vital step to maintain healthy family relationships. In addition to strengthening family connections, turning off time-consuming devices also leads to better health, according to Saralee Jamieson, extension program director in St. Clair County. She says people who devote more time to digital technology are less likely to make healthy food choices or be physically active and are less successful academically.
Jamieson recommends these tips for parents to set a good example for children:
- Limit family members’ recreational time with TV, video or computer screens to two hours daily.
- Remove TVs from bedrooms and learn to negotiate and take turns watching different shows.
- Turn the TV off and eat or socialize as a family.
- Develop hobbies and become more involved in the community, neighborhood, local schools or places of worship.
You’ll notice that Ms Jamieson is more concerned with TV time than with cell phones. She’s not the only one with that concern either. Researchers at Ohio State University have compared how mothers and children communicate while they’re watching TV with what happens when they read books to reveal the impact on children’s development. The results show that watching TV leads to less interaction between parents and children, with a detrimental impact on literacy and language skills.
The researchers studied the interactions of 73 mother-child pairs. The average mother was married, in their early thirties and had a bachelor’s degree, while half were not employed. The children ranged in age from 16 months to 6 years.
The results showed that mothers who read books to their kids interacted significantly more with their children than mothers watching TV. The reading mothers had a more active communication style, and used words the children didn’t hear in everyday speech, which improved their vocabulary and grammatical knowledge. In contrast, watching TV resulted in significantly fewer descriptions and positive responses than reading did.
The authors said “Reading books together increased maternal communication beyond the level required for reading, while watching TV decreased maternal communication. This is significant when we consider the amount of time young children spend watching TV. In some cases children are left alone to watch TV, missing out on any parental communication at a critical stage in their development”.
I haven’t had a functional TV in my house in over 20 years and I don’t miss it at all. As I tell the kids who come to the Planetarium “Do you want to be smart? Here’s how to do it. Turn the TV OFF, (they don’t call it the idiot box for nothing!) pick up a book and read it.”
Do your kids a favor. Turn off the cell phone and the TV and be there for your kids. They will thank you for it later!