Raising ‘slow’ kids no small feat today

By now most of you have heard of the slow food movement – the growing trend to support local farms and foods and sustainable growing methods.

I’m all for the slow foods movement, but I believe there’s another national treasure – yes, even more important than food – that could benefit from a slowdown.

I say it’s high time we start a slow kids movement.

I’m not advocating that we raise kids who aren’t bright. I mean we should raise them the old-fashioned way, with access to less technology and fewer gadgets.

We need fewer Playstations and Gameboys, and more puzzles, blocks, card games and board games. We need fewer X-boxes – and more cardboard boxes.

We need less lapware (make that zero lapware) and more laptime read-aloud sessions.

We need less screen time and more screened-porch time. More nature walks, backyard camping, lightning-bug catching and lazy conversations with our families.

Most of all, we need less entertainment and more moments of boredom – those moments that spur kids to build forts out of chairs, blankets, and sofa cushions and to play store, school and restaurant. It’s that kind of play that best teaches them to to experience frustration, learn patience and tolerance of others, and practice the principle of delayed gratification.

When my own three children (born in the 1980s) were young, television was the worst of the electronic distractions – and that was tough enough to limit. My girls learned from an early age, though, that “Mommy turns on the TV” and that TV was an occasional treat. It was that simple. As for electronic games and toys, they just never made it into the house (until the youngest was 10, that is, and her ever-indulgent granny bought one).

I’ll admit that like any other perennially-exhausted mom, I had days when it was all I could do to crash on the couch while the kids watched Sesame Street. But those days were the exception and not the rule.

I knew that letting my children marinate hour after lazy hour in front of the TV -- even educational TV -- was doing them no favors if it replaced creative, make-believe activities, outdoor recreation, and hands-on play with three-dimensional objects.

I knew that the very act of watching TV, no matter how good the content, encourages passivity, saps initiative, and shortens attention spans – habituating developing brains to fast-paced, constantly-shifting action.

I knew that kindergarten teachers, on the very first day of school, have no trouble picking out the children who have been regularly read to, and the kids who have been nourished on electronic entertainment. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics sets guidelines limiting screen time to one or two hours a day after age two – and zero screen time prior to two.

I can already see, though, that my daughters are going to face much bigger challenges than I did when they start their families and try to set such limits.

Today, TV’s are all around us: in the mall food courts, restaurants and waiting rooms, and in an astounding number of cars. From the research, I also know that an estimated half of all American children – one study of third graders put the number at 70 percent – have TV’s in their bedrooms.

But if in the rare moments that they don’t have a TV to watch, never fear – kids today have entertainment at their fingertips! I see these children in grocery stores and restaurants, eyes glued to the screens of their cell phones or hand-held games.

I have to wonder, what will happen to this generation of kids that has been pacified from birth with electronic toys, growing up with the expectation that they should never have to suffer without entertainment for even a moment? How will they cope with adulthood when they’ve learned to react to the slightest discomfort or boredom by reflexively seeking an escape from reality?

What will happen to children who have never experienced the frustration of long lines or long car rides, and who have never had to invent games in their head or – horrors – converse with a parent to amuse themselves during these down times?

It’s got to be doubly hard to raise a slow kid today, when the culture has been taken over by electronic gadgets as status symbols and social crutches. But raising slow children can still be done – if parents are willing to buck the norm and be something of a counterculture parent.

So if you’d like to raise a slow child – or maybe just introduce a slow moment here and there into your child’s fast-paced life – let’s talk.

In the coming months I plan to write in this space about the ways 21st-century parents can strive to provide their children with the best aspects of an old-fashioned childhood.

I’d like to get your feedback. What rules do you have (or did you have, if your children are grown like mine) for limiting screen time? How do you encourage reading and outdoor play?

If you’re a teacher, what classroom observations have you made about wired-from-birth students versus those from “slow” homes?

And if you think I’m all wet, and you want to tell me me about your Nintendo-addicted child who gets straight ‘A’s, or who went on to become a successful, well-adjusted adult, I want to hear from you as well.

Until then – here’s to slowing down!

Patty Kruszewski is the mother of three ‘slow’ daughters ages 29, 27 and 23, and the proud owner of Virginia license plate TV FREE. Contact her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
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