Rebecca Hagelin

Culture Challenge of the Week: Winter Gloom

A month like we're having reminds me why I hate winter.

Last week’s bitter cold swept across the country, from Minnesota to Maine, and Wisconsin to Virginia. It even sent shivers through the South. The cold cancelled school and kept families indoors for days. And when the cold front passed through, the warm air sent a dismal drizzle of rain down the East Coast.

Bad weather presents a different kind of parenting challenge. Gloomy days beget grumbling attitudes—for both parents and children. A cold, miserably rainy day, a houseful of children bursting with energy and no outdoors to spend it on—what’s a parent to do?

The easy solution in our electronic age is to flip on the screens so the kids will zone out (and leave us alone). Most of us have screens of one sort or another in every room, or even in every family member’s pocket. The computer, the smartphone, the TV—they tempt us to endure winter in solitary fashion, just us and our screens.

Don’t take the bait.

According to a recent Japanese study, children who spend excessive amounts of time in front of the television experience negative effects to the structures of their brains, resulting in lower verbal intelligence. As the first researchers to look at TV watching and its influence on the brain’s structural development (not simply brain function), the Japanese scientists offered some important cautions to parents: “TV viewing is directly or indirectly associated with the neurocognitive development of children…[and] At least some of the observed associations are not beneficial and guardians of children should consider these effects when children view TV for long periods of time.’

In other words, the more TV we allow our children to watch as youngsters, the less their intellect develops. Put differently, hours in front of the TV “dumbs down” our own kids. We spend so much time, money, and attention on helping our children succeed in other ways, shouldn’t we pay attention to this?

In summertime, it’s easy to reduce television time. Kids head outside to catch fireflies, play in the pool, or flag down the ice cream man. But when your child has been stuck in the house for days because of the cold, or finishes homework long after darkness sets in, television looks like the answer. And with iPads, iPods, iPhones, and Play Station, parents must say no to, not one type of screen, but three or four.

Rebecca Hagelin

Rebecca Hagelin is a public speaker on the family and culture and the author of the new best seller, 30 Ways in 30 Days to Save Your Family.
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