THE BRAIN BENEFITS OF BOREDOM

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Don’t ever worry when you hear your child say ‘I’m bored”. By jumping in and rescuing them, you might actually be robbing their brain of essential downtime and opportunities for creative thinking associated with the wandering mind. While we associate boredom with inactivity, the brain is often far from quiet. Here are just a few of the brain benefits of boredom:

Recharge. We are not suggesting that children should sit on the couch and stare at the wall all day, but ten minutes of daydreaming and doing nothing is sometimes just what they need to be ready for what comes next. Being constantly barraged with external stimulation is exhausting for the brain. Downtime provides an opportunity to recover from "cognitive overload" and to recharge the brain.

Imagination and creativity. Have you ever come up with a great idea in the shower or had a brainwave in the dead of the night? Research shows that our brain doesn't go into a lower gear when we aren't focused on something specific. Instead, the activity shifts to the imagination and utilises the creative areas of the brain.

Goal setting.  It turns out though that allowing the mind to wander is generally quite future-focused and can actually help children with choices about what to do next. It might seem counterintuitive that while your mind is wandering, your brain is busily considering future directions and goals.

Altruism. Boredom encourages us to seek out meaning elsewhere. Children are more likely to seek out prosocial behaviors (connect with others) when at a loose end, and that’s a good thing.

So when you hear the dreaded words "I'm bored!"

  • Avoid rushing in with a prepackaged solution, organized activity, or app.

  • Be aware that children sometimes use the word "bored" when in fact they are lonely or sad. Rather than rush in with an organized activity, you might pivot to a conversation about those feelings or simply invite your child to join in with you for a bit.

  • Instead of providing solutions, create space and time for children to come up with their own ideas for what to do next. To avoid the default ‘screen based’ option, ensure your children have access to pencils, paper, craft materials, balls, card and board games. What they do next is up to them.

  • Children have been making their own fun for decades, if not centuries. It is possibly even more important than ever to schedule some ‘down time’ for them to reconnect with their own inner resources. You are NOT the entertainment director.

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WORLD HEALTH ORGANISATION REPORT

In April 2019 the World Health Organisation (WHO) finally published recommended screen times for young children. in a report titled “Children Need to Sit Less & Play More” an expert panel recommended that under fives need a whole lot more activity, and less time in front of screens.

The panel assessed the effects on young children of inadequate sleep, and time spent sitting watching television, or restrained in prams and chairs. They also reviewed evidence about the benefits of increased activity levels. In a nutshell it is recommended that there be a balance between activity, sedentary behaviour and sleep. Quality sedentary time with a caregiver would include reading, storytelling, singing and puzzles.

The report recommends that for children under 2 years of age, screen time is not recommended at all. Children aged 3-4 years should not have more than one hour of screen time per day (and less is better).

Something that parents often fail to understand is that all screen time is not equal. Shows and ‘apps’ that are characterised by loud noises, ‘bells and whistles’ are less suited to young brains, and in fact can alter the wiring in a child’s brain. Calm, gentle story lines and stories that promote well being, kindness and childlike activities are much more beneficial to young children. An excellent example of this is Bluey the Cattle Dog, a new Australian cartoon which bases its story lines on everyday Australian family life, and uses play to teach important values and skills.

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 DANGERS IN THE DIGITAL SPACE

Most parents are grappling with this issue in one way or another these days. It’s a tricky one as we don’t have anything from our own childhood to refer to, and basically all parents are on unknown territory. One things we can say is that the majority of parents feel that they are struggling to keep up with their children and they are unsure how to handle the ‘techno tantrums’ that invariably result from trying to impose limitations.

One of the best things you can do is to buy yourself a copy of Susan McLeans ‘Sexts, Texts and Selfies’. Susan developed a lot of her knowledge as a police officer, and now spends her life helping parents and children stay safe in the ‘digital space’.

You may think, judging by the title, that this is a read for parents of teen daughters. This is NOT so, and it’s an essential guide as to how to get in ‘at the ground floor’ and be the best parent you can in this techno world.

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SAFETY AND SOCIAL NETWORKING 

Social networking sites are as much a part of a teens ‘lived experience’, as their interaction in the real world. As parents it is our job to understand their online world and prepare them as best we can to keep themselves safe. You may have heard the term ‘cyber-safety’? The word ‘cyber’ simply means “pertaining to computers or computer networks”.

Social networking provides the perfect forum for our teens to begin that ‘separation’ from family, to move towards independence and gain peer acceptance.  Online activity has many positives. It serves to strengthen connections with friends and family, enables young people to expand their friendship groups, pursue their emerging interests and link with like minded people. Social networking is used in many sports and hobbies, and even schools and teachers use groups for communication as they recognise the benefits of using their students preferred communication means.

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The absence of the internet when we were growing up makes it especially challenging not only to understand the online (or ‘cyber’) world, but also to support our kids when they come up against problems, or get themselves ‘in too deep’. 

So what simple steps can parents take to keep their children safe when using technology and in particular when using Facebook and other social networking sites.

Let’s start with Facebook (remembering 13 years is the minimum age for an account) and consider a few key things you can start with. These include:- 

• understanding the privacy controls. Facebook’s default setting tends to make information public until a user changes their settings to private. Ideally your teen would initially choose for their posts to be seen by “Friends Only”.

• posting only comments and updates that they would be happy to show any stranger (or their nana!) Only make neutral/positive comments about others, and be careful when uploading photos that they are not risqué in any way, or that might cause offence. Once something is posted it can be sourced in the future, and this can even have implications for future employment, believe it or not. 

• the settings ensure they receive a preview of everything they’ve been tagged in (including photos) before the post links to their personal page;

• that if in doubt, don’t post! Teach your teens to ask themselves why they're posting something, consider who will be able to read it, and whether it could be misunderstood or backfire against them later;

• do not accept friend “requests” from just anybody, it is NOT rude to ignore requests from strangers;

• always “log off” after use so that their profile cannot be tampered with the next user of that computer (especially when in a library or computer lab of any description);

  • that anything posted online can potentially be misused (e.g. screenshots are easy to take).

As a parent, develop your ‘radar’ with respect to your teens emotional wellbeing. A key purpose of teens is to distance themselves from the family unit and ‘individualise’ and no matter what affirmations you are sending, it is the peer feedback loop that they will respond to.  The online world opens up the very real possibility of harassment and rejection. This includes “de-friending”, harsh comments, or simply not getting as many “likes” for your posts as other people.

If you observe changes in your child’s mood, it may be linked to something that has occurred online. They are extremely unlikely to tell you about it directly either, for fear of losing their access or their device. The quality of your communication with them will be key to getting to the real issue.

Some symptoms you may observe include sadness, anxiety, pessimism, difficulty concentrating, a drop in grades, insomnia, loss of appetite and irritability. Some teens may experience depression and ongoing mood disturbance may need further investigation by a health professional. 

Facebook is just one of many online platforms and young people are heavily into Snapchat, WhatsApp and Instagram, to name just three. 

Finally, it pays to be aware that there is a high chance that your child may have an account  that you DO know about, but also another ‘alias’ that you are completely unaware of. 

Here are four easy to navigate sites on cybersafety: 

https://www.facebook.com/help/parents 

https://www.facebook.com/safety/groups/parents/

http://www.communications.gov.au/easyguide/social_networking 

http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/Parents/Resources/Educate%20yourself.aspx