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Growing Concerns (02/22/2004)
By Dr. Martha Erickson
A question-and-answer column with Dr. Martha Erickson of the University of Minnesota

Question: Should a 3-year-old have a TV/DVD player in his bedroom so he can go to his room to watch movies and TV when his parents are not interested in watching the same program?

Answer: I can see no reason such a young child should have a TV in his bedroom. Even for older children and teens, having a TV and/or DVD player in the bedroom makes it too easy for kids to have an excessive amount of "screen time," which takes time away from more valuable activities. A TV in the bedroom also contributes to isolation of individual family members, cutting into time for families to be together for conversation and shared activities. Setting such a pattern with a 3-year-old seems like a bad idea all around.

To parents who are considering placing a TV in their 3-year-old's room, I would make the following suggestions:

* Keep the bedroom free of stimulating media technology of any kind. Focus instead on having a good reading light and a stack of age-appropriate books on hand. Make reading together a part of your bedtime ritual and, as the child gets older, encourage him to read on his own at bedtime to help him relax and settle into a good night's sleep.

* Be selective about the quality and quantity of TV or DVD viewing your child does. And try to watch high-quality shows together and talk about them afterwards. With young children, asking "who, what, where, when and why" questions help them to develop their mental ability and language skills. And by focusing on the actions of characters--and the consequences of those actions--you can help your child develop important moral and social values.

* When you need something to keep an active child busy while you prepare dinner or make an important phone call, have your child do a puzzle or draw a picture at a nearby table. Or if you do decide to have him watch a favorite TV show or DVD, have him near you so you can keep an eye on him.

For more information about the responsible use of media with children of all ages, visit the Web site of the National Institute on Media and the Family Web site at www.mediafamily.org. The institute offers a wealth of research-based information to guide parents in making thoughtful decisions about the place of media and technology in their children's lives.

Question: Ever since our son was born my husband has been saying he's going to grow up to be a hockey star. At 3, my husband had him on skates, all decked out in a uniform. Now our son is 5 and he cries when dad says it's time to go skating-I'm sure because my husband pushes him so hard. I understand my husband's dreams for our son, but this is not the way. If you write about this in your column, I think my husband might actually listen to you. What are your thoughts about this?

Answer: As parents, we all have dreams for our children. But too often our dreams reflect what we want for ourselves and may not be at all what our children desire. Imposing our dreams on our children almost always is a set-up for failure. Your husband already is seeing that pushing your son into hockey is backfiring. It's time to step back and start fresh by helping your son learn to enjoy sports regardless of whether he turns out to have star quality. Helping your child find joy in sports is a worthy goal. Sports promote lifelong physical health, social skills and confidence.

Here are some keys to engaging your child in a positive way in sports:

* Expose your son to a variety of sports, both as a spectator and participant. Take him to see baseball, soccer, basketball, and hockey but also individual sports like swimming and skiing. Watch not only the stars, but also 6- and 7-year-old kids who are having fun learning together.

* Practice basic sports skills with your son, with an emphasis on having fun together. Toss a football, kick a soccer ball, go for a swim, swing a golf club, or just run around the block together. Most important, follow your son's interests and keep it light.

* Reward your son's effort rather than perfection. Teach and model tolerance of mistakes--laughing when you miss the ball or do a belly flop instead of a dive.

* Above all, support your son in pursuing the sports that spark his interest, whether they're your favorites or not. He will more likely succeed and have fun when he's doing what he loves.

Meanwhile, dad, if hockey is your own passion, get together with some buddies and sign up for ice time. Who knows"Šif your son sees you having fun on the ice with your friends, he may choose to put on the skates again one of these days. 


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