Our kids headed back to school over a month ago. And while a lot of children, had no problem at all getting their academic groove on, the back to school transition has been difficult for others. “He’s addicted to technology” and “She’s missing assignments” and “She doesn’t even try” and “I can’t get him up in the morning” are just a few of the many concerning parental statements made in my work as a psychologist from just this past week. Every parent wants his or her child to succeed academically, and here are some tips to consider to get your child back into the right mindset.
Balance screen and technology time: The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limited screen time for children two years and younger, yet research shows that approximately 30 percent of babies under one year of age watch 90 minutes of TV and videos on average daily. And the time spent with screens increases exponentially with age with approximately 64 percent of toddlers reportedly watching TV and videos. Tweens (children between 8 and 12 years) spend over 6 hours daily engaging in screen and/or media activities, and teens are spending a mind boggling 9 hours daily with various forms of technology for personal use. Several studies have shown that excessive technology use can lead to learning problems, social problems, emotional problems, behavioral problems, ADHD and obesity. So, as parents we need to help our children and teens with technology use because the lure and temptation to over rely on it can be too great for them to manage on their own. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers a personalized family media use plan that has proven to be helpful for many of the parents I’ve worked with: go to www.HealthyChildren.org/MediaUsePlan.
Spend time together as a family: Academic success is associated with family time. Research studies have shown that consistent family dinners improve children’s vocabularies, reading skills and achievement scores and contribute to higher grades. Children who consistently eat meals with their families also have lower rates of smoking/vaping, alcohol use and drug use when compared to their peers who eat meals with their families less frequently. In addition to meals, I encourage parents to set aside some time on weekdays to connect with their children. Being part of your child’s after school activities or simply spending 30 minutes of quality one-to-one time in the evening with your child to review or help with homework or to talk about the events of the day will serve to promote wellness.
Get Social: As human beings we are social beings, thus it’s not surprising that research studies have found a correlation between social competence and academic achievement. Whether your child is an introvert or an extrovert, getting him or her involved in both structured and unstructured activities with same-aged peers is a good thing. Limited or poor socialization could not only impact grades over time, but it could also lead to emotional, interpersonal and behavioral problems.
Get enough sleep: Research has shown that nearly 25 percent of children will experience sleep problems at some point during childhood, and children who have sleep problems have lower academic performance. Sleep research supports the notion that successful students tend to sleep more. When it comes to getting adequate sleep, experts in this area recommend that children between 3 and 6 years of age should get 10-13 hours of sleep per night. Children between the ages of 7 and 12 years of age should get 9-12 hours of sleep per night, and children between 12 and 18 years of age should get 8-9.5 hours of sleep per night.
Exercise: Forget about the old stereotype of the “dumb jocks.” Research studies have repeatedly shown that children who exercise and who are fit perform better academically than children who are less active and heavy. In addition to improved academics, children who engage in sports have higher self-esteem, do better socially, and have fewer behavioral problems. Athletes are also more likely to finish high school and college than non-athletes.
Eat healthy: According to research, healthy eating contributes to improved academic performance. So, try to limit or eliminate sugars, simple carbs and fast food, and replace those options with healthier ones whenever possible.
These tips should help to increase structure and promote balance, which in turn, should get your child into that back to school mindset you’ve been concerned about as a parent. If, however, a problem (e.g., screen/technology over use) continues to impinge upon your child’s approach to school and academics, I recommend scheduling a consultation with a child psychologist to determine if mental health treatment is advised.
Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice. He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America and several other outlets. He can be reached at 703 723-2999, and is located at 44095 Pipeline Plaza, Suite 240, Ashburn.