If there is one thing that is not in short supply, it is information. No matter where you turn, television screens flash their messages. Billboards on highways and busses tell us a story. Cable programming offers a 24/7 data delivery system. Twitter users imprint the planet with their up-to-the-second updates about the goings on virtually everywhere and anywhere. We are in the know at all times.

The current generation of children is being raised in a hyper-media environment that can save time…and waste it, too. They can access instant information for their schoolwork, then move on to something else more interesting. Internet, video games, mobile phones and iPods are fascinating distractions in a world gone fast.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study in March 2005, children ages 8 through 18 were found to consume eight and one-half hours of media a day. Interestingly, their media consumption was actually compressed to six and one-half hours in real-time due to their multitasking. That is to say, they would listen to their iPod while instant messaging and so on. Across seven days a week, their 44 ½ hours of media usage equals a full-time job plus overtime. On January 20, 2010, the findings for a second study were presented at a forum in Washington, DC. In just five years, children’s media consumption has increased to ten hours and 45 minutes worth of media consumed in seven and one-half hours.

A brief breakdown of actual media usage is illuminating.

According to the study in 2005, children ages 8 through 18 spend 3 hours and 51 minutes a day watching TV (which includes videos, DVDs and prerecorded programs).That number jumped to 4 hours and 29 minutes a day by 2010. Five years ago, children spent 1 hour and 45 minutes using the radio or other music devices. In 2010 it increased by 46 minutes to 2 hours and 31 minutes. Interactive media, meaning non-homework related computer usage, came in third in 2005 with just over one hour per day while it is now 1 hour and 29 minutes. Forty-nine minutes were spent on video games in 2005; it is now 1 hour and 13 minutes. Non- schoolwork related reading came in dead last with an average of 43 minutes a day. It has dropped off to 38 minutes today.

At this juncture, I would like to interject that I am a proponent of the Internet, television, print and online news outlets. After all, I work in media relations as well as in television and film. I use Twitter, FaceBook and LinkedIn like any other mere mortal, and even my ten-year-old daughter recently got her own email address. My concern lies more in the lack of discernment about what our children are actually consuming and for how long. It is so pervasive that we aren’t even aware of how much our children absorb in a day.

We may not be able to control what’s on the side of a bus or flashing on a screen in a restaurant, but we can determine what happens at home.

A few power of slow principles may help.

1. Less is more. Be clear that media usage is a privilege, not a right. Grant the privilege to watch television, use the family computer or play video games at your discretion.
2. Be a role model. If you watch three hours of television a day, it is hard to justify why your kids can’t, too. Evaluate how much is enough.
3. Use parental controls. Identify which Internet sites your children are allowed to visit. Set up restricted access on the computer.
4. Spend time with your kids. Ask them questions about which TV shows they like and why. Watch them along with your children.
5. Encourage smart integration of media into your routine. It should be an augmentation to, not a replacement of, your life.

One day our kids will have full-time jobs of their own. Maybe some of them will even work in media itself. Even as our media landscape continues to shift, our focus on what’s truly important can remain steady. The days of Ozzy and Harriet are long gone, but the love for our children is eternal.

This post was originally published on Psychology Today.

How to Get More Free Time

February 10, 2010

Free time doesn’t have to be expensive because it is indeed ‘free’. The first step to having more free time is to decouple your understanding of time as money. When thinking that time equals money, they treat time as if it were very expensive. In fact, ‘free time’ is the most valuable time you can spend.

Why?

Because when you take time off, you are more productive on the days you are ‘on’.

I’ll give you an example.

Instead of going to the gym to ‘workout’, I shoveled snow with my family. I was outside, got light exposure, and had a great time while doing something productive and helpful (the neighbors were happy, too, as we shoveled part of their driveway free). In the afternoon, my husband and I went to the gym for a visit to the sauna only. What a thought! It was a great way to spend our free time. An hour there gave us an extra hour in the evening of wakefulness because we were so relaxed.

How will you spend your free time today?

Leisure Time in the U.S.

If Today Were Your Last Day

February 9, 2010

Cruising down the road today, I really listened to the lyrics of Nickelback’s song, If Today Was Your Last Day, for the first time. Since I have written about what my last twenty-four hours would look like before, I thought this musical version was pretty neat.

Happy Viewing, All!

In just a few weeks, we’ll be changing the clocks forward once again. Does Daylight Saving Time make you sleepy and disoriented just like jet lag?

Take this poll!

I had a great chat with Judy Martin in New York. Here’s what we had to say about work, life, and information overload.

The outdoor temperature flirted with freezing as we shifted our weight from one foot to the other. The rain pelted our heads relentlessly as we waited for the command.

“And…action!”

We quickly whipped off our hatwear, pretending it was a breezy spring-like day. It wasn’t. Our hands were frozen, our shoulders perched on our ears. Because the camera couldn’t pick up the ‘light rain’, we had to act as if it wasn’t precipitating. Life on television is a lot different than life in the real world. And I loved every minute of it.

Like many women, I wear many hats: wife, mother, PR consultant, writer, actor, friend. Every now and again I step out of life and in front of the camera for a day or two of complete release. Hanging out with crew members and  feeling the sense of temporal camaraderie are rewarding experiences. As Dena Marie Patton says in Gina Blitstein’s piece, “Where is the ‘i’ in my life?”, we must step out of our myriad roles, if only for a few minutes, to rediscover the me in we, the self in the collective. Dena herself experienced a minor stroke at age twenty-six after living a workaholic lifestyle. She knows of which she speaks.

Believe it or not, bundled under five layers of clothing to ward off the freezing rain, I found myself. Despite the straining external circumstances, it was a journey of self-discovery, a true test of desire, and a marvelous return to me.

How will you carve out those moments for yourself? Which avenue will you choose to ‘step out of your role’ and into yourself? I’d love to know.

Teaching Kids to Go Slow

February 2, 2010

Hyperparenting has dropped off the media radar for the most part. You don’t read much about overscheduling, at least not like you used to. My guess is it has more to do with our acceptance of today’s norm of overscheduling than to the actual disappearance thereof. We are all overscheduled. And that makes us ‘normal’.

Sometimes I observe people’s reaction when they ask me if I have time.

“Yes. I do.”

They typically blink twice, dumbfounded that anyone would admit they have any time at all. Isn’t that just so 1800′s when leisure was a part of the upper class and not really something anyone who toiled for a living could admit to having enjoyed?

So we book ourselves, and our kids, to the max. Then we wonder why we are time-starved and stressed.

We can avoid the whole overscheduling debate by leaving blank days available. Some people might laugh at the impossibility of it. Really? I’m not sure when we gave over our power to the almightly clock (actually, yes, I do. It had to do with Frederick Taylor’s study of factory worker productivity, tying the knot between the clock and capitalism once and for all). As far as I know, we all have the same hours on it as everyone else.

If our scheduling minds require it, schedule ‘down time’. Mondays and Wednesdays are notoriously blank days in our family. The kids have no athletic activities, music lessons or afternoon instruction. They frolick (after homework), allowing their minds to roam. They read books, play games, or romp in the snow. It works because they are used to the down time necessary to free up their mind for the next day’s assignments.

Some may call me a slacker mom for leaving so much ‘dead air time’ in my kids’ lives. They play in organized teams, have music lessons and even tutoring sessions. But those days off are as precious as the air they breathe.

How can we invite more slow into our kids’ lives?

1. Leave several days of unstructured time available for kids to play with their friends or do whatever comes to mind.

2. Ask them to suggest a weekend activity. Give them a choice as to whether they ‘do’ anything at all.

3. Allow for spontaneity by leaving space between things. Instead of planning back-to-back events, plan only one, then see what else unfolds.

4. Have your child organize his or her own birthday party, offering assistance only where needed.

5. Spend a day together frolicking without a stated purpose.

Slow family living is about connection, joy and love. It is life’s greatest reward.

**This post originally appeared on Psychology Today. Reprint with permission.

How many times have you said that to yourselves? Your time starvation is frustrating, agonizing, and you wish it weren’t that way.

The power of slow doesn’t say you should stop living your life. It says here’s how you can start living it. We have convinced ourselves that we have so much to do. Take it from me. I have two kids who are nestled in a school system that has them home by 1 pm virtually every day (and sometimes even at 11:15 am when they don’t have enough teachers. Hand on my heart. It happened last week. Oh, and we live in Germany). I work with clients spanned across nine time zones. And because the children have a half-day of school, they are expected to do hours of homework at, you guessed it, home. It works because we make it work. It’s a choice, like everything else we do.

And it is true our lives have gotten faster as we attempt to keep up with the demands for efficiency and productivity. But there are limits to what we can do in a day. Sometimes less is more. We are addicted to the speed of our lives, unable to change because we see no way out.

Believe it or not, when we slow down, we make better choices. As women who not only contribute more to the GDP than ever before in history, but also nurture the next generation (and sometimes the older one, too) we must take time for ourselves as the life-sustaining necessity it is.

We live in time so why not love the very thing that enshrouds us like a robe? You do have time ~twenty-four hours each day to be exact. The question is what will you do with it?

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