A recent joint study on the effects of TV viewing on young children by the Universities of Montreal and Michigan found that by fourth grade the children who had watched several hours of television a day at age 29 months experienced a 7% decrease in classroom engagement, a 6% decrease in math achievement and a13% decrease in time spent doing physical activity. In addition, it was found that those same children had a 9% increase in soft drink consumption, a 10% increase in consumption of snacks, a 5% increase in Body Mass Index (BMI) and a whopping 10% increase in classmate victimization by the fourth grade.

As a TV actor, I’m certainly not saying television is the root of all evil. I’m saying we need to bring more mindfulness and discretion into how much of it our children consume.

Citibabes founder Tracey Frost took these stats to heart. Her New York-based community center is not only for kids, but also for parents. The purpose is to educate them while creating a safe place for kids to play.

“As a mom whose priority has been to educate and enrich my children’s world as much as possible,” she admits,”my first reaction [to this study was] completely one of guilt. While I am neither a child psychologist nor researcher, I am a mom, and it’s difficult to hear studies like these and not feel defeated in some way. Most parents I know educate themselves on the dos and don’ts of parenting, but we’re all human. Perfect parenting is an unfair goal.”

Offering enrichment classes such as the ones available at Citibabes is one way to get kids moving. “When it comes to TV,” Tracey says, “we reserve judgment and, instead, try to create a vibrant world of real-life experiences. Everyone can agree that real quality time spent face to face with other people is more fulfilling than virtual experiences.”

When I asked Tracey what we could do to create healthy viewing habits in our kids, she suggested the following:

- Role Model: The best thing you can role model for healthy TV viewing is, ironically, turning the TV off. Showing kids there’s more to life than a video screen is key which is why getting outside to the park, the beach, or just running some errands models the fun of physical activity over being a couch potato.

- Conversation starters: One thing that comes naturally to grown-ups that may not be easy for kids is the importance of discussing what’s happening on TV. When my husband and I watch TV, there’s always a conversation to be had whether it’s debating a point that’s been made or sharing complimentary information about the topic we’re watching. We try and modify that in an age-appropriate way whenever we watch TV with the kids. Asking questions about what we just watched is the best way to get kids thinking actively about what can turn into passive viewership.

- Reward: Sometimes the power of television is too seductive for kids, not unlike sugar and sweets. So, just like we’ve made dessert a “treat” after a healthy dinner, you can extend that lesson to watching TV. Make a chart for the fridge – and include the whole family – indicating what physical or “real world” activities were done for the day in order to “buy” TV time. An hour at the park might mean an hour of your child’s favorite show. A half-hour of reading a book might mean 30 minutes of playing games on the internet. Instituting a system of checks and balances may seem too rigid, but for young children who like structure and reward, the strategy works and you can always ease up as they get older.

So what do we do when they wing about wanting to watch just one more show? Tune in next time when Tracey offers up ways to draw the line and provide TV viewing alternatives.

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Slow Food HQ, Bra, Italy
Image by Andy Ciordia via Flickr

As with every year in Central Europe, just as one believes summer will never arrive, it does. We got a glimpse of warmth over the past three days. Although it has cooled today, we know it will be warmer in Italy, where we’re headed in just a few days.

Italy. The birthplace of the Slow Food movement. We’ll be dipping our toes in the Adriatic, watching boats float by with our thoughts. My mom is going with us.

How are you planning to slow down this summer? Taking a trip? Going to the beach? We all know you can’t run fast in loose sand. Try walking a tad slower than usual today. And don’t forget your flip flops, the veritable metronome of summer!

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Since I last blogged, I’ve celebrated another birthday, filmed a beer commercial (on set and outside for 14 hours ~ouch!), visited a Renaissance festival in the walled city of Rothenburg for an overnight with the kids and cleaned both our cars. Doesn’t sound slow, does it? Ah, but it was! Wandering down the cobblestone streets, watching the parade of horses and knights and fair maidens…it was simply fantastic!

Last but not least I found that California State Polytechnic University has just added The Power of Slow to its library collection. I feel so incredibly academic and marvelously entrenched, if only on the shelves of a California university!

Thanks for the greatest birthday ever, too!

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Quotes on Time

May 21, 2010

My sage stepmother sent me some gems I wanted to share with you. She has an inspirational calendar chock full of wisdom. She even tossed in one of her own. The subject? My favorite: time.

“Life is all about timing… the unreachable becomes reachable, the unavailable become available, the unattainable, attainable. Have the patience. Wait it out. It’s all  about timing.” ~ Stacey Charter

Ah, a delicious notion of savoring the waiting! How we hate to wait! But did you know that the waiting place is the schoolhouse of wisdom? I am beginning to understand that now.

And another of my favorite women writes:

“Since time is the one immaterial object which we cannot influence–either speed up nor slow down, add to nor diminish–it is an imponderably valuable gift.”  ~Maya Angelou

You can expand your consciousness, according to Marianne Williamson. It involves meditation, a slowing down of our internal metronomes to the Oneness of All Things. See NPR interview I did with her.

To cap it off, we have one more beauty to share today:

“Use [time] wisely and enjoy that gift for as long as you have it.” ~ My wise stepmom

So there you have it! What are your favorite quotes on time?

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You’ve all heard me say it. Limit screen time for yourselves and your kids. One person even said I believe TV is the source of all evil. Not so. I wouldn’t work in TV if I thought that. Toddlers, however, have other things on their minds than watching images pass through the screen: such as learning how to navigate the furniture without falling down and potty training.

According to a recent study,  children age two and under should not watch any TV at all. The ramifications shows up later (by fourth grade), according to the report. Believe me. It’s not worth it. My then-eighteen-month-old took in the story of the three little pigs while playing blocks. He never watched the screen (my three-year-old did), but the sound of the Big Bad Wolf haunted him for years. I mean years!

So, cutting down on screen time is a super duper power of slow idea. How? If you’re in Manhattan or Scarsdale, New York, consider this community, Citibabes (their blog, launched today, literally rules!). I sat down for a cyberchat with Citibabes founder Tracey Frost to discuss the importance of community. The power of slow says the meeting of the minds uplifts. Have a listen to Tracey Frost!

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Try one new thing

May 19, 2010

Venn diagram illustrating the relation between...
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Sometimes all we need to shake up our routine to bring in more awareness is to do just one thing differently in our day. Perhaps it is taking a slightly different route to work or eating joghurt with fruit instead of your mainstay of a bagel with cream cheese.

My fitness studio is doing some renovations so I was obliged to use the red, not my beloved blue, lockerroom. It felt a little irritating at first until I realized I could experience my gym in a new way. I even made a friend at my locker!

Needless to say, the ensuing Pilates class was fabulous. It made me realize that trying new things enriches our lives. It doesn’t have to be a major change that contributes to our collosal shift in thinking.

What one thing might you do differently today?

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Betsy Brown Braun, author of You’re Not the Boss of Me, is on the Today Show.

What a great video ~a must-see about how to instill gratitude, respect and self-reliance in your child. And, of course, get the book as a reference guide as you navigate your journey. Whether you are a parent or know one, it’s a good book to have for all ages!

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