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No. 3

In This Issue

Joey's World Previous Page Next Page
by Faith Berens, Dianne Craft, & Betty Statnick
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FAQs: Screen Time, Task Focus, and Clear Communication

Every day, HSLDA Special Needs/ Struggling Learner coordinators encourage HSLDA members and answer their questions. Here are answers to a few questions they recently received.

How do watching TV and playing computer games affect children?

Faith Berens: On this topic, I tend to lean toward the saying, “Everything in moderation.” As 1 Corinthians 10:23a tells us, “ ‘Everything is permissible’-but not everything is beneficial” (NIV). I think many of us would do well to rethink how much “screen time” we allow our children. I have found in my own home that the computer, handheld video games, and TV time can be major threats to constructive learning, family conversation time, creative play, and time for pleasure reading. When children watch TV or other related media, they are allowed to be passive, rather than active and imaginative thinkers. Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise discuss this in their book, The Well-Trained Mind:

Language requires the mind to work harder; in reading, the brain is forced to translate a symbol (words on the page) into a concept. Images, such as those on videos and television, allow the mind to be passive. In front of a video screen, the brain can sit back and relax; faced with the written page, the mind is required to roll its sleeves up and get to work.

As a culture, we are certainly beginning to see the negative impact of too much TV and other screen time, through the rise of childhood obesity and children’s exposure to violence, sex, and substance abuse. Too much screen time can also negatively affect normal early brain development, particularly during the first two years of life when so many synapses and neural pathways are being formed. In fact, Dr. Jane Healy writes about the negative effects of media on brain development in her book Endangered Minds. Some studies have even begun to link toddler TV viewing to later attention problems in school settings.

Finally, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV for children age 2 or younger. For older children, the academy recommends no more than 1–2 hours per day of educational, nonviolent programs. (See resource sidebar.)

My child can’t seem to be able to do any schoolwork by himself. As soon as I walk away, he stops working. How can I help him?

Dianne Craft: This is a common complaint from homeschooling moms. The first step is to consider whether the work is at your child’s ability level. End-of-the-year tests (see resource sidebar) or other curriculum testing will help you determine that. If you know that the work is on your child’s level, and he does understand the assignment you have given him, there are several other considerations. Struggling children frequently have an immature nervous system that is causing them to expend much more of their energy to stay focused on a task. Their immature nervous systems seem to require the presence of an adult in order to stay on task. Many moms try to complete their own chores before giving their child an assignment. They can then sit with the child until his work is done.



Another step to consider is keeping workbook writing to a minimum. Do as much as you can orally. Just check off the page as “done” once your child has given you the answers verbally. Greatly reduce the amount of problems assigned to this child, and do them on the whiteboard together. Your child will love that!

Lastly, make sure that your child is not suffering from a treatable physical issue that is making it harder for him to stay focused, and keep his nervous system in order. Your pediatrician can do a thorough exam to check for things such as anemia (or subclinical anemia), a thyroid issue, overgrowth of yeast or fungus, and food allergies or sensitivities. (See resource sidebar.) Children tend to act out how they feel. It is good to check for physical causes for a child’s difficulty before assuming that it is something that he can totally control.

How can I help my child improve his ability to express himself so that others can understand exactly what he means?

Here for You

HSLDA’s Special Needs/Struggling Learner coordinators offer a variety of resources for parents of struggling learners or children with special needs. HSLDA members may contact Faith Berens, Dianne Craft, and Betty Statnick for counsel and suggestions. Call 540-338-5600 or visit www.hslda.org/contactstaff.

For helpful resources 24/7 or to sign up for our e-newsletter, visit www.hslda.org/strugglinglearner.

Betty Statnick: Many times when parents ask me this question, their child does not have any stuttering, articulation, or lowered IQ issues. I glean from these conversations that the children in question have what I categorize as “Pronoun-itis.” They “flip” pronouns around much like a cook flips pancakes. I explain to parents that using pronouns is perfectly acceptable if a person has already established who or what the pronoun is referring to. However, to exclaim (without any prior explanation or introduction) “He did it!” “I can’t find it,” or “I put it over there” will leave the hearer wondering who or what the speaker is talking about. I recommend that parents do not permit pronouns to be used for a period of time. For instance, “She put it over there” is unacceptable and should be replaced with, “Mary placed the book on the white bookcase.”

Another manifestation of expressive language problems occurs when students employ (in their speaking or writing) what I label as “outlawed words.” My aim is to have students employ more precise, colorful words.thing, whatchamacallit, good, nice, fun, did, neat, and cool. So we retire those overworked words and develop a replacement list: exciting, colorful, delicious, tasty, fascinating, difficult, overwhelming. I tell parents to have their children be on the lookout for other words they would like to add to either list.

More than one parent has said to me, “My child’s difficulty in trying to get across what he wants to say has made me more aware of my own manner of expressing myself.” A parent can always be a positive role model when giving directions. Consider this scenario: Mom, Dad, and children have gone to the shopping mall. Mom says to Dad, “I’ll meet you at two o’clock here in Macy’s women’s shoe department.” (She might even add a memory clue: “Two shoes, two feet, two p.m.”) There is no haziness about those directions!

We are always communicating (sometimes with words and sometimes without words). When it comes to words, we want to be understood. Therefore, we definitely need to take steps to make it easier for others to grasp what we intend to say.

Resource List

Television and screen time

Task focus and health

  • The Hyperactivity Hoax by Sydney Walker III, MD—Dr. Walker has found that 40% of children who struggle with sustained attention have subclinical anemia.
  • Hypothyroidism: The Unsuspected Illness by Broda Barnes, MD—Dr. Barnes has found that a very large number of children who are struggling have hypothyroidism. It has been known for 20 years that dyslexia and thyroid function are often related.

  • Help for Your Hyperactive Child by William Crook, MD, and Superimmunity for Kids by Leo Galland, MD—Drs. Crook and Galland have found that 85% of children who struggle later with focus and memory have had multiple ear infections when young, possibly leading to overgrowth of yeast or fungus.

  • Brain Allergies by William H. Philpott, MD, and No More Ritalin by Mary Ann Block, DO—Many parents report dramatically improved attention to task once their children’s food allergies/sensitivities were uncovered and addressed.

Clearing up communication

  • The Mislabeled Child: Looking Beyond Behavior to Find the True Sources and Solutions for Children’s Learning Challenges, Brock Eide, MD, MA, and Fernette Eide, MD
  • Childhood Speech, Language and Listening Problems: What Every Parent Should Know, Patricia Hamaguchi, MA, CCC-SLP

About the authors

Faith Berens, Dianne Craft, and Betty Statnick are HSLDA’s special needs coordinators.