Monthly Archives: June 2011

Minority kids in U.S. spend 30% more time plugged in than white kids

How much time does your preteen or teen spend online, watching TV, listening to music or playing video games? Turns out the answer may be linked to their racial and ethnic background.

A new study out of Northwestern University has found dramatic differences in the amount of time kids from different ethnic and racial minorities in the U.S. spend online, compared with their white counterparts. Read the full report here.

“Minority children spend an average of 13 hours a day using mobile devices, computers, TVs and other media — about 4½ hours more than white kids,” according to the report.

The sheer number of hours is staggering: Among 8- to 18-year-olds, Asian Americans logged the most media use (13 hours, 13 minutes a day), followed by Hispanics (13 hours), blacks (12 hours, 59 minutes), and whites (8 hours, 36 minutes).

The added time was divided between television, music, Internet and video gaming, but the proportion of television consumption in particular was highest for minority youth, who were also more likely to have televisions with cable and specialty channels in their bedrooms.

“In the past decade, the gap between minority and white youth’s daily media use has doubled for blacks and quadrupled for Hispanics,” says Northwestern Professor Ellen Wartella, who directed the study and heads the Center on Media and Human Development in the School of Communication. “The big question is what these disparities mean for our children’s health and education.”

The study, “Children, Media and Race: Media Use Among White, Black, Hispanic and Asian American Children,” is based on a new analysis, by race, of data from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s previous media use studies. It finds that race-related differences among youth are robust even when controlling for factors including parent education and whether or not children are from single- or two-parent families.

Media usage among kids and teens has shifted dramatically in the last 10 years, and these changes have consequences for families, schools and communities. One Kaiser Family Foundation report found that 8-18 year-olds of all racial backgrounds pack in more than 53 hours a week of media usage (more than a full-time job!). And what’s more, since kids are so adept at media multitasking, the average 7 hours, 38 minutes of media time a day actually condenses almost 11 real time hours of media.

Compare this to how much time your kids spend in school. To how much time they spend with you.

The scale of influence is so dramatically different that it pales in comparison. Do you feel your preteens and teens are adequately prepared to process all these outside messages about their bodies, their sexuality, their values, their life choices?

Parents of all kids, no matter their colour, race or ethnicity, need to carefully examine their kids’ media usage. But the need is clearly greatest in minority communities.

“These findings should be a clarion call to minority communities to protect their children’s future health and well-being by insisting on a right to more media-free time,” Frederick Zimmerman explained in a USA Today article on the report, chair of the department of Health Services at UCLA School of Public Health.

Why your teen is so sleepy and what to do about it

I did a presentation with a great bunch of veteran high school teachers this morning on developing teaching strategies based in what we know about the teenage brain. One of the more fascinating discussions to come out of the morning was around the problem of teens and sleep.

Research tells us that around the age of 13 or 14, teens change the way they process the hormone Melatonin, which (among other things) regulates our sleep cycle. In other words, the circadian rhythms of adolescent brains is literally different than that of adults. They don’t feel at all sleepy until midnight or 1 am, and then they want to sleep in until noon.

The kicker, of course, is that all this happens around the same time their parents reach middle age and start wanting to go to sleep at 10 p.m., which means no one is around to enforce a regular bedtimes.

And it also means that these kids are miserable getting to school for 8 a.m. They are chronically sleep deprived, and usually hungry as well, since who wants to eat breakfast when you are exhausted.

It’s a terrible combination for learning. The sleep-deprived brain is not good at absorbing or processing information, which means a good chunk of morning classes are not teaching them anything. Some schools have tried to accommodate this biological change by starting school later in the morning, and while the early indications are very positive, this is unlikely to happen in the vast majority of schools.

Sleep-deprivation is also correlated with depression. And teens who are depressed can end up experimenting with all kids of high-risk activities. We don’t want to go there.

However, some teachers still have to teach algebra or French grammar to 16-year-olds at 8 a.m. on a regular basis, so I went over a variety of strategies they can use in the classroom to help their students stay awake and maybe even learn something: keep them moving, minimize lecturing, use group work, etc.

But what they all kept wanting to know is how to get the message about sleep through to these teens and their parents, despite the change in their brain chemistry. They asked me for a list of tips they can communicate to students and parents at the start of the next school year, in the hope that it makes a difference for even a few of them.

  1. Get the technology out of their bedrooms before bedtime. Not only do computers, TVs. cellphones and gaming help stimulate the brain right when they should be slowing down for rest, but they can distract teens well past the time they should be lying down. One teacher told me her students report putting their cellphones under their pillows so they don’t miss a single call or text.
  2. Establish a regular bedtime and bedtime routine. Impress upon kids the importance of this, so that they can do it even when mom and dad have turned off their lights.
  3. Trying and keep the same schedule even on weekends. I know how tempting it is to let them sleep until noon on Saturday and Sunday mornings, but they will have that much harder a time of it when the alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m. Monday morning.
  4. Figure out some kind of reasonably healthy breakfast sleepy teens can have before school. Smoothies (yogurt, fruit, milk, orange juice) are one easy, delicious and portable option. Even a small glass of orange juice can make that first class more productive.
  5. Avoid caffeine. One recent study found 85% of teens are consuming at least one caffeinated beverage a day; 11% reported consuming the equivalent of four espressos daily. The initial buzz of caffeine can leave you feeling shaky and depleted shortly after. Caffeine can leave you feeling irritable and restless, interfere with concentration and produce withdrawal symptoms from headaches to heart palpitations. And worst of all, the caffeine you ingest during the day can make it harder to go to sleep that night.

School’s Out! Time for lunchbox confessionals

School’s finally out, and the torment of preparing and sending three lunches a day is finally over for a couple of months. I don’t know about your house, but we go through many different permutations of lunchbox preparation over the course of the year.

In September, I’m really keen. I make and freeze double batches of the Bran-ana Chocolate Chip Muffins from Meal Leani Yumm! with ground flax seeds. I prepare inventive sandwiches and every lunchbox contains a fresh fruit and vegetable in reusable containers. Water bottles are frozen half full and topped off with water in the a.m. so they will remain cold and palatable all day.

This lasts maybe a week.

Then the bloom is off the rose, so to speak. I get frustrated by the vegetables coming home uneaten at the end of the day. The half-eaten gourmet sandwiches spilled at the bottom of funky smelling lunchbags. I’m tired. The novelty is gone. I insist the girls pack their own lunches, setting the nightly battle to be played out in the kitchen for the rest of the school year.

Three girls in the kitchen preparing lunches offers fresh opportunity for bickering, for spills, for splotches of unwiped ketchup and mayonnaise. For unwrapped blocks of cheese hidden in the egg compartment of the fridge (if it gets put back at all). When they leave, the kitchen looks like a tornado blew through the place. The dog is having his second dinner of spilled condiments, bread crumbs and stray pieces of deli meat that tumbled to the ground and stayed there. The sharp eyes of schoolchildren can spot an email in their inbox from twenty paces, but they apparently never hit the kitchen floor.

I either shout for them to clean up. Or stay silent and stew about it as I clean up. Neither option is ideal.

And now that we are all freed from the torments of lunch preparation for the two blessed months of summer, I just had to repost this Calgary Herald article by the very funny Leanne Shirtliffe, in which she rounds up some of the all-time worst lunches ever sent off to school.

The thermos of lukewarm water and the bottle of Jack Daniels top the charts, in my opinion. The question begs to be asked: what’s the worst lunch you’ve ever sent off with your kid?