National Screen-Free Week: Turn Off to Tune In

This week, April 30 – May 6, 2012, is National Screen-Free Week. This annual event is a program of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC) and is designed to encourage parents, children, teachers, schools and communities across the country to turn off all forms of screen-based media, including television, video games, computers, cell phones, etc., and instead spend time with family and friends and participating in other activities, such as reading, daydreaming, exploring nature, playing outside, and more.

Formerly known as TV-Turnoff Week, the CCFC has expanded it to include all screen-based media. It is the organization’s goal that Screen-Free Week will be a “springboard for important lifestyle changes that will improve well-being and quality of life all year round.”

The ever-increasing availability of technology and electronic devices has dramatically increased the amount of time kids (and adults) spend in front of a screen and has drastically reduced the time spent on non-media based activities. The CCFC estimates the amount of time preschoolers spend in front of a screen is 32 hours a week, and even more time is spent by older children and teens. The amount of time spent with screen-based media has reduced time spent outdoors, time spent with family and friends, time spent engaged in sports and other forms of fitness and has contributed to the childhood obesity problem. Too much screen time can also lead to poor school performance, sleep problems, and behavioral issues in some children and teens.

I’ve lost count of how many parents have talked with me about how their children’s behavior changes after playing video games or watching television, especially if those games or shows involved any violence or aggressiveness at all. I’ve seen firsthand how video games affected one of my nephews and would turn him from a sweet, caring boy to an aggressive, defiant child. After the problem continued to worsen, my sister made the drastic decision to no longer allow any video games. At first my nephew whined and begged to play, but as time went on he found other ways to occupy his time and entertain himself and his behavior at home and even at school greatly improved. At the age of 10, even he realizes the negative effect video games can have on him if he spends too much time with them. Of course, every child is different and not all are adversely affected by media and technology, but even if they are not, over-use and over-stimulation can still be a problem.

Screen-based media can also interfere with with kids’ ability for creative, imaginative play. Turning off the screens for a week can help them tune into their imaginations, especially if you encourage them to play with toys that promote creativity. Introduce your kids to some of your favorite childhood pastimes and participate with them. Instead of screen-based electronic games, play board games or go outside and play hide and seek, freeze tag, or a fun sport. Go for a bike ride or a walk around your local park. There are so many ways to spend time together and have fun without any technology at all, your family may even decide to turn off the screens more often!

Certainly technology has improved our ability to do many things, including educate our children, but we need to be aware of the harm that over-use can cause and use screen-time wisely. Taking a break from the abundance of screens in our world can be a healthy way to detox and reconnect with our family and friends face to face.

This week, consider participating in Screen-Free Week, turn off the screens and tune in to everything else around us.

For more information about Screen-Free Week, visit CommercialFreeChildhood.org.

How to Talk to Your Kids About…Diversity

Children are very quick to point out differences. With their limited experiences and understanding, it is hard to explain that differences are a wonderful part of life. Talking to our children about diversity can be tricky. We don’t want to compromise our family values, but we want to cultivate a true respect for everyone.

There are a few key conversations we can have, that will help.

  • Have a “diversity” conversation. Talk about differences that exist in your family. “Jill’s favorite color is pink, yours is blue. Your favorite food is spaghetti, mommy loves chicken” Explain that we are all different, and that is a good thing, not bad. When you encounter new people, explain that there are differences and similarities between all of us just like having different favorite colors. This simple conversation will help our children begin to understand diversity and see that liking different colors and foods is not bad, just different.
  • Challenge your children to get to know someone new on a regular basis and find out what they have in common. If they conclude that they have nothing in common, teach them that they still deserve to be treated with respect and kindness. Tie this back into your “diversity” conversations. “Remember, Jill likes a different color than you do, we don’t treat her mean because she likes something different.” Talk about how treating others with respect means that we take some time to get to know them and understand them. Our children need to understand that they might not like all the other kids, but they need to give them all a chance. In our house we encourage our children to meet someone new at school each week. Then our children talk to us about all the things they learned about the new person during dinner each Friday night.
  • Talk about the fact that diversity does not mean we forgo our values. Begin when children are young, and explain that there are choices that other people make that are not acceptable in our home. That is fine, but that doesn’t mean that we are rude or judgmental because they choose differently. To raise children who accept diversity talk to them about different cultures and traditions. You can start with something as simple as having them try different foods.

We will find that by talking to our kids about diversity, they will also learn key values like love, respect, kindness, and compassion for others.

Can My 12-Year Old Catch Chickenpox While Baby-sitting?

Chickenpox is a viral infection that we primarily recognize as a disease with a very uncomfortable, itchy rash. It can sometimes lead to serious side effects, including pneumonia and bacterial infections. Fortunately, a vaccine was developed in the 1970s for the prevention of chickenpox and has been routinely used in the United States since 1995. It will prevent the disease in 85 to 90 percent of exposed children, and the protection lasts for 20 years.

Your daughter is certainly susceptible at her age. If she was immunized, she should be protected from this exposure. If not, she could still get a dose of vaccine within 72 hours of exposure, which should prevent any serious manifestations of the disease. But it won’t stop her from getting sick.



Child Health & Safety News Roundup: 04-16-2012 to 04-22-2012

Welcome to Pediatric Safety’s weekly “Child Health & Safety News Roundup”- a recap of the past week’s child health and safety news headlines from around the world.

Each day we use Twitter to communicate relevant and timely health and safety information to the parents, medical professionals and other caregivers who follow us. Occasionally we may miss something, but we think overall we’re doing a pretty good job of keeping you informed. But for our friends and colleagues who are not on Twitter (or who are but may have missed something), we offer you a recap of the past week’s top 25 news-worthy events.

PedSafe Headline of the Week:

Help your kids stay safe on prom night http://t.co/gqcd3sgw Terrific tips!!

Ticks and Lyme Disease: a Pediatrician’s Perspective

Lyme disease has gotten a bad name. Originally described in Connecticut and New York, on the coast, near the town of Old Lyme, it was found to be carried by the deer tick (the vector), a far less common tick than the tree or dog tick. It now has also been found in most parts of the country and cannot be transmitted from person to person. The deer tick is very small, about the size of the head of a pin, and as opposed to a wood (dog) tick will not engorge with the blood of other mammals, so it is often times very difficult to see when scanning the skin. This tick must remain attached and feeding for 24 to 48 hours before it is capable of transmitting disease. Only about 5% of tick bites with the deer tick in an endemic area will result in Lyme disease in the human. Ticks and tick bites are far more common during the summer months so that is when your powers of observation need to be finely tuned. You should carefully examine your children at least twice a day for the presence of any tick attached to your child’s skin. Be sure to look in those places not easy to observe such as the scalp, between the fingers and toes, and in the pubic and the perineal areas (between the genital area and the anus).

When found, these ticks should be removed from the skin by applying a tweezer to the mouth parts firmly very close to the skin, and with firm steady traction (not sudden and jerky) pull the tick from the skin. You may leave some dark mouth parts in skin; don’t try to remove them but cleanse the area well with soap and water and treat as you would for any abrasion or cut. Those mouth parts may very well come out on their own or may remain and not cause a problem. Of course these areas can become secondarily infected ( as any cut or abrasion might) with bacteria and that would result in redness, swelling, warmth over the area and pain or tenderness Since ticks actually breathe very infrequently the idea of smothering them with petroleum jelly or other thick substance would not be practical. Do not try to burn them off with a heated pin or freshly lit match head as the only thing you will probably burn is your child’s skin.

If the disease is transmitted to your child (let me point this out again, this is rare) a mild illness with feverinitially might occur in some, this is more likely not the case however, and chronic long term vague illness is also not necessarily what you will see. The rash of Lyme’s disease also does not occur in all cases and is fairly characteristic: initially a reddened bump that subsequently clears in the middle leaving a red ring that slowly and inexorably enlarges. Sometimes there is more than one ring and other times that ring may enlarge significantly to cover entire body parts and extend to others. As a result, it is sometimes difficult to recognize this as a ring. There are blood tests that can detect the presence of Lyme disease but these might not be positive for several weeks. Treatment is easily accomplished through the use of an antibiotic for 21 – 28 days and there is time to begin treatment, up to a week to 10 days without fear of the disease progressing. The antibiotics used are common to everyone generally without side effects: Amoxicillin for young children and doxycycline (a form of tetracycline) for children 8-10 years and older.

This is a diagnoses made usually on clinical grounds; that is as a result of your child’s doctor’s experience in light of a certain constellation of signs and symptoms. Checking the tick for the presence of Lyme disease (if you have the tick) is not recommended and neither is preventive treatment if living in a high density tick area. There are reports of “chronic Lyme disease” and the treatment of such a suspected occurrence is not clear- probably the services of a specialist (infectious disease) should be sought.

Summary– Lyme disease is not very common even though you may hear of cases in your area. If you are concerned after a tick bite take your child to his/her doctor and he/she will make the diagnosis and suggest treatment if necessary. Check your child twice a day for the presence of any ticks and remove as described above. There is plenty of time to begin treatment and the antibiotics used are well tolerated; once treated it is not recommended to repeat lab work if done originally, and it can be assumed that the illness is gone and will not leave long lasting problems.

Safety Checklist for Kids on Their Way to School

We’ve been following the news about Sierra LaMar, a 15-year-old who disappeared near her home in Morgan Hill, CA sometime between a text message sent to a friend and nine minutes later when she didn’t show up to her school bus on March 16. Reports Thursday say that police no longer think she may have run away and believe that she was most likely kidnapped, potentially by someone she knows.

We don’t know what happened to Sierra but it’s hard not to fear the worst and to wish that she had known whatever it was she needed to know to stay safe: not to let someone she wasn’t expecting into her house, to be cautious even if it is someone you know, to keep out of reach of someone on the sidewalk, not to take a ride even from an acquaintance without checking first – and as soon as she knew she had trouble; to yell, run, make a scene, and to fight to protect herself.

Even after hundreds of people have searched for her – finding only her purse, backpack and cellphone – it’s still difficult to know yet what has happened. Our hearts go out to her family and friends who are all waiting to hear from her.

Today we are posting a one-page Kidpower Safety For Kids On Their Way To School Checklist download the pdf) that we’ve compiled for parents about how to prepare their kids to be ready to make safe choices and get help while on their way to and from school, or anywhere else that they are allowed to go on their own.

TALK together to make a Safety Plan so your kids will know:

  • They are safest staying in groups and, if they are younger, with an adult you select.
  • To always get permission from you or another adult in charge before they change their plan about going anywhere with anyone, whether it is a stranger or someone they know.
  • To always get your permission about where they go, who will be with them, and what they will be doing.
  • That a stranger is someone they do not know well, can look like anybody, and might know their name.
  • That most people are good and most strangers are good, but they do not know what someone is like just by how that person looks or acts.
  • To NOT get close to a stranger, talk to a stranger, take anything from a stranger, or go with a stranger – unless they have their adult’s permission.
  • If they are old enough to talk to a stranger, to stay out of reach and not give personal information.
  • To move away toward safety and get help if someone makes them feel uncomfortable or tries to approach them.
  • How to get help in an emergency from people you’ve designated along their route.
  • To tell a trusted adult every time someone makes them feel uncomfortable or scared.

WALK together to determine:

  • The safest route to follow on the way to and from school on foot, by bus, or by bike that will avoid isolated places, difficult streets to cross, and other hazards.
  • Where to go and who to ask for help if kids have a safety problem on route — preferably adults you have introduced them to — in a church, store, neighbor’s house, bus, etc.
  • What to do if kids get lost, if they cannot stay on their route, or if someone bothers them.
  • Each child’s safety readiness for going on her or his own without adult supervision.

PRACTICE together until you are SURE your kids are prepared to:

  • Use their awareness to notice and avoid safety problems from people, traffic, or other possible trouble.
  • Act aware, calm, and confident in every situation.
  • Move quickly out of reach from a stranger or anyone who makes them feel uncomfortable.
  • Follow their safety plan even if a friend tries to persuade them to do otherwise.
  • Find a place with people to help them if they get lost or have to change their route.
  • Yell “NO! I NEED HELP!” and run to a safe place to get help if they feel scared.
  • Yell, pull away, hit and kick to escape from an attack.
  • Be persistent in getting help, even if adults are busy or impatient.
  • Find and use a telephone so they can call a trusted adult for help or 911 in an emergency