1. One More Game?

    Is your smartphone moonlighting as your child’s favorite portable gaming device? Has your living room become a zone for video gaming and little else? Advances in technology have made playing video games easier, more portable, and more fun than ever before, so it’s critical to ask – are your kids playing too much?

    There are many reasons why kids love video games: they’re an important piece of social currency among their peers, and provide a shared experience that can strengthen friendships and help develop new ones. Mastering a difficult level or mission provides a healthy boost of self-confidence – who hasn’t felt a rush of pride at finally defeating a particularly challenging level boss? Gaming can teach important skills like critical thinking, problem solving, and eye-hand coordination. And for some kids, it can help shape their identity, much like how sports, the arts, and other pursuits have defined many a childhood.

    But like so many pleasures, moderation is key. It’s fine for them to spend an hour or so plotting ways to collect the maximum number of stars in a tough race on Super Mario Kart; it’s not okay for them to lose track of how long they’ve been playing. Studies have shown that playing video games excessively can lead to irritability, decreased social activity, and shorter attention spans. The rush that comes from playing a game well is an addicting one, and it’s easy for children to want to skip homework and chores in favor of racking up points on a global scoreboard.

    Establishing clear guidelines from the start is the best way to stave off problems. Try instituting a ‘no playing until homework is done’ rule, or ‘chores are done, time for fun’ policy. Making video games a reward will help your kids keep their gaming in perspective and help you keep tabs on how much they’re really playing. Setting time limits can work too, but be aware of how long it takes to complete a mission or level. Location is another tool in your monitoring arsenal; try keeping the console in the living room or other family area to prevent your kids from becoming too isolated during play. Multiplayer games, especially those on the Wii, are an excellent way to turn a solitary effort into one that encourages family bonding.

    It may not be as traditional as playing sandlot baseball, but kids develop fond memories of their experiences with video games. Trying a hundred different ways to attack a heavily protected fortress on a screen can keep the smiles coming and even teach kids a thing or two. Being aware of your child’s motivations for playing, and taking steps to keep their play fun and social, will help make their gaming adventures healthier and more rewarding. 






  2. Time to Play Outside!

    A lonely wind howls through the swing set. A tumbleweed rolls across the nature trail. Backyards, front yards, side yards – all abandoned. Where are all the kids?

    It’s no secret that kids are spending more time indoors than they used to. Between homework, various screen entertainments, and after school activities, there seems to be little time left in kids’ schedules for unstructured outside play. And some parents are concerned about everything from neighborhood safety to their kids’ clothes getting muddy. But despite the risks, being outside is an essential way for kids to get active and learn to appreciate nature. This spring, take these tips to get your kid outside – and loving it.

    If your kids need some motivation, start inside – by planning fun outdoor activities. Make a list of some group activities to do outdoors, and ideas for individual play outdoors, too. Activities with family and friends might include capture the flag, a nature hike, or even a scavenger hunt, complete with treasure maps. Sorting through the garage might turn up some fun items for outdoor play: that pogo stick might just have some spring left in it, and – who knows? – maybe the kids will love bocce. Encourage your child to find some activities they can do on their own outside, too, like skateboarding, bike riding, tending to a few plants in the garden, or even bird watching.  

    To get kids interested in the outdoors from a young age, go outside with them and point out all there is to wonder about: “See that tree? Did you know it’s alive?” If scheduling outdoor time is difficult for you, hire a babysitter for a few hours or skip the gym in favor of a bike ride or walk with the kids.

    For older kids, outdoor play is a great way to explore their independence. But be sure to set clear boundaries. Let them know exactly where they’re allowed to play – that abandoned construction site should definitely be off-limits. And if your child is out playing with friends in the neighborhood regularly, try to be in touch with your child’s friends’ parents. Knowing that other parents are keeping an eye on your child can be a confidence booster if you’re concerned about neighborhood safety.

    As for parents concerned about dirt and mud, there’s really no way around it. But ultimately a little mud isn’t so bad – it’s a small price to pay for a fun time outside. A bone-chilling soak in the rain is another story however, so if your children are going outdoors this spring, make sure they have the right equipment. Rugged outdoor clothes from CookiesKids.com can boost your child’s confidence, motivating them to experience the outdoors no matter the weather. Rain? Wind? Mud? Bring it on!