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Oct. 20, 2011 Volume 33, No. 9

Experts recommend tuning into family, not devices


To maintain health, balance digital intake

There is an ongoing battle of balance between work, personal and family lives for adults and students. Combined with increasingly hectic work and extracurricular schedules, the advent of wireless technology has led to less quality time between parents and children.

According to University of Missouri human development specialists, however, powering down digital devices is a key component to maintaining those family relationships and health. 

Kelly Warzinik, MU Extension associate in the College of Human Environmental Sciences, said instead of watching TV or talking on a cellphone, parents could take advantage of daily opportunities to interact with their children at meal times or in the car. Additionally, she said while it is important for children to be involved in activities, such as sports or music to ensure everyone has time to connect, parents should not overschedule themselves or their children.

“Husbands and wives who are working and raising kids need to be even more intentional about nurturing their relationships as a couple,” Warzinik said. “Touch base throughout the day by calling, emailing or texting. And after children are asleep, put down the iPhone, turn off the television and just focus on each other.”

In addition to strengthening family connections, turning off time-consuming devices leads to better health, according to Saralee Jamieson, human development specialist and extension program director in St. Clair County. She said people who devote more time to digital technology are less likely to make healthy food choices or be physically active and are less successful academically.

“People who watch a lot of TV are exposed to thousands of ads for high-calorie, low-nutrient foods, as well as violent programming,” Jamieson said. “While it might not seem harmful, having a muted TV on while sleeping disrupts healthy sleep patterns and contributes to chronic fatigue.”

Jamieson recommends these tips for parents to set a good example for children:

  • Limit family members’ recreational time with TV, video or computer screens to two hours daily.
  • Remove TVs from bedrooms and learn to negotiate and take turns watching different shows.
  • Turn the TV off and eat or socialize as family.
  • Develop hobbies and become more involved in the community, neighborhood, local schools or places of worship.

Human development and family sciences research is conducted through MU Extension and the Department of Human Development and Family Studies in the College of Human Environmental Sciences.

- Kate McIntyre