Prime Time Parenting: The Two Hour a Day Secret to Raising Great Kids

This week’s blog post was written by Heather Miller, an IPS alum who is the Director of LePage-Miller, Inc., an education firm based in New York City. A graduate of MIT, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Heather has developed and delivered educational programs for children for over twenty years. As a researcher on children’s interactions with educational technology, she has worked in China, France, India, and in the United States. She has written over 30 plays for children and lives in Manhattan with her family.  Heather recently spoke to parents at IPS about her new book, Prime Time Parenting

A few words about my IPS experience—from a Class of 1976 preschooler:

Heather Miller, former student of The International Preschools and author of the new book, Prime Time Parenting.

“I attended IPG, as it was then called, in the mid-1970s at its midtown location on First Avenue. I vividly remember the warm, creative and welcoming atmosphere. It seemed to me that we were constantly painting at easels; I remember the feel of the paint under my paintbrush. The smell of the paint and the look of the paint bottles are some of my keenest and earliest sensory memories.

Having our flags in front of each of us at lunch made a big impression on my four-year-old self. I understood that these flags represented our countries, where our parents were from. In that respect, having a teacher place my two little flags in front of me at lunch each day told me that the school saw me as an individual. That felt wonderful. Some of us, myself included, had two flags. I remember looking around the lunch table, taking in the colors and patterns of the flags and looking from the flags to the faces they belonged to. Even though each of our flags were personal to us and our families, taken together, they were a celebration of our school’s glorious diversity. It provoked a wonder in the wider world, in all the faraway places our flags represented. I could connect our little flags at our lunch table to the huge flags that hung outside the UN Secretariat that I passed each day on the bus to school.

I remember being happy, busy, and engaged at IPS—and never being rushed. I remember
being read lots of wonderful stories and having lots of time for imaginative play. I greatly
enjoyed playing house in our outdoor playhouse and dreaming up stories and adventures with my friends. It was a place where a young child’s imagination could flourish. Many of my IPS classmates joined me in kindergarten at UNIS and two years later, when I moved to Convent of the Sacred Heart, I found several of my other IPS classmates there, too. IPS was a joyful environment, in the words of my father ‘a magical place’ that truly understood the developmental needs and potential of its young students. The school’s creativity, warmth and friendliness made a lifelong impression.”

—Heather Miller, S.M. MIT, Ed.M. Harvard

As an IPS alum and the author of a new book for parents called Prime Time Parenting, I was thrilled to meet IPS parents on the evening of October 3 and discuss the challenges of raising children in the digital age. A big thank you to IPS director Donna Cohen for making the evening possible!

I wrote Prime Time Parenting because I run an education company that works with elementary schools across New York City. In that capacity, I see many children in a wide range of schools and neighborhoods. About four years ago, I started noticing new patterns in child behaviors that my colleagues and I hadn’t noticed in earlier years. They include:
● Daytime sleepiness in children ages 8, 9 and 10, including children actually falling
asleep in class.
● A lack of eye contact in small children, and a lack of awareness that making and maintaining eye contact is expected in face-to-face interactions.
● Kindergartners who arrive, year after year, with ever weaker impulse control, concepts of print, letter-sound awareness, and overall maturity relative to their age.

As my book explains, all of these are effects of the digital age in one way or another. As parents spend more and more time looking at their phones, children receive less eye contact and face-to-face interaction. The result, in extreme cases, is that children are unaware that looking into the eyes of another person as they talk to you is a social norm. And the consequences of that lack of eye contact for relationship building and for learning is impossible to overstate.

For many children between the ages of 8 and 11, daytime sleepiness is caused by too much screen-time in the evenings. Most screens emit a blue light that inhibits the hormone melatonin, which tells our bodies to fall asleep. As a result, these young children look wide awake well into the evening. Even when parents put these children to bed at a reasonable hour, they often have difficulty falling asleep for some time. When do they make up for this lost sleep? The next morning at school.

Clearly, none of us want to do away with digital devices entirely. But it does seem sensible to rethink our relationship to technology, especially while raising children. My book proposes a two-hour screen-free school night routine for families with children between the ages of 5 and 13. During these “prime time parenting” hours, the entire family abstains from screen time. Parents actively care for their growing children: preparing and enjoying dinner together, supporting homework or academic enrichment efforts, reading together, and guiding their children through a book-bath-bedtime routine that has them in bed by 8 or 8:30pm at the latest.

While two hours may seem like a long time to be without our devices and social media, that may be because parents are more likely to be addicted to their technology than their children. In fact, a recent study showed that most parents spend more than seven hours a day on screen media for personal, non-professional use. Making a family-wide commitment to turn away from screens for two hours a night would help us dodge some of the pitfalls of excessive screen time…for every member of the family, parents included!  It is worth noting that many of the very people who create the technology we use everyday set firm limits on their own children’s use of it, and some ban their children from using it altogether.

My hope is that by setting aside two hours each day for active parenting, we can make the most of our home lives, support the healthy development of our children, and create happier, calmer and closer families.

You can purchase Prime Time Parenting anywhere books are sold, including Amazon or The Corner Bookstore on 94th Street and Madison Avenue.  Click here to purchase the book via Amazon Smile, while also supporting The International Preschools!



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