CHILD HANDS w IPHONEAs I sat down to read the Wall Street Journal yesterday and the article “The Joy of Bending Rules” caught my attention. Letting children have pre-dinner ice cream and more screen time are two of the topics discussed. Anne Marie Chaker said basically, parents should institute rule-flexibility on occasion as children relish departure from their routine. I read the article but I’m not sure I agree with Chaker.

First of all routine and structure provide emotional stability and security for children of all ages. Yes, at times it can be difficult to maintain the structure because children get ill or you take a vacation or they sleep over at the grand’s, but I tend to side with the American Academy of Pediatrics over Chaker about being judicious on rule-following. Departing from those rules should not be about seeing children delight in the pleasure of getting away from the rules, but rather should be about finding a way for them to continue to thrive while temporarily outside of the rules.

So, Chaker, which rules to bend…how’s a parent to choose? She’s not real clear on this point, but read on.

Once children are grounded with structure and routine they can test the waters by operating outside of their routine knowing all the while that as soon as they begin to feel ungrounded they can go back to their structure. This also keeps the structured environment from feeling like a punishment or consequence. In the article Dr. Claudia Gold said “Disruption and parenting mistakes help children develop resilience.” I would have to add: only if they have the foundational structure to help them recognize occasional instances as disruption. As for parenting mistakes: its up to the parents to admit fault for the incident to be classified as a mistake – many parents will never admit they have been in error.

Screens have taken over our lives; they are everywhere. We have rushed to get screens into the hands of everyone without regard for consequence. Texting instead of talking even when you are in the same household when you could simply walk into the next room to have a conversation; handing a crying baby a cell phone with a video playing to quiet them instead of having some cuddle time; or letting an elementary age child have more TV time while you get your toddler ready for daycare because its just easier. Is this really the way we should go?

Neuroscience News and other resources of evidence based research on the brain indicates that screens under the age of 2 should be prohibited and not more than 2 hours of screen time a week until age 6. During these formative years children need to learning large and small motor skills; handwriting and easy math skills; working jig saw puzzles; learning to color inside the lines; and, phonetics. In a recent issue of Parents Magazine they suggest that children at 6 years old should be able to fix their own breakfast and use a stool to reach the washing machine controls to throw in their own laundry. This will not happen if screens are the automatic go-to. What ever happened to bringing a book with you to read – not an e-book, but a traditional book with paper pages?

The late Dr. Martha Kolbe, Educational Consultant and former Owner Academic Advisors in Richmond, Virginia, and I spoke about often about how emotional stability and structure go hand in hand with a child’s education. I will never forget the day Martha and I sat at her favorite restaurant around the corner from her office talking about screens: small children do not need screens she drilled into me. Children, Martha said, need person-to-person interaction, not artificial stimuli. Martha was right.

Pre-dinner ice cream on the other hand sounds like a good idea unless, of course, you are lactose intolerant. Ha! Matthew Weneta, Educational Consultant and Owner of Aerie Experiences always orders dessert first at the restaurant. When I asked him why he told me since dessert is the best part of the meal it should be served first…besides, I might not make it through dinner and this way I won’t miss dessert!

Well I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.

The bottom line here is that children need to be in an environment where they thrive – all the time, not just when it’s convenient. If they are not thriving get professional help before your child becomes at risk or out of control.

Oh, and before I forget, regarding the 16 year old in the article whose parents seem to be good with him setting his own limits…well, I’m not even going to touch that one. But the word manipulation does come to mind.