Head of School Blog

Students Take the Lead on “Healthy Hangouts”

Jill Singleton
Just when researchers thought is was impossible for the number to climb any higher, “The amount of time (children ages 8-18) spent with media increased by an hour and seventeen minutes a day over the past five years,” according to a national survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The Foundation has conducted this survey three times: in 1999, 2004, and 2009. At the conclusion of the 2004 study, the authors of the report predicted that the usage could not possibly increase any further, as there were not enough hours in the day. Sadly, their predictions were wrong, and when the reality of multitasking is taken into consideration, the results are even more grim: “Today, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week)…And because of media multitasking, the total amount of media content consumed during that period has increased from 8:33 in 2004 to 10:45 today.”

According to Drew Altman, President and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, “The amount of time young people spend with media has grown to where it’s even more than a full-time work week.” The Kaiser study revealed a number of other disconcerting statistics regarding children ages 8-18:

• Only about three in ten young people say they have rules about how much time they can spend watching TV, playing video games, or using the computer (the study also pointed out that “when parents do set limits, children spend less time with media: those with any media rules consume nearly 3 hours less media per day (2:52) than those with no rules”)
• 64% say the TV is usually on during meals, and 45% say the TV is left on “most of the time” in their home, even if no one is watching (Again, the study shows that “children in these TV-centric homes spend far more time watching: 1:30 more a day in homes where the TV is left on most of the time”)

As part of their Month of the Young Adolescent (MOTYA) studies, Sixth Graders at All Saints conducted a survey of their own and discovered that our very own Middle School students spend approximately 4.2 hours a day “staring at a screen,” and 45% said they would rather stay at home with electronics than join a sports team or play outside. While their survey did not break out the amount of screen time necessary for homework, their research demonstrates the fact that a whole host of healthy activities are being forfeited for electronics.

The results of these surveys are concerning, and now more than ever educators and parents need to engage students in discussions about the choices they are making for using their free time. Such is the theme for this year’s Annual Month of the Young Adolescent Leadership Summit. Middle School students are exploring the idea of “Healthy Hangouts” in an effort to identify healthier recreation options during after school and weekend hours. In addition, students are looking at healthy snack options for tweens and teens, whose bodies are in critical stages of growth and development. “If you combine the act of a ‘healthy hangout’ and a healthy diet in your child’s life, you are bound to see a flower blooming inside their life and new doors and possibilities open up,” wrote Sixth Grader Diana Kazarian.

All of the adults in our community are encouraged to attend the Annual Leadership Summit on Tuesday, October 29, at 8:30am in the church. Come hear what Diana and her classmates have to say about children their age and the support they need from us in order to make healthy choices about their lifestyles. Now in its sixth year, All Saints put the international Month of the Young Adolescent celebration on the map in NJ when it worked with the Governor to proclaim the event statewide in 2007. Many in our community are familiar with last year’s successful Leadership Summit, which focused on the dangers of texting while driving.

Please treat yourself to an hour of listening to what our young people have to say about themselves, their community and the world. Show your support as they exercise their civic voices, develop their leadership skills and share a glimpse into the world as they experience it. But don’t take my word for it – listen, instead, to Diana, our Sixth Grader: “Get involved in your child’s time and work something out fast. And remember, the sky’s the limit!”

Month of the Young Adolescent is an annual international collaborative effort of education, health, and youth-oriented organizations. Initiated by the Association for Middle Level Education, the month is designed to focus on the needs of children ages 10 to 15. The key messages for the celebration are:

• The importance of parents being knowledgeable about young adolescents and being actively involved in their lives;
• The understanding that healthy bodies plus healthy minds equals healthy young adolescents;
• The realization that the education young adolescents experience during this formative period of life will, in large measure, determine the future for all citizens; and
• The knowledge that every young adolescent should have the opportunity to pursue his or her dreams and aspirations, and post-secondary education should be a possibility for all.

To read more about the Kaiser study: http://kff.org/other/event/generation-m2-media-in-the-lives-of/

Questions, comments, ideas? I’d love to hear them! Email me: jsingleton@allsaintshoboken.com