By Stephanie Walsh, M.D., Medical Director, Child Wellness, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta
I picked up a copy of the latest Parents magazine (the June issue) to read the cover story about First Lady Michelle Obama and her new book, American Grown, which chronicles the story of the White House Kitchen Garden and other gardens across the country. The book itself sounds pretty interesting, but I was really drawn to parts of the interview where Mrs. Obama candidly shares her practical and passionate style (as the magazine so eloquently puts it) of parenting.
Mrs. Obama provides a real peek into her family life with her two girls, Malia and Sasha, particularly when she talks about the challenges she faces as a mom when it comes to helping her daughters develop healthy habits (such as eating more veggies and fruits, drinking more water and being active). She shares the same struggles that we all do—the ones that are just basic parenting at their core—even though she lives in the White House and her husband is the commander-in-chief.
She even talks about SpongeBob and how it’s challenging to keep the boundaries she sets around limiting screen time (TVs, cell phones, etc.) with her girls. The first lady says the Obama’s enforce a no-TV rule during the week. She goes on to say, “Of course there is resistance; the lure of SpongeBob is powerful…I like the show and sometimes I need the downtime. It’s hard, especially when you feel like saying, ‘Go watch some TV! I need a few moments.’”
I can relate to that! Is that an “A-ha” moment for anyone else? Have you ever allowed the TV or your Smartphone to be a temporary babysitter so that your kids will get out of your hair for a few moments so you can have some time to take care of all those mommy logistics or maybe just have a moment of peace? I think we all have done it and it makes me feel better to hear that the first lady struggles with this, too.
She goes on to say, “We parents have to get together and boost ourselves up.” We need to give ourselves a pep talk, and remind ourselves that it’s our job to set the rules…even about how much TV our kids watch each week.
In my house, we do some of the same things as the first lady:
- We say no screen time (outside of school work) during the school week. This was hard to implement at first but once the kids accepted it then it eliminated the constant asking for screen time.
- On the weekends we relax a bit and limit screen time to two hours. Does this mean if the kids watched TV Saturday morning and we decide to have movie night that I don’t allow it? Of course not, because that is sacred family time. I have to remember that I am not perfect; I am just trying to do the best that I can.
- And, we do allow some extra time to watch TV, etc. if the kids play an active video game (and there are plenty of these kinds of games out there that my kids love).
One thing I like to suggest to help families achieve balance with screen time and being active is to think about it in this simple phrase: “30 for 30.” For every 30 minutes of screen time you allow, try to match it with 30 minutes of some kind of activity. 30 for 30 is easy to remember, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself to do it perfectly.
At the end of the day, it’s all about how you choose to parent at home (which, I know is sometimes easier said than done). But, I like that the first lady reminds us that, as parents, we need to stick together and help each other out. If you’ve considered trying (or have actually tried) a new parenting technique at home to encourage healthy habits, share it here with other parents, or on our Strong4Life Facebook page—we’re creating a virtual community of people who can support each other in the family journey to become Strong4Life.