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This week, Americans are seeing hundreds of ads claiming to know what mom really wants for Mother’s Day and inducing you to buy it for her.
But if you ask most mothers for their wish list, they won’t tell you they want candy, flowers or jewelry. They’re likely to say the best gift would be uninterrupted time with their children, and the assurance that their children are healthy.
Mothers want to share time that is not diluted by TV, texting or video games.
This may seem like a simple order to fill, but according to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average young American spends practically every waking minute that he or she is not in school plugged in to an electronic device.
Children 8 years of age and older spend an average of six hours a day on electronic media. Kids 6 years and younger spend an average of two hours a day watching TV.
So it is appropriate that this year’s Screen-Free Week — formerly known as TV Turnoff Week — overlaps with Mother’s Day.
Families that unplug for one week will be spared from seeing more than 200 acts of violence, and children will be shielded from nearly 800 commercials.
One of the reasons Screen-Free Week is endorsed by 65 national organizations, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Education Association, is that television is bad for the physical and emotional health of children.
Screen time is an identified factor in childhood obesity. Today, 20 percent of American children are overweight, and half of those are severely overweight. Compare this to 1965, when 5 percent of children were overweight. Other factors contribute to this, but the prevalence of ads for junk food and candy aimed at kids surely doesn’t help.
Kids who watch TV on a daily basis show significant decreases in reading levels, problem-solving skills and creative expression. By contrast, children whose screen time is limited do better in school and read more than their peers who consume high levels of electronic media.
Excessive screen time is linked to increased psychological difficulties, such as hyperactivity and aggression in adolescents. A connection has also been made between screen time and risky behavior like drinking, smoking and drug use.
This year, when you see ads for a terrific Mother’s Day gift, remember you’ve already got the perfect one: your time and attention. But in order to give it, we need to unplug the TV and plug into real life.
Jennifer Coburn is the author of “We’ll Always Have Paris: A Mother-Daughter Travel Memoir.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.