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What parents should know about....

Video Games

We are all aware of the negative aspects of video games that our children play. However, there is a flip side to video games. Contrary to the traditional belief that gaming is merely an addictive source of entertainment and diversion, research has found that gaming has numerous benefits and key among them, is the development of cognitive skills in both children and adults. Just as physical exercise helps in improving and strengthening your muscles, cognitive games help to indulge one’s brain in constant stimulation, thus improving the brain’s performance.

There is research that suggests playing video games may help children with dyslexia improve their reading skills. This builds on earlier research which linked dyslexia with early problems in visual attention rather than language skills.

Other research by University of Montreal has found that playing video games could help to prevent Alzheimers in adults. Still not convinced? Read this article on seven reasons why adults should play more video games.

Like it or not video games are a big part of childhood and teenage life, so getting to grips with them can be a window to understanding and engaging with your teenager.

Games can instill amazing character traits like perseverance, kindness, cooperation and strategic thinking and gaming health is about a balanced diet. With food, we do not worry about plate time, it is what is on the plate that matters. Similarly, it is what is on the screen that is important. In other words, aimless YouTube surfing is not the same as time spent playing a well-planned strategic game together.

When an adult or child is playing a video game, the activities and actions on the screen provide a lot of mental stimulation. For one to play, he or she will need to coordinate their visual, audial and physical movement.

Video games involve certain rules. This means that the player has to think carefully before making any move to ensure that they stay within the required rules of that particular game. The player needs to make split- second decisions that will determine whether or not he or she will advance to the next level.

Playing your favourite video game may require both visual and audial memory. The player is required to read or listen to the instructions, which is only be provided at the beginning of the game, thus the need to remember them throughout the entire game. Mastery of the keys on your keyboard helps you easily move your characters in the game. This helps improve your memory, whether short- term or long-term.

Video games especially action games, have proven to be able to capture the player’s attention for the entire period of the game. This is brought about by the player’s need to achieve certain objectives within the game, and be able to progress to the next level.

Gaming is not only beneficial to adults and teenagers, but to children as well. Many modern education institutions incorporate video games as a teaching methodology. This helps these children improve their academic skills by providing video games specifically aimed at enhancing their cognitive and creative skills.
While gaming, the brain receives multiple stimulations, both Visual and audial. According to research, individuals who play video games frequently can process these stimulators faster than others can. These stimulators ensure that the brain is continuously working to interpret them.

Online gaming enables many players to engage in a particular game simultaneously. As such, there is constant communication between the players which in turn results in the development of meaningful as well as casual relationships among them. This helps players meet new friends while also strengthening bonds with their old friends.

Though computer games might be beneficial, there is need to play them in moderation. It is also important to pick the right game as not all of them provide the same cognitive benefits. Age should also be a factor. Small children should not be exposed to violent games.

Clearly, if they play too much, or on their own in a bedroom, it can have an isolating effect. So try to bring them out from the shadows, and make gaming more of a family friendly activity. This requires getting involved early though so avoid just setting limits when they are young, try to find games you want them to play, games that can teach them specific skills.

The Pan European Game Information (PEGI) website has lots of information on how to keep children safe and explains the ratings so you know which games are appropriate. PEGI ratings work like film classifications; from 3, suitable for three years old and above, to adult-appropriate 18s. There are also symbols showing what sort of content to expect.

Do not assume teens do not want you involved. Show some interest early, and you might have a connection for life.

If you are just not interested in joining in, you can still set limits. Discuss with them how many hours a day they think it is appropriate to play, what kind of games you are comfortable with.  Make sure it is a dialogue and that, although you are the ultimate arbiter, they still have some say.

Here are some suggestions to get you started for tweens and teens for games which build reasoning skills .

What parents should know about....

Sleep Deprivation in children and young people

We all have ‘built in clocks’ sometimes called a biological or body clock.  These regulate the timing of biological processes and how we behave on a daily basis.  These ‘clocks’ are known as circadian rhythms and follow the natural day night cycle.  Our circadian rhythms helps us sleep.  If we listen to our ‘ internal clocks’ and go to sleep when our bodies tell us to we would all be a lot healthier. 

If you have ever taken the time to sleep and wake without an alarm clock and when your body clock tells you to then you will be able to identify what your circadian rhythm is and how much sleep you require. Everyone’s rhythm is different.  If they are not continually reset or synchronised with natures cycle your sleep pattern goes awry. If you are having sleep issues, try a week of camping outdoors or a visit to the countryside (the village is ideal) to reset your ‘clock’, as the problem will no doubt be due to light, as artificial light has been found to disrupt sleep patterns.  ‘Getting back to nature’ for one week is all it takes and you will soon feel the benefits of improved sleep patterns as well as the quality of your sleep.  According to Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine maintaining a consistent bedtime (and wake time) helps keep our internal clock ‘set’ and is a critical part of healthy sleep pattern. 

With the increase in technology in the bedroom, rather than becoming a sanctuary to rest it has become a place where people are stimulated, and suffering from light pollution during sleeping hours.  The Sleep Health Foundation reports that the bright light from mobile phones, tablets, computers, and televisions blocks the release of the sleep hormone, melatonin, after only one and a half hours of using technology in the evening.  Electric lights also have the same effect.   This can lead to sleep deprivation as they interfere with our circadian rhythms.  

Not getting enough sleep regularly soon leads to chronic sleep deprivation.   This can have a dramatic effect on one’s life, impacting on mental well-being, anxiety and low self-esteem and for children and young people their performance, and behaviour at school.

So are you and your children getting enough quality sleep?

Children like adults are affected by a lack of sleep, but whilst a tired adult may look sleepy and move sluggish, sleep deprived children and young people tend to look like they are bursting with energy.  However, due to their ongoing growth and development, sleep, like food, is necessary for children and young people.

Most adolescents only get six and a half to seven and a half hours sleep per night and some get less. An over-tired child tends to lack patience, become frustrated easily, demanding and prone to more mood swings.  As a result, there are a lot more conflicts in the home and at school as children act out.

Tweens and Teens who are sleep deprived also have trouble managing emotions and may seem, irritable, anxious or depressed.  A 2010 study published in the medical journal Sleep, found that teenagers who go to bed after midnight suffer more downward mood swings, and are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety.

When some children do not get enough sleep, they can show symptoms which can be mistaken for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), becoming argumentative, excitable,  hyperactive and show extreme behaviours like tantrums or aggression.  Many behavioural problems can be traced back to chronic sleep deprivation.

Whilst every child is slightly different in terms of how much sleep is needed, the best way to judge how much sleep a child or young person needs and to assess whether it is enough for them is to allow them to wake spontaneously, without an alarm clock in the mornings. A child that requires to be woken daily needs more sleep and an adjustment to their bedtime. Another indicator of needing more is feeling tired throughout the day.  If getting enough sleep, a child or young person, should not feel tired until at least an hour before bedtime.

So what can parents do?   

Researchers tell us we need to limit screen time before heading to bed.  It is recommended a digital curfew that would limit the use of TV, tablets, phones and computers to one or two hours before bedtime. Keep all items with light out of the bedroom as this affects the circadian rhythm.

If your child is failing to get enough sleep overall and is always tired, research suggests it is most likely because their bedtime is too late, as children and young people typically do not make up for the missed sleep by sleeping or napping later.   To be fully rested the ideal time for children to go to bed is between 7 pm and 8 pm for pre-schoolers and school-aged children depending on when they are expected to wake up.   Teens should be in bed by 9 pm to ensure they get the required number of sleep. 

The National Sleep Foundation also recommends a consistent bedtime routine. This could include a pre-bedtime bath or shower and a good book. The Sleep Council state that ‘39 per cent of people who are in the habit of reading before they go to sleep, sleep very well’.  It makes perfect sense that an activity that reduces stress is beneficial before bed. So out with the light emitting tablet and in with the books.

Whatever you choose to incorporate into the bedtime routine, know that a regular routine can set you and your children up for success.  This can start as early as infancy, so the sooner you can establish a routine with your children, the better! As the old adage says ‘it is the early bird who gets the worm’. 

The online Health and Wellness Magazine has recommended sleep times and more tips to help you sleep better.


What parents should know about....

Preparing for University

Getting into university is the culmination of all of the hard work in school. It also requires a well thought out plan.  So when should you and your child be searching for universities? When should you start thinking about and preparing for university? 

Well, this may surprise you, the sooner the better.  This means that the sooner you start planning the better. For most who are successful, their planning started in the Summer following Year 6 and before the start of JSS1 so that they can begin building their academic portfolios. 

So soon?  Yes, really this early.  

Many parents are surprised to know that it usually requires about two years of planning to adequately prepare for university applications.    Students without parents or relatives able to pay for their education must also spend time completing financial aid and scholarship applications so may need longer.  

Parents should take time to discuss their children’s plans with the Vice Principal before you begin to plan for university, this will allow you to discuss your child’s interests, portfolio and academic profile. Take with you a list of questions that will help you and your child understand the steps that need to be taken to begin the university search. This will give you a clearer idea of what you need to do and the steps necessary. 

Begin researching some universities that interest your child in JSS1. Peruse their websites and compare them and their programmes online. Look for Universities that compliment your child’s desired location, degree programme, style of learning and extra programmes like study abroad.

Once you have a list of possibilities, start making university visits.  Don’t neglect the visits because they are critical to helping you and your child make an informed decision. You can schedule holidays near the university campuses and visit the ones close by, even though it might not be on the list.  Visiting universities helps you and your child get the feel of university life and begin to know what they like and don’t like on campus.

No university search is complete without looking at the statistics. These include graduation rates, retention rates for freshers, financial aid packages, tuition and other expenses. Keep an eye on ratings which are published annually.  For example, for 2019 the top 100 Nigerian Universities listed by Unirank are the University of Lagos, University of Ilorin, and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.  The top global Nigerian Universities according to the reputed Times Higher Education World University Rankings, are Covenant University, Ota, University of Ibadan, University of Nsukka.  So it is worth checking these annually.  If you want your child to study abroad then it is important to pick a good university. Universities abroad usually have a four-week closing date after school resumes in Year 11 so timescales are tight and competition is fierce. 

You can’t make a university decision without discussing money with your child. Have this talk early in the process before you finalise the list. Be honest with your child and let him or her know what you plan to pay and what you expect him or her to contribute. It is unwise for your child to apply to universities you cannot afford. Be realistic, and if scholarships need to be part of the process, your child should start applying as early as possible before the last minute deadlines.

Once you and your child have examined all the data and made all the visits, it’s time to narrow down the list and should be done the summer after JSS3 and before SS1 but at the very latest in the early Autumn. Make a final list of at least ten universities (3 reach, 4 perfect fit or matches, and 3 safety). The most important thing to remember when making this list is to make sure that every university on the list is a university your child wants to attend and offers the course or courses they are interested in. Offers of admission often include safety schools.  Financial aid packages can be more appealing at the reach universities given the difficulties of getting there.  With this list drawn up, your child will know how much work is required to achieve his goal and studying with a focus. 

So start early, make a plan and follow it.  It doesn’t guarantee it won’t be stressful but it does guarantee that you won’t be scrambling around at the last minute trying to meet deadlines and it does avoid forced decisions as deadlines tend to be very tight once your child starts SS2 for pulling everything together for the application. 

What parents should know about....

Internet Challenges

Social media has become the communication tool of choice for many teenagers, and while most use it to stay in touch with friends and share photos, there’s a side that is luring teens to partake in risky behaviours and share inappropriately.

We have all done things in school – from shooting balls of wet paper to passing notes behind the teacher’s back. However, in the age of social media, these youthful exuberances are often captured on a smartphone video, which can yield fifteen minutes of fame.

These moments in the spotlight can encourage competition with peers on tasks that are humorous and sometimes dangerous in the name of internet fame.

Called  ‘challenges‘,  these stunts range from harmless to horrifying; There are the silly ones (such as the Mannequin Challenge); the helpful ones (like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge); the slightly risky ones (such as the Make Your Own Slime Challenge and the Shell On Challenge) and those that are downright dangerous to one’s health (Salt and Ice and the Tide Pod challenge) and with the help of social media, these ‘challenges’ are going viral amongst the younger age groups.

One recent worrying challenge being reported is called the ’48-Hour Challenge’ which has gone viral on social media, encouraging Teens to stop all contact with their parents and run away from home for two days as they are awarded points for shares, likes and social media activity related to the reporting.

Another the duct tape challenge which involves teens wrapping someone up in duct tape. They might bind their hands and their feet. Or, they may tape a teen to a chair—or even the wall. Then, the individual wrapped in tape tries to escape. Some teens spend hours trying to wiggle their way out, while others use dangerous stunts to get free. One child was reported to have sustained extensive head and eye injuries whilst undertaking this ‘challenge’.

Despite the risks, social media (Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Reddit) fuels the challenge. Though adults get caught up, too, kids are especially susceptible to peer pressure. Tweens and Teens dare one another to try it and many of them share their videos in an attempt to gain a piece of viral fame.

No doubt that new challenges will surface as old ones fade, so there is a good chance your teen will hear about them before you do.  You can’t monitor your teen’s activities all the time. But sometimes, challenges are downright dangerous, resulting in physical injury and possibly even death. So what’s a parent to do?

Talk to your teen about the dangers associated with activities like the duct tape challenge. Give him the skills and tools he needs to make healthy choices.

The teen brain isn’t yet fully developed. Consequently, teens view risk differently than adults do. So while your teen may be a straight A student, he might still make some pretty unwise decisions at times. If your teen or his friends participate in these challenges then try to have a serious talk about the potential perils he may be placing himself in.