We all want our children better prepared for the future and to be high-achievers without making them overly self-conscious, turning them into perfectionists, or being too intrusive.

But in your household, rules are rules. So which ones are the right ones to enforce to best help your child with their primary responsibility--learning and doing as well in school as they can?

New research is writing a primer for you to follow. A study funded by The National Institutes of Health observed cognitive, academic performance of over 4,500 children ages 8 to 11, relative to whether or not they engaged in a set of three critical behaviors as recommended by the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines.

Here are the three rules to enforce that correlate with better academic performance and how well (or not) our children are currently adhering to them.

1. Limit screen time to two hours a day.

While the researchers point out that more work is needed to study the type of screen time (i.e. educational versus entertainment-based screen time), the negative overall impact of too much screen time isn't debatable.

Psychotherapist Amy Morin offers 10 smart tips for helping to limit your child's screen time. It starts with a basic: role modeling the appropriate amount of device time (not constantly scrolling on your phone in front of them). While this isn't always easy, it's always on my mind when I'm around my 15-year-old daughter.

Two other great tips Morin offers are having a technology-free zone (like the dinner table or their bedroom) and being active in getting the child involved in other activities, so the device doesn't become the default.

2. Facilitate them getting one hour of physical activity.

The phrase "easier said than done" must have originated from this challenge. It's something my wife and I constantly scheme together on.

WebMD offers a number of great suggestions, my two favorites being to join in the physical activity with the child (which my wife and I have done now with family biking afternoons) and offering the chance to get exercise as a reward (getting to take a break from homework, for example).

3. In bed by 9 p.m. for nine to 11 hours of sleep.

OK, maybe not 9 p.m. but whatever timeframe is appropriate in your situation--it's more about the importance of your child getting at least nine hours of sleep. (I always thought it was eight, but that's for adults, children require more).

Claire McCarthy, the editor of Harvard Health Publishing, offers good tips, with the two that my wife and I employ most often being starting the bedtime routine earlier and keeping it the same on weekends and vacations. It takes persistence--and if you master this guideline please let me know, as we certainly haven't.

If you're looking around as you read this article, you're not alone. Under-delivery on all these guidelines is unfortunately all too normal. Only one-half of all children (51 percent) are meeting sleep guidelines. A little over one-third (37 percent) are within the screen time limit, and only 18 percent are meeting the physical activity recommendation. Only 5 percent of children meet all three recommendations, while almost 1 in 3 met none of them.

According to the study, just putting a cap on screen time and getting enough sleep had the strongest correlation to improved cognition and better academic performance, so begin your efforts there (at least in terms of better school performance).

By no means am I telling you fostering compliance to these guidelines is easy--believe me, I'm hardly an "A" student myself. But do make an honest assessment and grade yourself on how well you're facilitating these outcomes--improved efforts will improve grades all around. 

Published on: Oct 2, 2018
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