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Is summer lowering your child's IQ?

Caution: while your kids are having fun in the sun, their brains may be at risk. Learn which summertime mind-melting hazards to avoid and get brain-boosting alternatives.

By Hank Pellissier

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Modern menaces

Do you have "indoor kids" who enjoy 24/7 interaction with electronic toys? They won't break their arms playing Xbox, but the mental risk is significant. Young children shouldn't view screens more than two hours per day — it's damaging to their developing neurological systems, resulting in hyperactivity and shortened attention spans.Those “safe” two hours can’t go unchecked, either. Specific cartoons are especially debilitating. A University of Virginia study reports that watching just nine minutes of fast-paced shows like SpongeBob SquarePants impairs a four-year-old's executive function. Tween and teen boys should be steered clear of violent video games. An Indiana University study reports that combat games (think Call of Duty) reduce kids’ frontal lobe activation to such a low level that it matches those of teens with disruptive behavior disorders, leading to aggressive, impulsive behavior. Luckily, not all video games are so detrimental: speed competitions are a harmless option. Teenagers emailing and texting might also be dumbing down their brains; technology trend forecaster Paul Saffo asserts that these activities lower their IQ by 10 points.(Learn more about screens and kids.)

What you can do: Get your kids into the exciting three-dimensional world of the great outdoors. (Learn more on how fresh air will give your kids healthier bodies and brains.) Another great screen break: have your kids match their wits against each other in chess, which has been credited with elevating problem-solving ability and pattern and object recognition. Other good games with brain-boosting potential include Scrabble, backgammon, and other board games.

Hank Pellissier is a freelance writer whose fiction and essays have been been widely published and anthologized. A former columnist for Salon and SF Gate, he is a regular contributor to h+ Magazine.

Comments from readers

"This article is a bit ludicrous. IQ is, by definition, fixed. If you follow the link for, say, the comment by Paul Saffo, you see that the rermark about IQ decrease was flip, with no indication that it is backed up by any research whatsoever. If you think that your kids' IQs will be increased by taking their texting away--hey, good luck... "
"I am a School Psychologist who has worked in the New York City region for thirty years. I would love to see the research you claim lowere IQ and reliability follow up studies. While cognitive function may temporarily wane from inner and outter issues, IQ does not alter. Please use the proper word so as not to mislead and or give false information. "
""Dehydration from excessive heat or alcohol" ? What? These are kids we're talking about right? Kids work hard all school year and deserve some down time to simply daydream if they want to. "
"I knew I didn't want my kids watching SpongeBob for a reason! Glad to see research backs me up. I try to not freak out about any one day's activities, rather look at a few days or a week in total. Did we go to the playground/pool/play with friends/read/do a little homework? Great. Then I don't worry about going to the movies every week/extra video or computer time. "
"God forbid a kid actually enjoys the summer without a bunch of handwringing about a discredited assessor of "intelligence" by helicopter parents. To anyone this article actually caused any worry to: lighten up. "
"Wasted space, Nothing intellectually nutritious in this article. "
" "Add to that dehydration from excessive heat or alcohol, and it gets worse, decreasing brain cell volume by as much as 15 percent." ~ I sure hope these children are not drinking alcohol. What the heck? "