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Kids who can bang out “Heart and Soul” on the piano or squeak their way through “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on the violin aren’t just making music — they’re developing lifelong coping skills. According to a new University of Vermont study, children who learn to play musical instruments are better able to control their emotions, reduce anxiety, and focus on any given task.
Researchers rounded up 232 kids ages six to 18 and used brain imaging techniques to draw their conclusions. “We found that kids who played any sort of musical instrument had less thinning in the area of the brain associated with emotional regulation and concentration,” study author James Hudziak, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont, tells Yahoo Parenting. His team pulled data from the NIH MRI study of Normal Brain Development, a population-based national sample.
We already know that adults with creative hobbies perform better at work and are able to fight off brain deterioration as they age. But those who develop hobbies during childhood reap the most long term health benefits, says Hudziak. In our 24/7 lives, it’s not always realistic for kids to carve out time for personal interests but doing so is key for their health and happiness.
Here are four more fun (and good-for-you!) kid activities.
Blogging: While it’s no secret that kids in general spend way too much time online (more than 53 hours per week — the amount equal to a full-time job), blogging has a feel-good payoff for socially awkward kids. Research published in the journal Psychological Services found that those who feel isolated at school, who also blog, experience a boost in their self-esteem and feel more comfortable around their classmates. The reason: Blogging provides a social network and helps kids realize there is a bigger world out there beyond school. For kids who don’t feel comfortable sharing their thoughts online, private journaling can also reap healthy effects, minimizing stress and increasing creativity.
Martial arts: Yes, it’s self-defense, which makes some parents nervous, however, art forms such as karate, wrestling, and kung fu teach discipline and physical coordination. What’s more, such classes help kids with attention deficit disorder (ADD) concentrate better at school and even prevent bullying. One dissertation research paper written at Arizona State University found that martial arts students are less likely to bully their peers and even intervene if a classmate is being harassed. In a world where 3.2 million kids are bullied each year, that’s significant.
Skateboarding: Those boys who dress funky, travel in packs, and hang out in skate parks? They’re also pretty well adjusted. That’s the gist of a study published in the journal Adolescent Research. “Several positive learning opportunities and experiences were linked to skate parks use, with skaters potentially gaining a sense of achievement, identity, and camaraderie from their park experiences,” wrote study author Graham L. Bradley, associate professor of psychology at Griffith University in Australia. Skateboarding even helps kids fight obesity as adults. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University say teens who skateboard four times per week are twice as likely to maintain a normal weight as adults. Helmets are a must!
Video games: This one is controversial — studies have shown that video games do play a role in aggression and addiction, but according to the American Psychological Association (APA), combat games also improve a kid’s spatial and problem-solving skills, even their grades. If action games make you uneasy, know this: Apps such as Angry Birds are also known to improve a user’s mood, lower anxiety, and build emotional resilience that translates into real life. The bottom line: Use your judgment.