To write about the digital world we all live in, and how it affects our children is a daunting task.
Not a minute of a busy pediatrician or parents’ day goes by without the help or intervention of a device. Cell phones are buzzing, emails are piling up, texts are begging for our immediate attention…..with so much demanding our attention……. oops, my child forgot their lunch box on the kitchen counter.
Perhaps you are reading this blog now, because your infant is sleeping peacefully (thankfully!)
Or maybe you are the parent of a “tween”, deciding if your child is capable of handling a SmartPhone.
Maybe you, yourself (whether parent or child), are having difficulty “Switching Off/Powering Down/Not Checking Email or Social Media constantly for FOMO - “Fear Of Missing Out”!!!
In my job, I, too, struggle to balance the requirements of the Electronic Health Records (EHR) - the computer where the medical records are securely housed - and a healthy, one to one, personal interaction in the exam room with you and your child.
How much screen time are kids exposed to?
A 2017 report suggests that these are daily averages that our children are focused on screens (computer, phone, television, etc.):
Toddlers - 2 hours, 19 minutes
Tweens (ages 8 - 12) - 4 hours, 36 minutes
Boys spend more time playing console video games, while girls spend more time on music and social media.
Teens ( ages 13 - 19) - 9 hours
Ongoing research continues to reveal the effects of digital devices on our brains and bodies. Verbal and emotional development, rising rates of childhood obesity, social isolation despite always being “connected”, and the decrease in verbal face to face communications has been gradually, and subtly changing all of our social landscapes.
When children spend hours using screens, they are also put at risk of developing a computer-based impulse control problem, often called “internet addiction”. There are numerous treatment centers, such as Net Addiction, filled with adolescents who unknowingly altered their brain chemistry through excessive gaming, etc, and who cannot cope with going to classes, taking notes, studying for or taking a test.
In a world where children are “growing up digital”, it is important to help them learn healthy concepts of digital use and citizenship. Parents play an important role in teaching these skills.
To help your child achieve the ability to self regulate and have impulse control in the digital world, I proudly share what the the AAP has to say on this very important topic. The guidelines are perfectly worded and pertinent to all.
Make your own family media use plan
When used thoughtfully and appropriately, media can enhance daily life. But when used inappropriately or without thought, media can displace many important activities such as face-to-face interaction, family time, outdoor play, exercise, unplugged downtime and sleep.
Treat Media as you would any other environment in your child’s life
Set limits; kids need and expect them.
Screen time shouldn’t always be alone time
Play a video game with your kids. Watch a show with them. Don’t just monitor children online, interact with them - you can understand what they are doing and be part of it.
Be a good role model
Teach and model kindness and good manners online.
Know the value of face-to-face communication
Very young children learn best through two way communication. Engaging in back-and-forth “talk time” is critical for language development.
Limit digital media for your youngest family members
Avoid digital media for toddlers younger than 18 - 24 months, other than video chatting.
Limit digital media for children 2 - 5 years to just 1 hour per day, of high quality programming.
Create “tech free” zones
Keep family mealtimes, other family and social gatherings, and childrens’ bedrooms screen free.
Turn off televisions that you aren’t watching. Recharge devices overnight - OUTSIDE your child’s room to help them avoid the temptation to use them when they should be sleeping.
Don’t use technology as an emotional pacifier
Children need to be taught how to identify and handle strong emotions, and to come up with activities to manage boredom or calm down through breathing, talking about ways to solve a problem, and finding other strategies for channeling emotions.
Apps for Kids - do your homework
Look to organizations like Common Sense Media for reviews about age appropriate apps, games and programs to guide you in making the best choices for your children.
It’s OK for your teen to be online
Online relationships are part of typical adolescent development. Social media can support teens as they explore and discover more about themselves and their place in the grown-up world.
However, teens need to be reminded that a platform’s privacy settings DO NOT MAKE THINGS ACTUALLY PRIVATE, and that images, thoughts and behaviors teens share online will instantly become part of their digital footprint indefinitely.
Keep lines of communication open, and let them know you are available if they have questions or concerns.
Warn children about the importance of privacy, and the danger of PREDATORS and SEXTING
Teens need to know that once content is shared with others, they will not be able to delete or remove it completely, which includes texting inappropriate pictures.
Sex offenders often use social networking, chat rooms, email and online gaming to contact and exploit children.
Remember that kids will be kids
Kids will make mistakes using media. Try to handle errors with empathy, and turn a mistake into a teachable moment.
Some indiscretions, such as sexting, bullying or posting self-harm images may be a “red flag” that hints at trouble ahead. Parents must observe carefully their children’s behaviors and, if needed, enlist supportive professional help, including the family pediatrician.
Dr. Cavros, herself the parent of a teen, wants to help students and parents alike, to only use technology in ways that make us all better, stronger and smarter. She encourages everyone ages 10 and older to attend a viewing of Dr. Delaney Ruston’s Award Winning Documentary, ScreenAgers; Growing Up In The Digital Age