Our children are born in a world where television shows can be watched any time they want on multiple devices around the house. Tablets, computers, & smartphones are accessible to even the most economically challenged families. The overwhelming options can be difficult for parents to navigate as they raise their family. Risks of too much media & technology use include negative health effects on weight & sleep, exposure to content that is inappropriate & issues of confidentiality.
According to the American Association for Pediatrics, families should avoid digital media use (except video-chatting) in children younger than 18 to 24 months. For children ages 18 to 24 months of age, if you want to introduce digital media, choose high-quality programming & use media together with your child. Avoid solo media use in this age group. For children 2 to 5 years of age, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programming, Watch with your children, help children understand what they are seeing, & help them apply what they learn to the world around them.
The American Association of Pediatrics recommends that parents try to:
- Avoid fast-paced programs (young children do not understand them as well), apps with lots of distracting content, & any violent content.
- Turn off televisions & other devices when not in use.
- Avoid using media as the only way to calm your child. Although there are intermittent times (eg, medical procedures, airplane flights) when media is useful as a soothing strategy, there is concern that using media as strategy to calm could lead to problems with limit setting or the inability of children to develop their own emotion regulation.
- Monitor children’s media content & what apps are used or downloaded. Test apps before the child uses them, play together, & ask the child what he or she thinks about the app.
- Keep bedrooms, mealtimes, & parent–child playtimes screen free for children & parents. Parents can set a “do not disturb” option on their phones during these times.
- No screens 1 hour before bedtime, & remove devices from bedrooms before bed. Research supports that the blue light emitted from a screen tricks our mind into thinking it is light out, making it difficult to produce melatonin. This hormone cues our body to go into sleep mode & is essential for being well rested.
Older Children & Adolescents
This age group needs our guidance & support as they encounter technology in school & socially as well. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends the following for parents:
- Assist your child or teen in being a discriminating user. Help them select media that will support them in learning & being creative.
- Talk to your child about online citizenship & safety, including treating others with respect online & offline, avoiding cyberbullying & sexting, being wary of online solicitation, & not sharing personal information.
- Identify trusted adults who can engage with children through social media & to whom children can turn when they encounter challenges.
- Make sure your child gets the recommended amount of daily physical activity (1 hour) & adequate sleep (8–12 hours, depending on age).
- Children should not sleep with devices in their bedrooms, including TVs, computers, & smartphones.
- Discourage entertainment media during homework time.
Practice What You Preach!
Children learn from their parents & adults around them. They view our behavior & want to copy it from the very beginning. Put your phone down & interact with your child by playing a game, creating an obstacle course or just reading a book together. When they see you on your phone excessively, you aren’t paying attention to them. This sends the message that they aren’t as important as your phone. Of course, there are times when you need to make a call or text someone, so communicate this to them through words & actions. Say, “I just need to text your grandma to pick up milk on her way home.” Then put the phone down.
Have Camera & Telephone ONLY days – announce that you will only be using your phone to make calls & take photos. You & any others in the house with a phone will not be able to text, check email or use your phone to play games.
Keep in mind that not ALL technology is BAD:
INFORMATION – Alexa & Siri are our new versions of the encyclopedia. Ask them & you will get an answer for just about anything you want to know.
COMMUNICATION – Video Chat, Texting & Social Media helps us stay in touch with friends & family both near & far
ORGANIZATION - Calendar applications, bill pay & other apps make it easier to keep track of finances & appointments.
Establish Boundaries Early – Develop a Family Media Use Plan using the website www.healthychildren.org/MediaUsePlan
By: Laura L. Bisceglia, MA.Ed, SBL