Let’s face it, we are in the age of technology and it is rapidly evolving. From tots to teens, kids are exposed to a multitude of electronic devices on a daily basis. While media can provide benefits including exposure to new ideas, a wide array of easily accessed knowledge for learning and increased opportunities for social contact and support, there are many negative side effects that can occur if used in excess or inappropriately.
As not only a pediatrician but also a mom, it is my job to keep up to date on technology, help educate parents on safety and how to develop healthy media habits early on. Most parents did not grow up with a cell phone and often feel “technologically challenged” when trying to work one or figure out what your child is doing on their devices. So, it is important to educate yourselves, so you can educate your child!
The American Academy of Pediatrics stands firm on their guidelines for media use in the home and can help guide a parent over when and how to introduce it.
-For children younger than 18 months, use of screen media other than video-chatting such as facetime should be discouraged.
-Parents of children 18 to 24 months who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming/apps such as PBS, Sesame Street, ABC mouse, ect. for no more than 1 hour per day. Parents should use them together with children as opposed to independently, as this is how toddlers learn best.
-For school aged children, media limits should be set and are dependent upon types of screen time being used. Co-view with children to promote learning and safety. Ensure 1 hour of exercise and 8-12 hours of sleep are achieved daily.
Why do we care? Brain development in the early years is enhanced by hands-on, unstructured, and social play to build language, cognitive, and social-emotional skills. Researchers have found that children with excess media exposure can have negative consequences long term. These consequences include behavior problems such as issues with attention, language and impulse control as well as delays in learning and social skills, sleep and even obesity. For example, a recent study in children aged 2 found that a child’s body mass index increased for every hour per week of media used. In adolescents, watching between 1-3 hours of media daily led up to a 27% increase in risk of obesity.
While we can better control what media children are exposed to early on, it becomes harder as they grow older. Not only TV but apps such as Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, etc. create different exposures and challenges for teens. Presently, over three-quarters of teens report having their own cell phone and 76% of teens have at least 1 social media site. Four out of five households own a gaming device and 84% of them report playing a video game online via cell or gaming device. Being exposed to social media sites and the internet in general may lead to exposure to alcohol, tobacco, sexual behaviors, violence, self-harm and disordered eating. Exposure may lead to earlier initiation of these behaviors. For example, “Sexting” is sending/receiving inappropriate nude images or messages. It is estimated that approximately 12% of youth aged 10 to 19 years of age have sent a sexual photo to someone else.
Children today are growing up in an era of highly personalized media so parents must develop personalized media use plans for their children. Those plans must account for a child’s age, health, temperament, and developmental stage. Research shows that children and teenagers need adequate sleep, physical activity, and time away from media. Some of the following are examples to create a healthier media environment for your home:
- Teach the value of face-to-face communication and be a good role model for your child. For example, have family dinners without electronics. You will be surprised how much more communication takes place without this distraction.
- Sleep electronic free. Have a re-charge station that everyone puts their electronic devices into 1 hour prior to bedtime. This allows everyone, including your device, to re-charge overnight.
- Families that play together, learn together! Keep electronic devices in an open room where family is present. Have your children show you what they are looking at on their device to help facilitate discussions and answer any questions they have.
- Teach safety of electronic devices to your children. They underestimate the value of privacy and often lack the knowledge to understand the consequences of apps that detect locations or expose them to potential sexual predators online.
- Use websites like www.commonsensemedia.org to help identify appropriate and safe apps for your family.
By: Ashley Meenach, DO, F.A.A.P
American Acedemy of Pediatrics, www. aap.org