In its 2013 policy statement on “Children, Adolescents, and the Media,” the American Academy of Pediatrics cited these shocking statistics from a Kaiser Family Foundation study in 2010: “The average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day with a variety of different media, and older children and teenagers spend more than 11 hours per day.” Television, long a popular “babysitter,” remains the dominant medium, but computers, tablets and cellphones are gradually taking over.
“Many parents seem to have few rules about use of media by their children and adolescents,” the academy stated, and two-thirds of those questioned in the Kaiser study said their parents had no rules about how much time the youngsters spent with media.
Parents, grateful for ways to calm disruptive children and keep them from interrupting their own screen activities, seem to be unaware of the potential harm from so much time spent in the virtual world.
It is a sad state that we are forcing young people to use screens rather than teaching them how to self-soothe, to calm themselves down. Before age 2, children should not be exposed to any electronic media, the pediatrics academy maintains, and I believe that it should be before the age of 3 that they should not be exposed to any screens. A child’s brain is still developing and they suffer from social and cognitive problems because they tied to screens instead of making friends or engaged in reading books.
Children who are heavy users of electronics may become adept at multitasking, but they can lose the ability to focus on what is most important, a trait critical to the deep thought and problem solving needed for many jobs and other endeavors later in life.
Texting looms as the next national epidemic, with half of teenagers sending 50 or more text messages a day and those aged 13 through 17 averaging 3,364 texts a month, according to a Pew Research Center 2012 study. This may also bring physical consequences such as neck and back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and repetitive stress injuries in their fingers and wrists.
What can parents do? Some simple and quickly applied tips include:
- Remind a child that use of technology is a privilege, not a right.
- Set aside tech-free family time where everyone can unplug and concentrate on each other without any media or technology
- Set up a family media policy where you decide who can use which forms of technology, when and where it’s acceptable, and how you will monitor usage to ensure kids are staying safe online.
- Establish consequences, both positive and negative, for appropriate technology usage.
- Model the behavior you want to see in your child – don’t constantly use smartphone and tablets in front of them.
- Finally, help your children achieve balance in their lives by encouraging them to stay physically active, enjoy reading, and learn to relax and have fun without electronics.