Chuck, our neighbors’ kids are always on electronic gadgets – from smart phones to tablets to game devices. I’ve just been wondering lately whether the advantages of the digital world in which we’re raising and immersing them will truly outweigh the costs on their lives and health. Any thoughts on the issue? – “Eliminating the Electronic Excess” in Alaska
Of course, there are ginormous advantages to the Internet and electronic media, such as financial and commerce transactions, information acquisition and awareness, and social connections. But I also share your sentiment on the grave concerns of electronic overload and overconsumption in this digital age. And we’re not alone.
The American Academy of Pediatrics – an organization of 60,000 pediatricians who are dedicated to the physical, mental and social health of children – just issued a warning that unrestricted electronic media consumption is bad for kids’ health.
The AAP reports, “While media by itself is not the leading cause of any health problem in the U.S., it can contribute to numerous health risks.”
On a positive note, AAP noted, “Social media not only can help children and teens learn facts, but it can also help teach empathy, racial and ethnic tolerance, and a whole range of interpersonal skills.”
However, “Excessive media use has been associated with obesity, lack of sleep, school problems, aggression and other behavior issues.”
And not mentioned are the many other evils and risks that breed in the digital world because of those who lie in wait to deceive through media. Innocent texting, tweeting, Facebook use and FaceTime can easily morph into temptation minefields.
Today many kids don’t mind going to bed early if they can bring their smart phone with them. What parents often don’t know is that bedtime has turned into playtime on unguarded and unrestrained media. But what kids often don’t know is that nighttime is also the playground period for Internet predators and pedophiles.
Special Agent Greg Wing, who supervises an FBI cyber squad in Chicago, explained, “It’s an unfortunate fact of life that pedophiles are everywhere online.”
The positive impact and potential danger of media on young minds and hearts have long been issues with experts in many fields, but they have intensified over the years with the expansion and proliferation of the digital world, especially with the media landscape evolving at such an accelerated pace.
The AAP has voiced concerns for roughly 30 years about media time and content for children.
But according to Victor Strasburger, M.D., co-author of the AAP report, “The digital age has only made these issues more pressing.”
Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group devoted to healthy media consumption by children, released a report this past week titled “Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America 2013.” The study revealed that in the past two years alone, there has been a fivefold increase in the percentage of children eight or younger who have access to mobile devices.
Common Sense Media CEO and founder Jim Steyer told Yahoo Shine: “That’s unbelievable. The data just blew me away.”
Another recent study cited by the AAP revealed that the average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day consuming various media, and older children spend more than 11 hours per day. Roughly 75 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds own cell phones, and most teenagers use text messaging.
Yahoo Shine reported that “one-third of teenagers send more than 100 text messages a day, and … two-thirds of children and teens reported they had ‘no rules’ from parents regarding media usage.”
And here’s the most sobering and staggering reality when it comes to that absence of rules: Roughly 40 percent of children younger than 2 have used a mobile device, a leap from 10 percent in 2011, according to the Common Sense Media study.
Steyer explained, “The number of kids under 2 years old who have used mobile media has increased almost fourfold, and as many children today under the age of 1 … have used smart phones or tablets as all kids under 8 years old had done just two years ago.”
Younger than 1?!
Having raised the flag on how rampant the potential problems in the digital world could be, I will discuss next week various experts’ ideas for what parents and other guardians can do to better balance, manage and monitor their kids’ media.
Let it suffice, with my limited space here, for me to end with the words of Strasburger, who told Yahoo Shine: “A lot of parents are clueless about how much media their kids are using and where they are online. They may know where they are physically, but not electronically. We’re saying they should know where they are in all ways.”