Chuck, I was startled to read last week in “C-Force” that toddlers are being regularly exposed to the wiles of the Internet. What do experts say parents can do to protect children and manage and monitor their kids’ media devices? – Rhonda L. in New Mexico.
Last week, I addressed a recent warning by the American Academy of Pediatrics that unrestricted electronic media is bad for kids’ health.
The AAP noted, “Excessive media use has been associated with obesity, lack of sleep, school problems, aggression and other behavior issues,” not to mention the other dangers and evils that lurk online in various predator forms.
Those hazards are multiplied exponentially when one realizes that the average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day on various media devices and that 40 percent of children younger than 2 have used a mobile device – a leap from 10 percent in 2011, according to a Common Sense Media study.
And those risks are compounded even further when one considers the words of Victor Strasburger, M.D., co-author of the AAP report. He explained to 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.”
And it’s ironic that parental media ignorance can be most detrimental when kids seem the safest – when they’re at home and in their own bedrooms. According to the AAP, kids who have a TV in their bedroom and/or are allowed to bring a cell phone or computer to bed at night spend even longer periods of time consuming media than those mentioned above.
The cocooning of kids is giving rise to another challenge. With more and more young children and adolescents also getting their primary social needs met on media, studies are questioning whether the digital world is helping more than hurting younger generations in regard to interpersonal skills.
Examiner.com reported: “While text messaging is the easiest way to say something short without having to say it in conversation, the lacking of human interaction is becoming more apparent. Studies suggest that younger generations are finding a decrease in quality of interpersonal communication.”
It added: “While emails and text messaging are a very convenient way to communicate, we are losing the personal touch as it relates to human interaction. Emails lack emotion and therefore can often be misinterpreted. Text messages resort to acronyms to avoid losing precious space in the limited character box. Everyone is losing the personal touch that they use to get when having a face-to-face conversation.”
In this digital age, we must remember that we are the parents and we have to protect what is “coming through” our kids’ digital devices, just as we block burglars from breaking in to our homes.
The AAP’s advice is this: Rather than haphazardly respond to the overexposure and overconsumption in their kids’ digital diet, parents need to have a plan for managing all their kids’ media.
Marjorie Hogan, M.D., co-author of the AAP policy, suggested: “A healthy approach to children’s media use should both minimize potential health risks and foster appropriate and positive media use. In other words, it should promote a healthy ‘media diet.’ Parents, educators and pediatricians should participate in media education, which means teaching children and adolescents how to make good choices in their media consumption.”
When it comes to specific ways to help your child master the Internet, I highly recommend the free resources for parents and educators on Common Sense Media’s website. There is a ton of reference material there, from how to set parental controls on electronic devices to recommendations for the right Internet protection filters. Its Scope & Sequence tool will help you find topics and instruction plans that are categorized according to your child’s age and grade and range from Internet safety to cyberbullying to communication and relationships. Each lesson has the goal of creating balance and responsible digital literacy in a safe, healthy and age-specific way.
In addition, the AAP recommends three major media steps for parents to take to help their kids:
“Parents can model effective ‘media diets’ to help their children learn to be selective and healthy in what they consume. Take an active role in children’s media education by co-viewing programs with them and discussing values.”
“Make a media use plan, including mealtime and bedtime curfews for media devices. Screens should be kept out of kids’ bedrooms.”
“Limit entertainment screen time to less than one or two hours per day; in children under 2, discourage screen media exposure.”
At the very least, we need to create daily time and space in which we turn off all media and have meaningful dialogue and time with our kids, other family members and friends without checking texts, emails, Facebook updates, etc., on our smart phones every 10 minutes. A media-free time around the breakfast or dinner table is a dying trend that needs to be resurrected in every American home.
Also, our stress levels, as well as family health, would undoubtedly benefit from our taking an entire 24-hour break each week from all electronic and digital devices. I encourage you to create this 24-hour media-free zone on a day when no one in your family is at work or school so that you can have fun with loved ones. As much as we need to set an example for our kids by having a strong work ethic, if we model rest, play and control in our private lives, our kids are likely to follow there, too.
In the end, electronic media are like so many other things in this life that seek to dictate or control our lives. Moderation in everything may be the key, but monitoring content and managing time in that moderation should be at the heart of our media motto and plan.