Technology and digital media are transforming children’s lives
Our lives have been transformed by the digital media, wireless internet access, and the vast amount of information available on the Web. Just like us, our children are exposed to all of this stimulation through computers, smart phones, and some gaming systems. The difference between our experience and our children’s is that we remember life before all this technology. Our access to information, ways of communication, and understanding of the world were slower and, most often, more physical in the form of human interaction, books, newspapers, magazines, or travel. Now, our children have, mostly, unrestricted access to virtually everything because of the extent of the Internet and their personal ability to gain access to the Internet.
The access to information, the ability to locate knowledge quickly and almost immediately has wonderful advantages. Physical boundaries have been extended and expanded by virtual interaction made possible by email, text, chat, Skype, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc. There are countless other benefits to our modern way of living for us and for our children.
The importance of monitoring internet access and screen time
Still, as with everything, moderation is important. If time watching cute animal videos on YouTube replaces physical exercise, or if texting with friends substitutes for meeting physically and talking face-to-face, or if playing online, multi-user video games becomes more important than doing homework or work assignments, then the technology is being misused. Technology is meant to enhance our lives and to let us reach farther to connect with others. Technology is not meant to be a substitute for real life or a way to project an artificially “perfect” life. We, as parents, have had the experience of living without technology but our children haven’t. Therefore, it is our responsibility as parents to help them learn what technology is for, how to use it, and what its limits are. The first step in doing this is to help them manage their access and use of screen time, which is where they connect with digital media.
Current recommendations about appropriate screen time for kids and teens
Some updated recommendations on media use can give you new information to help you decide what is right for your family:
- The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has updated their guidelines for babies, children and adolescents using technology and media. The main recommendations include:
- Babies younger than 18 months avoid the use of screens except for video-chatting (such as Skype or Facetime).
- Babies 18-24 months should only watch high-quality programming, selected by parents. It is recommended that parents watch all programing with their children to help them understand what they are watching.
- Children aged 2-5 years should be have no more than 1 hour per day of screen time (including Internet, texting, TV, movies, and video games). It is recommended that parents co-view whatever programming the children are watching to help them understand the content and apply it to their world around them.
- Children aged 6 years and older should have consistent limits placed on their screen time, what types of media they are allowed to view and interact with, and ensure that screen time does not interfere with adequate sleep, physical activity, or other behaviors essential to health.
- Additionally, pediatricians recommend that families create media-free times together to support healthy family functioning. Examples could include mealtimes or while driving.
- Furthermore, recommendations for media-free locations in the home are stressed. Good areas to make media-free include bedrooms and the dining area.
- Parents are encouraged to teach their children intentionally about online citizenship and safety to help reduce the risk of cyber-bullying and cyber-aggressions.
To help parents implement these recommendations, a wonderful resource has been developed and posted at HealthyChildren.org. They have created an interactive Family Media Plan creator that will help parents create a media plan that matches their family’s values and parenting style. To use this Family Media Plan creator, go to:
- https://www.healthychildren.org/english/media/pages/default.aspx (in English) and
- https://www.healthychildren.org/spanish/media/paginas/default.aspx (in Spanish)
The new recommendations reflect the changing pace of modern life and the increasing influence of technology and media in all of our lives. The goal of the recommendations is to help parents maximize the positive benefits of this change while protecting their children from the risks associated with extensive media use.
American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on Communications and Media. (2016). Policy Statement: Media and Young Minds. Pediatrics 138(5). doi: 10.1542/peds.2016-2591Chassiakos, Y.R., Radesky, J.,
American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on Communications and Media. (2016). Policy Statement: Media Use in School-Aged Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics 138(5). doi: 10.1542/peds.2016/2592
Christakis, D., Moreno, M. A., & Cross, C. (2016). Children and adolescents and digital media. Pediatrics 138(5). doi: 10.1542/peds.2016-2593
About the instructor
Deanna Marie Mason PhD
More than 20 years of clinical experience helping families:
Bachelor's Degree in Registered Nursing, Master’s Degree in Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and PhD in Nursing. University professor, patient education specialist, pediatric researcher, published author and reviewer to first-line international scientific journals, continuous philanthropic activity related to health promotion and education, wife and mother of two children.