How Should We Teach Our Children to Use Digital Media?

Every time a new technology emerges, it disrupts values, routines, and behaviors. This happened long before the printing press replaced oral storytelling and the telephone replaced face-to-face conversations, but today it is evident in our regular habit of checking our smartphones for notifications . Kids grow up with the expectation of automatic video streaming and access to our phones when we need them to be quiet .

This post was originally published in The Conversation .

It can take years to get rid of people’s worries about these changes as we gradually figure out how to manage technology to meet our values ​​and needs, instead of being controlled by them . With the rapid pace of development of new digital products and services, parents report feeling particularly overwhelmed. They fear missing out on the benefits that technology can bring to their families, but they do not fully believe that electronic devices and applications are designed or sold with the best interests of their children in mind.

We doctors have urged parents to discourage the use of the media under the age of two and limit their use to children to a maximum of two hours a day. But now we have a deeper understanding of the different ways children use digital tools. Through a review of updated scientific evidence, interviews and focus groups with parents from different walks of life, and our own clinical experience, we now encourage parents to use media as a learning tool – a way to communicate and create, not just consume.

As a pediatrician on the development, parent of two little boys, and lead author of the new statement of policy by the American Academy of Pediatrics , ” the media and the young minds “, I hope to help parents form the use of technology in their homes on the basis of their human ideals and values .

Basic principles to keep in mind

This new policy statement represents the best in medical research and academic research in electronic media and the health and development of children from birth to age five. Along with a family media planning website , it focuses on how parents can use electronic media with their young children to stimulate family bonding, learning, and digital literacy skills in several ways:

  1. We emphasize that teaching children that using the media means more than just having fun. This can also include interacting with other people: for example, video chat is allowed at any age, although babies need parental help to figure it out. Another great application is co-creation and learning – letting your child take photos and record videos or songs, and look for DIY ideas. We hope that parents will feel comfortable seeing digital media as a tool to meet their parenting needs, rather than as a thing in itself that controls us or our children through the attention economy or gamification .
  2. When it comes to entertainment, we recommend trusted content producers like Sesame Workshop and PBS Kids , who design apps with the needs of the child and parent in mind. There is also Common Sense Media , a great site for finding information about digital products and answering any technology-related parenting questions you can imagine.
  3. We recommend turning off places and times of the day so that both parents and children can play, get bored or talk without being distracted or feeling the need to do multiple tasks at the same time.
  4. We ask parents to test apps and watch videos with their children to determine if they suit their child’s temperament, rather than letting the child make all these choices. Parents are the best people to decide if a particular app or video is appropriate for the child’s current developmental level and knowledge.
  5. Parents should not feel pressured to introduce technology to their children at an early age for a competitive advantage. Children will catch up as they get older or in school. But if parents want to implement media earlier, we recommend the youngest age – 18 months. It is important to note that at this age, parents must play or watch with their child in order to receive any educational benefits such as learning new words. Otherwise, this expensive tablet might just be a portable TV or a causal toy.

Timing and rules remain important

We still recommend time limits (one hour of entertainment media per day – which does not include video chatting, photography, parenting as a teaching tool, and the like) and rules for several reasons. First, pediatricians are trained to protect the best interests of children, which makes us natural advocates. In our day-to-day experiences with families in clinics, we see that children have problems with sleep, obesity, study, relationships, or behaviors that appear to be related to problematic media habits.

We hear parents ask us for specific advice on the role digital devices play in their families’ lives. They want to know what and how much to let their child watch. They ask how to keep their child tech-savvy without getting into a position where the child prefers and chooses digital play at the expense of other important activities.

Parents also tell us that they do not want their child to receive information from online media. In addition, they are worried about apps that shape their children’s play ideas. And they need help finding alternative activities that truly foster the creativity, perseverance, and cognitive and socio-emotional skills children need to thrive in school .

Overall, research continues to show that overuse of media is associated with poor sleep, increased risk of obesity, and developmental consequences such as poor executive function (the “boss” of our brain that helps us focus, control impulses and plan) so we want parents to prioritize disconnected, social and unstructured play as much as possible.

Parents have always been world translators for young children. In order for children to grow up with a healthy understanding of what digital tools are and how to use them effectively, creatively, and benevolently, we must teach them. This means both directing them and modeling their own behavior from the very beginning. The long-term goal is to raise children who see us as their parents as mentors when they encounter oddities online or interact negatively with them on social media.

We want to raise kids who don’t respond to negative emotions by spewing their feelings – sometimes at the expense of others – on the Internet, and without overusing videos or games. We want to raise children with good sleep habits, healthy bodies, diverse interests and curiosity about the world, who feel good about their studies and their relationships, both online and offline. We hope our new guidance will help all of us – parents, healthcare providers and children – achieve this.

How should we teach our children to use digital media? | Talk


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