Do Parents and Pediatricians Need to Reconsider How Children Use Technology?

By Brandon Betancourt

Dr. Claire McCarthy from  Children’s Hospital of Boston published a very interesting blog post regarding the need for “parents” and “pediatricians” to reconsider the way we approach modern technology with our children.

Coincidentally, my wife (a pediatrician) and I (not a pediatrician) discussed a similar issue just this morning. We were discussing how much time we should allow our 12 year-old daughter to spend texting with her friends.

I suggested we should not be too concerned with how much time she spends texting (as long as it doesn’t interfere with her responsibilities) because it is now the way children communicate. It is their thing now, just like it may have been previous generations thing to spend hours and hours in front of a TV screen or another generation’s thing to spend hours and hours talking on the telephone. As a pediatrician, my wife wasn’t convinced with my point of view.

Dr. McCarthy acknowledges that pediatricians frown upon “screen” time. She says:

We stress the 2-hour limit to help prevent obesity. We warn about Facebook depression, exposure to violence and sex, cyberbullying and online predators. We talk about how texting can keep kids up at night and how video games can contribute to ADHD.

And although she continues to support this message, Dr. McCarthy says that when we just focus on the negative, parents and pediatricians may miss two important points which are: technology is not ALL bad and, as she puts it, for better or worse, digital media is here to stay.

If we are just negative, we may miss the opportunity to inform the discussion. Pediatricians may miss the opportunity to guide children and families in the best uses of technology. Someone else will step in and do it, someone who doesn’t understand child health and development the way pediatricians do. And kids aren’t going to want to talk to their parents about what they are doing online if they think that their parents’ only response will be disapproval.

I like Dr. McCarthy’s call. She is challenging pediatricians (and parents as well), “to meet kids where they are” and start becoming more connected their world.

It’s hard to inform a discussion about something you don’t know about. So pediatricians and parents should explore the Web and see what’s out there. Do health searches; see what pops up. Find sites and applications that you like and can recommend. Talk to kids about how they use technology—learn from them. Check out Facebook and Twitter and YouTube. Consider using social media yourself.

To read Dr. Claire McCarthy’s post, you may click here 

As a pediatrician, do you think McCarthy has a point? Is there anything you’d disagree with? What about as parents? How are you dealing with “screen time?” Do you tend to have a more conservative view, like my wife, or are you more like me? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Brandon Betancourt is medical practice administrator. He lives in the western suburbs of Chicago, has three children and admits to being addicted to his iPhone. Brandon regularly blogs at PediatricInc.com. You can follow him on Twitter @pediatricinc.

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5 thoughts on “Do Parents and Pediatricians Need to Reconsider How Children Use Technology?

  1. As a child in a big family growing up, I remember my parents refusing to put in a ‘children’s phone’ figuring it was important for us to figure out how to communicate with our friends, balance our lives and not tie up the family phone too much. As I look back, it seems like they may have been our first teachers of non-narcissistic behaviors and the relative value of thinking beyond the belly button gazing adolescent years.

    As a parent (pediatrician) married to the youngest of six (he’s not a pediatrician), we’re working through the same parenting equivalent our parents did. Our kids need to figure out how to communicate with their friends, get their chores done and keep their grades up without unlimited text/phone packages and certainly without texting through dinner.

    We love technology, but it’s not a birthright nor should it be a toy. When the kids strike the balance…I know there’s hope for yet another generation. We’re both growing up and learning together how to create and recreate our balance

    • Balance, that is always the way to go… but it is certainly the hardest to achieve.

      Thanks for your comments Gayle.

      Brandon

  2. Brandon,

    Thought-provoking post. I do think that we as pediatricians have to accept that kids are going to use technology even more than we did as kids and we need to have advice for them that takes this reality into account. We also should use technology and social media to connect with parents and kids who will increasingly rely on such things as means of communication.

    I am a strong believer that we, as parents, need to monitor what our kids are doing with technology and protect them from innocent actions that expose them to harmful things (e.g., my oldest daughter was trying to find the Barbie toy web site to play games online and googled “Barbie” – you can imagine the types of things that showed up).

    As with other activities they may choose to do, there should be limits on their use of technology like acceptables times of day (one of my friend’s parents always said, “nothing good happens after midnight”), time limits, and parental restrictions on websites. Technology should not be allowed to be detrimental to family activities and should not prevent a child from maintaining a reasonable level of physical activity.

    I guess that’s my two cents.

    • Thanks for the comment David.

      I think that at the very least, we need to start a dialogue about this issue. Tech is here to stay… and it will become more pervasive.

      Brandon

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