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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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