Commentary by Dr. Mary Ian McAteer
Computers, video games, smartphones, tablets and television–you name it, and today’s children have access to it. Now more than ever, parents are managing “screen time,” weighing pros and cons and striving to understand both potential harm and benefits. First and foremost, it’s important for parents to be good role models for their children when it comes to using electronic devices, including use of phones around other people, especially during conversations.
While age-related circumstances vary, screen time has become an issue that parents deal with at every stage of a child’s life. Here are some practical guidelines for different childhood stages:
Infancy through preschool – Never underestimate the developmental benefits of personal interaction with children in the first years of life. With this in mind, it’s important to ensure electronic devices don’t replace one-on-one time with your child. Look for apps and interactive learning games that you and your child can enjoy together, and make an effort to talk with your child about what you’re seeing and doing on screen. Also remember that young children learn the most from play in the three-dimensional world in which they live.
School-aged children – Screen-time concerns for children at this stage center on overstimulation. Kids this age tend to get excited about technology, so it’s important to set limits on screen time and ensure that if children are using electronic resources for school, they are truly learning from them and not just experimenting.
Teenagers – Social media and texting have become primary methods of socializing for today’s teenagers. To prepare, it’s important for parents to set limits and expectations early for phone use and texting to instill familiarity and avoid misunderstanding. Be sure to monitor your teen’s use of social media.
For children of every age, restrict screen time during meals and before bed. Brightly lit screens can disrupt sleep cycles of both children and adults. Be sure to carve out personal time–away from screens and other distractions–with your children. Nurture the bond with family and enhance your interpersonal relationships by prioritizing the special times your family relates through conversation, laughter and shared experiences.
Mary Ian McAteer, MD, specializes in pediatrics. She is a guest columnist located at Riley Physicians Pediatrics – Meridian Crossing, 11590 N. Meridian St., Suite 300, in Carmel. She may be reached by calling 688-5220.