Technology and Children

Kathleen Harder-Brouwer, MD
Ravalli Family Medicine
411 West Main Street
Hamilton MT 59840


The development of the Internet, smart phones and portable computing is a revolution for which most parents were not prepared. I venture a guess that no parent longs for the day of purchasing encyclopedias or running to the library late at night when another reference is needed for their child's research article. There are times when pulling out that smart phone and using Google to show your child that James Buchanan was the 15 th president of the United States (because you knew that, right?) makes life a lot easier. In our house, this technology has solved many a dinnertime argument about who said a particular movie quote. However wonderful technology can be, there are certainly issues that need to addressed if we want to continue on this superhighway. We should not go backward, but instead need to find a way to utilize and manage this available technology.

When the time comes to purchase an electronic device for your child, it is appropriate to have a conversation before the box is even opened about the purpose of the device. If your child has gotten a new smart phone, make sure they understand that you got it for the PHONE portion. It is first a foremost a device to connect you to them and them to you. Children need to know they must answer when parents call and, that now that they have this great device in their hands, they must call when they will be late, are going somewhere different or need help. Before allowing many other apps to be used, it would be advantageous to get the phone part down and working as both parties agreed. Make sure your child has numbers for family and friends they might need in cases of emergencies. And for the parents, while it is so easy to reach your child on their personal phone, please remember that calling your child while they are in a classroom is never appropriate. If you need to reach your child during school hours, go back to being old-fashioned.

Once the phone portion of the smart phone is working well, parents and children need to have a conversation about what other activities are appropriate on the phone. Are you allowing texting? Do you, as the parent, know the limits on your phone plan and have you communicated them clearly to your child? Does your child have permission to add apps to the phone? Many are free initially, but then require money to get to higher levels in the game. It is very easy for a child to run up a bill with texting or in-app purchases. What about social media? It is very easy to have an entirely positive or entirely negative opinion of social media. Studies have shown that using social media can be a very positive thing for teens in particular. Some examples of these benefits include opportunities for community engagement, enhancement of creativity, growth of new ideas, fostering one's individual identity (Impact of Social Media on Children, Adolescents and Families, American Academy of Pediatrics). Schools are even using social media to connect students who may need to collaborate on a project or research paper. It is the parent's responsibility, however, to be aware of their children's social media footprint to help them avoid inappropriate sites, cyber bulling and sexting.

Whether your child has a smart phone, a tablet or other mobile computing device, it is necessary to set limits on usage that are age appropriate but also socially appropriate. As an adult, you would not be texting at work and you should expect your child to demonstrate the same restraint when in school. Devices should be turned off during mealtime, homework time (unless needed for an assignment) and, most importantly, during sleep. Children need far more time sleeping than they assume they do and having that device pinging away next to them only serves to interrupt that precious sleep.

As society changes, some advances are for the better and some may be questionable. This technological advancement is definitely for the better; it is the misuse of it that is creating backlash. Now is the time to take a step back and recognize we are the masters of these devises and how can we make them work for our family and us without taking over. Further information on this topic, as well as a great program called a Family Media Use plan, can be found at healthychildren.org. As for me, I need to check the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com) to find out who said, "Gentlemen, I wouldn't trust this overgrown pile of microchips any further than I can throw it."

This week's health column is collaboration between Ravalli Family Medicine and Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital. For questions regarding the health topic please contact Kathleen Harder-Brouwer, MD at Ravalli Family Medicine, 411 West Main Street, Hamilton MT 59840 or www.ravallifamilymedicine.com. Working together to build a healthier community.
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