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.