By Julia Atkins, MD
Golden View Family Medicine
Children today are growing up surrounded by digital media, and it has become a challenge for parents and caregivers to know the best approach. There are of course both positive and negative effects of digital media on the health of children and teenagers, and it is not easy to balance these aspects with so much digital bombardment in their (and our) daily lives. Previous generations have been exposed to produced media such as TV and movies, but there is now a significant amount of interactive media as well, from social media like Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, etc. to video games that connect kids all over the world.
Kids 8 years and older spend an average of more than 2 hours in front of a screen each day, including streaming video like Netflix and social media, and this average only increases in older kids due to mobile devices giving them interactive media at their fingertips. Benefits include access to early learning, new ideas, health information, and social connections. But risks include negative effects on attention and sleep, increase in obesity and depression, and access to inappropriate content, cyberbullying, etc.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), has updated recommendations to help families manage digital exposure from birth through adolescence, including an interactive media use planning tool from HealthyChildren.org. Families can use this tool to individualize a media plan to balance screen time and other activities, set expectations for accessing content and giving out personal information, and teach “digital literacy.”
The AAP has the following recommendations:
Children today are growing up in a world of media immersion, so it is imperative that families develop personalized plans tailored to the needs of each family member. With this type of tool, we can ensure that children will benefit from essential components for healthy growth and development at every stage, including adequate nutrition and physical activity, good sleep hygiene, and positive social interactions. The role of parents in navigating the complicated media experience with their children and teens is crucial, and can create a lasting impact in helping them have a positive experience in this era of sophisticated digital media.