Not-so-social Media

By Kristen Castillo

May 29, 2019 5 min read

Dale Janee's 3-year-old daughter loves watching videos on her father's cellphone. At first, she only used it a few times, and it was cute. But then, she wanted more screen time.

"She got hooked to the point where she wanted to watch videos an hour a day or more and would try to get our phones whenever they were on the counter," he says, noting his daughter would have "complete meltdowns" when her parents took the device away.

So Janee took the advice of a friend (a school dean) who advised him to simply stop giving the girl the phone. They stopped letting her use the device, and Janee says it's been life-changing.

"She is calmer, and her behavior is much better. She wants to run outside, play catch and play with her toys instead of asking for the phone," he says.

*Negative Impacts

This scenario of kids wanting to use technology is very familiar nowadays. Just ask licensed educational psychologist Christine Fonseca, who writes about children and screen time.

"As little as two hours daily can adversely impact brain functions, including limiting attention and concentration, which can impact learning," she says, noting that research shows kids' social skills and self-esteem are negatively impacted by screen time.

She says studies also show a correlation between high screen time use and anxiety and depression.

Dr. Nicole Beurkens, a holistic child and family psychologist, cautions parents to think twice before allowing their children to have a lot of tech time.

"Research increasingly shows that excessive smartphone and digital media use can lead to mental health problems for children, teens and adults," she says, explaining that even though the devices allow for socialization, they can also increase a child's feelings of isolation and loneliness.

She's also worried kids are developing their social skills through technology and don't have enough real-time socialization with their peers. Another concern is that kids and teens are experiencing new types of bullying, especially on social media and chat platforms.

*Limiting Tech Time

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting screen time for kids of all ages. Babies and toddlers shouldn't use digital media other than video-chatting -- and then only if necessary. Parents should watch learning-based media alongside kids 18 to 24 months old. Kids ages 2 to 5 should only watch one hour of quality media per day. Again, it's best for parents to watch, too, so it can be a learning experience.

Fonseca suggests curbing the tech time for the whole family. Take digital breaks daily; everyone should be off their devices and interacting together. She suggests making meals and car rides tech-free.

Place restrictions on texting and gaming, especially when the child needs to use a device and focus, such as while writing a paper or preparing a PowerPoint presentation.

Beurkens cautions parents to not give kids smartphones at a young age, as they don't have the ability to manage them safely and responsibly.

"I strongly urge parents not to consider smartphones for their children until at least eighth grade, and that is if the child shows readiness to follow rules and manage the device responsibly," she says, warning parents that even kids who don't intend to view inappropriate content or interact with dangerous people can get themselves into unsafe situations.

She also urges parents to be vigilant about setting expectations and boundaries. Monitor what apps can be installed or used on a device. Use monitoring tools to see the child's online activities.

Then talk regularly with your kids about what they're seeing and doing online and who they are talking to.

"This allows for parents to stay aware of what their children are doing, helps guide them to exhibit safe and appropriate online behavior and ensures healthier smartphone habits now and as they become adults," she says.

Kristen Castillo is a three-time Emmy Award-winning journalist. An editor and writer for wedding magazines, she's written hundreds of wedding articles, as well as an e-book, "Weddings on a Dime."

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