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Kids and Technology - tips for safe use

The selective hearing of children always amazes me, especially when technology is involved. Recently I had to use technology to get my tween off technology and back to the interactive world of her family. It was at that moment I realized there was a huge disturbance forming in the force.

My oldest daughter was on her computer IM’ing with friends – from a parent-approved IM list. After multiple calls of her name went unanswered, I went to the door of her room and called her name again. There she was at her computer. Her fingers clicking away. Her eyes glued on the screen. And a little “ping” echoing in the room with no awareness that another human was ten feet away. Before I exploded with frustration, a sudden Aha! occurred. I ran to my computer, hit the IM button and typed “Hello…cute girl on the computer, you are cordially invited to the kitchen for a snack.” To her credit, she laughed and came down stairs with me.

It is truly staggering how much technology we use in a day and how paralyzed we become when power goes out or batteries suddenly die! You only have to ask yourself a few simple questions to help you decide if technology is taking over your life at the expense of your family. For example, do you know what your kids are doing while you are online or on the phone? What are you doing while your kids are listening to their iPods or playing GameCubes? Do you find yourself talking on the phone while driving or entering a store? Are your kids with you during those times? Do you feel annoyed in a store or coffee shop when others are on the phone?

We can recall life before technology; our kids can not. So, we have to teach them how to be unplugged more and work with them to stay connected to real people and real activities. Here are some ideas to help your family have some technology-free time:

* Keep a log of when you use technology, TV, phone, computer, IM, MP3, and see if there are ways to use it less.
* Give your kids permission to bug you if you are using too much technology, but they need to know you will bug them back if they use it to extremes.
* Try to find at least one low-tech way for your family to connect each week.
* Be a good role model for your kids. Avoid using the phone in public unless it is a true emergency, and even then find a private place to talk to not disturb others around you. Avoid wearing ear phones when driving, biking, walking on the street. And, stay unplugged when driving.
* Resist the temptation to use the phone in the car.

This is not just a matter of social correctness but has actual medical and behavioral consequences. There is growing concern about the impact of commercialism and advertising on our children’s growing minds and the social and behavioral impact of too much screen time. For these reasons, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises limiting all screen time to 1-2 hours a day. This applies to any screen: TV, DVD/video, computer, phone, video games, MP3 players.

Multiple studies have demonstrated a strong correlation between increased screen time and health and safety issues, particularly with tweens and teens: social isolation, poor peer and family relationships, childhood obesity, and exploitation. If any of these issues are occuring with your tween or teen, contact your pediatrician for advice. The sooner you intervene and unplug your child, the sooner you can help redirect them back to the real world of engaging with people and not plugs.




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