Stories about: Center on Media and Child Health

Ask the Mediatrician: Could my son be too dependent on YouNow and Skype after moving?

Michael RichQ: Our family moved recently from the U.S. to Mexico for my husband’s job, and while most things have been transitioning smoothly, I am concerned that my 14-year-old son is spending too much time with screens and not enough time making friends. Since moving, he spends a lot of time Skyping or playing video games with his friends back in the United States. Last week, I even found out that he is using YouNow to stay connected with friends all the time…even when he is sleeping! I know this move has been tough, and I want to support his transition, but I’m concerned that if he continues to spend all of his time online with his old friends, his social life here will be non-existent. Any help you can offer me will be appreciated—thanks!

~ Figuring out friends, Mexico

A: Dear Figuring,

It is normal for your son to be struggling with the move and for him to want to stay connected to his friends back in the U.S. Moving to a new community can be an especially difficult transition for teenagers, who are figuring out who they are as individuals (separate from their parents) and rely heavily on peer relationships in that process. Today’s technology can help your son stay connected with those important people who are far away, and used mindfully, it can be helpful in his transition.

That said, if your son actually stays connected nearly 24/7 using YouNow, Skype and video games with his old friends, he may end up spending much of his time trying to copy his former life instead of living his current one. As wonderful as these technologies can be for relaying images and sounds of people and places we love, they are still only images and sounds—they can never be as interesting, engaging, challenging and sustaining as face-to-face interactions. But they do feel safe, and they often require less energy and vulnerability than going out and making new friends.

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What are the best Facebook privacy settings for my child?

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Boston Children’s Hospital’s media expert and director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Send him a media-related parenting question via cmch@childrens.harvard.edu and follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

Q: I was on Facebook the other day and noticed that my friend’s teens had Facebook profiles. I could see the entire profile of one (pictures, information, posts, etc.), while I only had limited access to the other (basically just her name and one picture). This made me wonder, what are the privacy options on Facebook? And what privacy settings do you suggest teens use? My teen has a Facebook profile, and I want to make sure her information is only visible to her real-life friends and that her privacy is protected.

~ Perplexed about privacy, Los Altos, CA

A: Dear Perplexed,

As a parent in the digital domain, you are on the right track by looking into what online platforms your child is using and the safety issues surrounding those platforms. Just because a child has turned 13 and is legally able to have her own social media site does not mean that she has the knowledge or skills to function on that site in ways that are safe, healthy, and consistent with good citizenship.

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Don’t leave the TV on in the background!

I hear it all the time from parents when I ask how much time their kids spend watching TV. “They don’t really watch it,” they’ll say. “It’s on, but they are doing other things.” They say it as if it doesn’t count if the TV is on in the background.

It does.

And according to a study just released in the journal Pediatrics, the TV is on in the background an awful lot. The average US kid is exposed to four hours of background TV a day—and for kids 8 months to two years, that number jumps to a startling five and a half hours.

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How are your children reacting to news of Batman movie shooting and Penn State?

Image: Denver Post

As details of tragic events in Aurora, Colorado become more public, news coverage of the shooting is likely to intensify this week. And with today’s announcements on the sanctions to be placed on Penn State’s embattled football program, we can expect a resurgence of news coverage surrounding the school’s child sexual abuse scandal.

Both are terribly disturbing stories, that will be almost impossible to ignore so there’s a chance your children will be drawn to the media blitz surrounding these events. As a parent, how will you talk to your children about these stories? There is no universal way to broach these difficult subjects with kids— what’s appropriate will vary from family-to-family and child-to-child—but here are a few general suggestions from Claire McCarthy, MD, on how to help kids feel safe after they’re exposed to violent or disturbing news stories.

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