Stories about: helping your kids use media safely

The new digital reality: why parents and pediatricians may need to rethink their messaging

Claire McCarthy, MD

Recently I went to a Verizon store to upgrade my phone (to an iPhone!). I had my 10-year-old and 5-year-old with me, as my big kids weren’t available for babysitting; this will be quick, I told them.

Of course (in that Murphy’s Law kind of way) it wasn’t quick at all; I had to wait more than twenty minutes for someone to help me. But Natasha and Liam didn’t mind. They went straight to the iPads on display, and navigated them without any help from me. Natasha found a puzzle application and started putting puzzles together. Liam found a drum set application and started making up songs, adding his own lyrics and dance moves.

As I watched them so fully and happily engaged in activities that required concentration and creativity, I thought (as I have so many times): there’s a lot that’s good about digital media.

We pediatricians tend to be very negative about “screens” when we talk with families. We stress the 2-hour limit to help prevent obesity. We warn about Facebook depression, exposure to violence and sex, cyberbullying and online predators. We talk about how texting can keep kids up at night and how video games can contribute to ADHD.

Don’t get me wrong: these are important messages. There are very real risks associated with the internet and media. We need to keep kids healthy and safe; that’s our job as pediatricians and parents. But when we are just negative, we miss two important points:

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