Stories about: Media & marketing

When streaming music for my kids, how can I make sure the content is appropriate?

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

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.

Q: We like to stream music from Pandora for my kids, who are in first and second grade. Pop dance music is fun and upbeat, and my children love it. But there is a big jump in maturity from Laurie Berkner and Kids Bop to Today’s Top Hits. And though there are lots of controls to set for Internet, TV, and movies, I can’t really find any for music. What are my monitoring options for streaming music?

Mystified by Music

A: Dear Mystified,

Music is wonderful for kids! Whether they sing along or dance to the rhythm, music can engage them in melodies, develop language skills, and encourage them to move with imagination. You can share with them the music you love, and there is excellent music created especially for kids of different ages in terms of message, rhythm, and sing-along-ability.

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When and how should I introduce screens to my 2½ year old?

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 have a 2½ year old, and so far, per the advice of our pediatrician, she has had no screen time. However, I have heard that educational television, such as Sesame Street, can be useful to offer in small doses after the age of two. My inclination is to continue not to offer her screen time, as I am worried that she will want to spend lots of time in front of screens (television, iPad, phone, etc.), and right now she spends most of her day reading, doing puzzles, and in imaginary play. At what point does it make sense to introduce screen time, and in what manner?

Mindful Mom, in Washington, DC

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How can I monitor my 12-year-old daughter’s use of Instagram?

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

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.

Q: I am trying to monitor my 12-year-old daughter’s use of Instagram and am wondering if there is a way to find any ‘secret storage’ spaces on her smartphone. I am not too concerned right now, but in the future I would like to know how to access it. Instagram is the only social media platform I allow her to use at this point, but I am concerned that it is just as bad as Facebook. I am considering banning her from using it based on what I have seen other kids post.

-Iffy about Instagram, Rockport, MA

A: First, it is important for parents to be aware that social media are restricted by law to children 13 and older, because these sites target their users for marketing—and kids haven’t fully developed the cognitive ability to understand that the personalized messages they receive are selling them a product or idea. Most importantly, however, on Instagram your daughter is sending and receiving images over the World Wide Web, where they travel quickly, spread broadly, and are “sticky”–they will exist essentially forever on hard drives somewhere in the world.

There are a number of apps available that allow users like your daughter to hide images and messages, and these apps are constantly changing. So instead of focusing your efforts on finding your daughter’s secret Instagram stash, adjust your focus. Share and teach media use with your daughter, just as you will sit in the front seat of the car when she learns to drive. The privacy and secrecy with which young people use media is not an inherent right; it has evolved because many parents have defaulted their parenting role in the digital domain. Help your daughter make decisions about photo sharing—and all social media activities—in ways that are effective, safe, and respect themselves and others. To do that, establish an ‘open-screen policy’ that includes you in her social media exchanges:

  • Cyber space is not private space. sure your daughter understands that her on-line life is not separate from her ‘real’ life, and that you are her parent both on- and off-line. Children need guidance when using internet because they don’t yet fully understand or value privacy the way they will when they mature, they don’t know how to protect their reputations, and they can’t foresee the future repercussions that may occur.
  • Educate yourself. Be sure that you know how to use the applications, sites, and accounts you allow your daughter to use. Familiarizing yourself with on-line content prior to giving your daughter permission to engage with it will ensure that it is developmentally optimal, and will give you a better understanding of her internet and social media activities.
  • Be a co-member on all media accounts. Unless you are completely comfortable allowing your daughter to go to an unchaperoned party, sign up for on-line activities with her, using a username and password you both can access. This way she knows that you will have the ability to check in on her activity at random intervals, and that you are maintaining an open dialogue about her on-line activity, available to mentor and support her should an issue arise.

A large part of parenting in the digital domain is taking your everyday parenting know-how and applying it to the digital environment in which your children are growing up. You are more prepared and qualified than you think–human development has not changed, the environment has. You can learn it from and with your daughter, turning a source of worry into an opportunity for bonding.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,

The Mediatrician®

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Three Digital Resolutions for the New Year

I love digital media. I love my iPhone and my iPad. And as much as I admire those (like Ariana Huffington) who go on digital vacations, I’m not going to do so anytime soon. But I had two moments recently that made me realize that we all need to take a closer look at our digital habits.

The first was when I was leaving work one evening. As I waited at the crosswalk outside the hospital, I pulled out my phone and looked at my emails—and suddenly realized that essentially every person around me was either talking in a phone or looking at one. Not just those waiting at the crosswalk, but all the people walking on the sidewalks—and some of the people in the cars, too. Everyone was in his or her own little world—and, let’s face it, being unsafe.

The second was when, for about the sixth time in a week, rather than hold a toddler still while I examined him, the parents held a cell phone in front of him—actually, during that visit, one parent held a cell phone and the other a tablet. Now, I see the value of distraction with these things, especially when people have to wait a while to see me. But can’t you just hold the kid—or teach them that sometimes they just have to behave?

There are two big problems these moments illustrate. The first is the problem of attention—we only have so much of it, just like there are only so many hours in a day. That whole multitasking thing (of which I’m the worst offender) is ultimately a myth: you don’t pay more attention, you just pay less attention to more things. And paying less attention has real ramifications for performance, not to mention safety and relationships.

The second is one that is a bit more nuanced and insidious: the problem of brain wiring and habits. This is particularly an issue for children, whose brains are literally still being wired; it truly matters how they use those brains. This is the time of life when they learn to pay attention, and plan, as well as control their emotions and be patient. If the solution to every moment of boredom or distress is to stick a screen with a video or game in front of their face, well, they may never learn to do those things.

So as we all think about New Year’s resolutions, here are three “Digital Resolutions” we all might want to make:

Don’t share—be there instead. I watched a really funny (but warning: raunchy, too) video of a comedian talking about how at his daughter’s dance recital all the parents had phones and iPads in front of their faces, literally blocking their view of their children. “The resolution on the kid is unbelievable if you just look,” he said. “It’s totally HD.” He has a point. Honestly, we don’t need to record or share every last thing. The people around us deserve our full attention. And our followers on social media don’t need to know everything we are doing—it’s not like they really care that much.

Have some designated digital-free times. Like when you are driving, obviously—but also during mealtimes, or when walking somewhere (How many people have you nearly hit?). And, of course (as an extension of the first resolution), when you are doing anything that requires (or is made better by) your full attention. Put yourself on a schedule. Turn off the alerts. Be in charge of the device, instead of having it be in charge of you.

Be thoughtful about how you use it, especially with your children. Like I said, it can be a useful distraction tool, and it can be fun and educational—but it has its downsides and limits. When you reach for a device, or your child reaches for one, stop for a moment and think: do I need to watch yet another cat video, as funny as they are? Is this video game the best use of my child’s time right now? Is this really what I want to be doing, or what I want my child to be doing?

If the answer is yes, go for it. But if it’s no, or maybe, then do something else instead. Digital media has the capacity to open the world—but the world will always be bigger than digital media, and we need to remember that.

If you haven’t seen this video, watch it. It’s a great perspective on how our phones (and all media, really) can get in the way of our lives:

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