Stories about: media use

The 5 pieces of advice I’d give about screens if parents ever asked

McCarthyClaire_201108_047The explosion of tech and screens into the lives of children is outrageously obvious to me as a pediatrician. Besides the fact that most kids and parents seem to be attached to a phone or tablet when I enter the exam room, when I ask questions about how kids spend their days (and nights), screens seem to be part of everything.

You’d think that I’d get questions from parents about screen time and about how best to use devices with their kids. But I don’t. Like, never.

This is weird, because I feel like I get asked about everything else that touches a child or is part of a child’s life. I think I have been asked every possible question about food, sleep, toys, school, after-school activities, playgroups, strollers, summer camps, shoes, coats, soaps, pajamas… I’m not kidding; I get asked about everything.

But not screens. I used to get asked about when kids should get a cell phone, but I don’t even get that question anymore.

I figure that there are three possible reasons. It could be that screens are so commonplace that people don’t think to ask about them. It’s certainly true that they are becoming ubiquitous; currently two-thirds of US adults have a smartphone, a proportion which has nearly doubled since 2011.

Yeah, but shoes are even more ubiquitous and I get questions about those. So maybe not.

It could also be that parents feel like they know everything there is to know and don’t need my advice. I think that’s probably the case for some parents — although given how new some of this technology is, I am impressed with their knowledge.

I think that the most likely reason is that parents are afraid of what I’ll say. They think that I will tell them to turn off all the screens or take the screens away from their kids. And that would be such a drag, right? Because let’s face it, screens are pretty great. Besides the fact that smartphones, tablets, computers and other devices are remarkably useful, they are remarkably entertaining, too. And we all know that happy kids make for happy parents.

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Time to turn off the tube

Did you know that each day the average family spends 4 to 5 hours in front of the television—but only 35 minutes in meaningful conversation?

That’s pretty sad. Add to that the fact that television viewing has been linked with obesity, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, desensitization to violence and sexualized behavior, and shutting it off starts to sound like a really good idea.

That’s exactly what the American Academy of Pediatrics would like families to do this week, from September 19 to 25, during the annual Turnoff Week. It’s not just TV the AAP wants you to turn off—it’s all screens.  That means computers and video games, too.

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