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:
Everyday young people are bombarded with images on TV, movies and the Internet. In that media blitz they are often exposed to advertisements, both direct and subtle, promoting everything from the newest clothes to the coolest toys. But bikes and shoes aren’t the only products marketers are trying to sell to kids; many products that negatively affect child health are also being pushed, with some serious repercussions. For instance, research shows a direct link between increases in advertising of non-nutritious foods and skyrocketing childhood obesity rates.
But if children were more aware of the influential nature of media, would they be less susceptible to it?
The answer is yes, according to a recent study published in Journal of Children and Media, and co-authored by David Bickham, PhD, staff scientist at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Center on Media and Child Health (CMCH) and Ronald Slaby, PhD, senior scientist at CMCH. …
Last week, Aaron Deveau, 18, was found guilty of motor vehicle homicide by texting and became the first in the state to be sent to prison for driving while texting.
According to reports, after being distracted by his phone, Deveau swerved his car into oncoming traffic. The resulting accident killed a 55-year-old father of three.
In a single moment, many lives were destroyed. But what makes this story even more tragic is that it was so easily avoidable. In the following blog, Boston Children’s Hospital’s media expert, Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health, shares practical tips for parents on how to keep their teens from texting while behind the wheel.
Q: I’ve been begging my teen son not to text while driving, but I know he does it anyway. What can I do to get him to stop?
–Texting and Driving in Beverly, MA
A: Dear Texting and Driving,
You’re right to be concerned–according to a new study from the CDC, one third of U.S. teens report texting while driving. The issue has come front and center this past week, when an 18 year old became the first person in Massachusetts to be convicted of causing a fatal car crash while texting.
But stories like this and state prohibitions on texting and driving may not get the reaction you’re looking for from your son. Research shows that knowing it’s dangerous doesn’t necessarily deter some young adults from texting while driving. And because his brain won’t be able to fully process long-term consequences until he’s in his 20s, the idea that an accident like this could happen to him may just not feel real.
To get the message across, try approaching the issue in a way:
- Make sure to touch on consequences that he can grasp. Although it’s important to talk about the very real dangers of texting while driving, it might help to also discuss those that are closer to what he has experienced–like not being allowed to drive. The young man who was convicted this week had his license revoked by a judge for 15 years.
- Work with him to establish clear rules for cell phone use. He’ll want to have his cell phone with him when he’s in the car, but it doesn’t have to be a distraction. Ask him what would help him keep his eyes on the road–turning the phone off completely? Leaving it in the glove compartment or the trunk? If he owns the solution, he is more likely to feel ownership of it and to abide by it.
- Together, create real consequences for not abiding by the rules. Agree ahead of time on what happens if he does text while driving. Maybe for a period of time he loses the privilege of driving the car–or of having a phone.
- Praise what he does well, and follow through on the consequences when he slips up. Both will reinforce how important this issue is.
- Model the behavior you’d like to see–and put your phone away while you’re driving, too. He will listen far more closely to what you do than to what you say.
Apple’s iPhone and iPad technology has revolutionized communication. The way millions of Americans interact with media, personal contacts and the Internet is now largely funneled through an Apple shaped logo. But are these machines so influential they could shape the mental and emotional development of young users?
Because these devices are so new, there’s not enough hard scientific data to know for sure. But the fact that more than half of the young children in the United States now have access to an iPad, iPhone or similar touch-screen device means the time to ask these questions is now.
So that’s exactly what Wall Street Journal reporter Ben Worthen did. Worthen spoke with many childhood development experts, including Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health, to find out how touch-screen technology is affecting the development of millions of young users. Here’s a brief video describing what he learned.
Until more data is collected, the scientific community remains split on how touch-screen technology affects kids. But there is one thing that they all agree on: parents know their children best and should be the final decision-maker on if and when this type of technology is appropriate in their house.
Does your child use an iPad, iPhone or tablet? If so, are you pleased or worried about her reaction to its interactive nature? Let us know in the comment section or our Facebook wall.
Read the entire Wall Street Journal on toddlers and iPads. Dr. Rich participated a live chat on the topic with parents on The Wall Street Journal’s website. Follow the conversation here: Should Your Toddler Use a Tablet?
You may also enjoy these stories on how touch-screen technology has shaped the lives of some of our patients and their families: