Children are constantly surrounded by media and technology – from TV and cell phones to tablets, computers and video games. Technology and media are very much intertwined with our daily lives – so much that it can be difficult to find a balance between the real world and the digital one.
That’s why it’s important for families to balance their use of media and technology with daily family responsibilities and other important healthy activities. Our pediatric specialists provide information about how technology affects children. They also provide strategies for helping children achieve a healthy balance.
How does technology affect children?
Too much technology use can keep children from getting the study time, face-to-face communication, hands-on play, physical activity and sleep they need.
- Decreased attention and focus: For a lot of kids, technology can be disruptive and distracting. Many kids have the misconception that they can multitask and perform well in multiple activities, simultaneously. This is never the case. Multitasking inhibits the ability to focus and do well on any single task.
- Less physical activity: Children who spend a lot of time using media and technology are less likely to engage in physical activities and hands-on play.
- Not enough sleep: Research suggests that the specific type of light emitted by technology devices can affect sleep duration and quality. Simple things like changing from an e-reader to an actual book before bedtime have been shown to dramatically improve sleep.
How can I promote physical activity for my “technologically inclined” child?
Technology can be used as a tool to promote physical activity. Things like Fitbits, the Wii and Xbox Kinect can help motivate more sedentary kids – especially during winter months when outdoor activity becomes more difficult.
These tools can give immediate feedback to kids as they interact with them. This kind of positive reinforcement can encourage continued healthy lifestyle choices. Of course, it is also important to promote more traditional physical activities – the ones that get kids outside and away from technology as often as possible.
Constant use of technology can decrease attention span. How can I help my child concentrate?
Each kid is different and learns in their own way. One child may learn more effectively when listening to loud music, while others prefer absolute silence.
Help your child build good study habits from a young age. Pay close attention to the environment in which they perform their best, and then provide them with the right amount of sensory input moving forward.
It is also important to create clear boundaries between time meant for study and time meant for leisure and reduce any unnecessary distractions in the study environment.
What is the greatest benefit that you see from technology?
Technology can be used to educate kids and reinforce important skills. Because technology is so deeply ingrained into a modern child’s life, using these same innovative tools to educate can be more impactful.
For example, we are developing ways to use tablets and iPads here at Children’s Colorado to teach kids coping skills and how to self-manage their anxiety or depression. There are also interactive media such as software programs, games, apps and other digital forms of content that can be used to educate children. Parents can use these technology tools to support and reinforce learning.
How much screen time is okay?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends the following:
- Less than 18 months of age: Avoid screen time except for video chatting with family and friends.
- 18 to 24 months: It’s OK to introduce screens. Choose high-quality, educational content and use the device with the child.
- Between 2 to 5 years: Limit screen time to one hour per day. Watch the content with the child and help them understand it. Encourage them to start applying what they’re learning to the world around them.
- 6 and older: Continue to set appropriate and consistent time limits. Avoid screens for at least one hour before bedtime.
What are some other tips for creating a healthy balance of family media use?
- Be a good role model by limiting your own media use. This will also help you be more available for your children to interact and communicate with them.
- For children under 2 years of age, play and interact with your child in place of screen time.
- Set limits for media use. Set a media curfew at mealtime and bedtime.
- Take an active role in your child’s use of media by co-viewing programs with them and taking time to discuss the program and your family’s values.
- Choose media that is educational and teaches good values. Be firm about only allowing your child to use and watch media that is appropriate for their age.
- Keep computers in a public part of your home so you can check on what your kids are doing online and keep them safe.
- Create tech-free zones in your home. Do not allow screens in kids’ bedrooms. Turn off the TV and put cell phones away during mealtimes.
Create a family media use plan
The AAP recommends creating a family media plan that helps families balance important daily activities with media use. Families can use it to prioritize time for homework, exercise, sleep, face-to-face communication, family time and downtime within their daily routine. Time for media use is then incorporated into the day in a way that does not displace other important daily activities.