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How to Raise Healthy Kids in the Digital Age

With screen time consuming most of our days, we have to be conscious of how this trend is affecting our kids and shaping their young minds. Growing research supports the notion of parents using media as a teaching tool to increase digital literacy skills and as a way to discourage kids from mindlessly consuming media.

What does this mean for parents?

It means that we must teach our kids that media represents far more than entertainment—it can involve learning through an educational app or game, creating videos, songs, or pictures, and connecting with others. Parents should actively encourage family connection through media—this involves using media together as a family.

For younger children in particular, pediatrician Jenny Radesky encourages prioritizing “unplugged, social, and unstructured play as much as possible” over any kind of screen time. We have known for years that creative play is good for children, but boredom is also beneficial for child development.  Screen time can become a mind-numbing outlet where kids disengage their brains and escape boredom. However, psychologists actually encourage boredom, emphasizing that it helps children learn to be still, quiet their minds, sit with themselves, and understand who they are.

Here are some tips to help you be a better digital role model for your child:

  • Don’t reach for your phone when you’re distracted.

Yes, we all multitask, and thanks to our phones, we can multitask more than ever before. But if you’re eating dinner, responding to work emails on your phone, and listening to your child talk about his day at school (all at the same time), your child isn’t getting your full, undivided attention. Plus, they learn that it’s acceptable to reach for their phone or tablet whenever they’re bored, distracted, or fidgety.

It’s important to teach your child that there is a time and a place for using their devices, but that there also must be certain spots in your home and times in the day where devices aren’t allowed, so that you and your family can talk, listen, and interact without devices or without feeling the need to multitask.

  • Don’t use an electronic device to soothe your child during or after a tantrum.

If your child is throwing a screaming, arms-flailing, rage-filled tantrum in a crowded supermarket, and you simply want the theatrics to stop quickly and with as little effort as possible, it can be tempting to hand them a tablet or smartphone to pacify them. However, parents shouldn’t use electronic devices to calm their child down during or after a tantrum.

According to Medical Daily, “pacifying children with a device doesn’t treat their behavior, but instead delays and possibly worsens the problem.” This practice can also hobble effective communication between the parent and child, making it more likely that the child will not listen to their parents when another tantrum or fight occurs.

  • Don’t feel pressured to introduce technology early.

Don’t feel like you have to introduce technology or media into your child’s life earlier than you or they feel comfortable in order to secure a competitive advantage. According to pediatrician Jenny Radesky, “interfaces are so intuitive that children will figure them out quickly” and catch up with their peers once they’re older or in school.

If you want to slowly begin teaching your young child about internet safety, online etiquette, and social media in a safe, private environment, we encourage you to check out eebudee, a training platform that prepares kids aged 4 to 12 (and their families) for the online world.

To sign up, head to our website. The eebudee chat app is also available on Android and iPhone.

**The eebudee online platform and app are in beta phase and will be officially launched in 2017. If you have any feedback or suggestions, we would love to hear from you.**

image of child looking at cell phone screen

The Screen Time Limits Recommended by Pediatricians

You’ve laid down the ground rules with your kids, but how do you know just how much screen time is too much, and more importantly, how do you go about enforcing these limits?

According to CNN, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has revised their media guidelines and recommends the following screen time limits and best practices:

  • Kids should be limited to two hours per day of combined laptop and smartphone use. This two hour limit excludes online homework and any schoolwork. Parents should ensure that during this two hour timeframe, kids engage with only high-quality content.
  • Children under two should not have any screen media exposure (the rationale being that young children learn best by interacting with people as opposed to screens).
  • Families should set a media curfew, or a time in the evening when parents tell their kids to turn their phones, tablets, TVs, and computers off.

AAP found that kids spend an average of seven hours per day on entertainment media, which includes TVs, computers, phones, and other electronic devices.

Even more shocking are the findings of a Common Sense Media report: 38% of children under two have used a mobile device or tablet for media; and the average time per day that children under two spend with screen media is an hour.

Too much screen time is becoming a public health issue

While these guidelines may seem unrealistic or excessively strict, keep in mind that children’s behavioral, emotional, and physical health is at stake with rising media usage.

According to CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, when kids engage in too much screen time, they can become overweight, develop attention disorders, and have problems at school.

Studies have also linked excessive screen time to eye strain, aggressive behavior, sleep disorders, and even mental health diagnoses in kids.

Enforcing screen time limits and other tips

  • Monitor the media that your kids use.
  • Encourage outdoor and physical activity when your kids are outside of school.
  • Engage in screen time and media activities, such as playing a video game or watching a TV show, with your child. This way you know how much screen time they’re actually getting, and by engaging in these kinds of activities together, you encourage bonding and social interaction. You can also use this together time to promote learning by teaching your kids about advertising through commercials on TV, or the importance of not oversharing via online content.
  • Value face-to-face communication. While an educational learn-the-alphabet app or game may seem like a good way to improve language skills, AAP reports that young children learn best through two-way communication. This means that actual back-and-forth conversations are necessary to improve language skills, rather than passive listening or one-way interaction on an electronic device.
  • Know that not all media content is equal. AAP encourages the use of high-quality content, such as e-books and FaceTime or Skype video chats with relatives or a traveling parent. (As noted above, two-way conversations, no matter if they’re in person or online, boost children’s language skills and capacity for social interaction.)

With our increasingly digital world, it’s more important than ever to raise media literate children. If you’d like to learn more, please visit the AAP website. AAP has a wealth of information about children and media safety, including how to talk to your kids about social media, screen time, and sexting.

If you have a suggestion or advice regarding establishing screen time limits, please feel free to leave a comment below.

You can also visit our Facebook page to be part of our growing community of parents who want to learn more about raising kids to be healthy, happy, and well-rounded, while still embracing social media and the online world.