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Parenting in an age of personal devices

For decades parents have worried about the amount of time their children spend in front of electronic media. 

Many of today’s parents grew up in the 1980’s and 90’s, when their parents worried about a per-child average of 3 hours a day spent watching network and cable TV. 

Many of those kids have become parents to children growing up in a world of wireless media and limitless bandwidth. New channels of connectivity are literally reshaping our children, socially and developmentally and physically. The average total screen time for children today is an astonishing 7 hours per day, and of course there are many more types of screens. 

From a health standpoint, there are significant concerns about children’s use of handhelds, whether these are smartphones or tablets. 

Clinical concerns include: 

Posture

A human head weighs about 12 pounds, and when standing up straight, it puts that amount of stress on the spine. But as we look down, the strain increases, to as much as 60 pounds as the chin nears the chest, which is the most common posture of texting and iPad use.

Repetitive Stress Injury

Holding a phone and tapping out words puts unnatural stress on the tendons and muscles of the thumb and forearm.  Our powerful thumbs evolved for gripping – to put it simply, they are like the bottom half of a pair of pliers. They were never intended for hunting and pecking at tiny letters. Hours of daily texting can lead to tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and other debilitating problems. 

Accidents

Another real physical risk involving mobile media is accidents. More than 3,000 teens die each year in crashes caused by texting while driving. (By comparison, roughly approximately 2,700 teens are killed in drunk driving accidents.) More than 50 percent of teens admit to texting while driving.

Pedestrian injuries related to cell phones ranged from falling off walkways or bridges to walking in front of moving traffic. The study found that in 2010, 1,500 pedestrians were treated in emergency departments for cell-phone related incidents, as opposed to a mere 559 in 2004.

The attractions of mobile devices are an undeniable challenge to parents who want to limit their children’s screen time, yet there are strategies that can be employed to counter their attraction. 

Enabling and Encouraging Immersive Experiences

You can make a positive impact in your child’s relationship with devices by encouraging them to join in on activities that are engaging and exciting.

  • Team sports
  • Martial arts 
  • Yoga
  • Dance
  • Phone-free walks and bicycling
  • Artistic pursuits
  • Music lessons
  • Painting
  • Theater
  • Community based resources
  • Boys & Girls clubs
  • Social service opportunities

Additionally, most mobile devices have options for that will set time limits on session length. These controls are usually found in the “settings” area of the device. 

Finally, engaging children in face-to-face conversation or games is a means of both building child-parent bonds and creating device-free time. Keep in mind that as adults we are far from immune from the distractions of our phones and iPads. 

Leading by example is one of the best ways to ensure that our kids will develop media habits that are reasonable and balanced.

If you have any questions or concerns relating to these issues, speak with your doctor or pediatrician