Children and their gadgets #PetPeeveStories

On October 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics announced its new recommendations for children’s media use. This was prompted by the increasing concern of today’s children immersed in digital media. While technological advancements may have its pros, it also has its cons. A fair assessment of these positive and negative points was divided into two policy statements – the first for infants, toddlers and pre-school children, and the second “Media use in school-aged children and adolescents” for children 5 – 18 years of age.

A common question asked every pediatrician is – how old is my child allowed to have a cellphone? Or a gadget?

It’s a difficult one to answer directly and one where parents who already have read several bloggers (who by the way may not be experts at the topic) have an opinion on this matter.

This poster is a reminder on why digital media is popular today. The approval ratings of peers and strangers has become the source of affirmation to those of us who have lived through and are beholden to the digital age.

The “likes” and “shares” of even the most pathetic lame performance on YouTube or a Tweet from a “fake” troll or a bashing on Facebook by haters and trolls has placed our children as high valued targets. With minds that are susceptible to indoctrination with information that are oddly not for them to appropriately discern for their age, adult mentoring under direct, close and observed supervision is the key to answering – “what age can my child have a gadget?” – question.

It is a fact that the pediatric mind is highly susceptible to behavior modification because their mind is like a sponge. They absorb everything and anything immediately. That’s why we don’t appreciate curses flying around the dinner table. Or we close the eyes of our children when you and your husband/wife are having sex. Our children are, literally what we are – practice what we preach.

There’s a Filipino saying that goes

Kung ano ang puno, siya ang bunga. (The tree bears it’s designated fruit).

How different members of the family engage in the use of digital tools should be thoroughly discussed and disclosed with their children. A family media plan that takes into account the health, education and entertainment needs of each child and the family, must be laid out and observed. Changes in the plan should be discussed openly and can be revised after a consensus is arrived.

Rule of thumb is – NEVER LEAVE YOUR CHILD TO THE CARE OF AN ELECTRONIC BABY SITTER.

Let me be blunt. Digital media has totally changed the landscape of child rearing.

I am sure many of you share the observation (or even within your family gatherings) see that a lot of us are disconnected during mealtime. Instead of enjoying a meal with exchanges in conversation, the kids around the table (including the elders) are busy pounding away at their phones or iPads. The distraction is evident in waiting lounges where, I can vouch for that fact, digital media has lessened the boredom time while waiting for our turn at a queue. But is it applicable also to children whose attention span is much shorter than that of adults (hopefully more often than not)?

Mindful use of media within the family is the key to making a positive experience for children.

The following are some key points provided by the AAP on digital media guidance for children and can be referenced for free at their website aap.org:

1. For children <18 months and below, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18-24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high quality programming, and WATCH IT WITH THEIR CHILDREN TO HELP THEM UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY’RE SEEING.

2. For children between 2-5 years of age, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.

3. For children 6 years and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.

4. Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.

5. Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.

While these may seem “strong” recommendations for the Filipino community in the Philippines (and I’m sure there will be heavy, if not violent reactions from the public), these guidances can serve as platforms at working for better digital media use among our children.

It is, after all, difficult to dissuade a child from copying what his/her parents do in public. And if parents have no time to supervise children on the appropriate use of digital media, no child should be using any gadget unsupervised at any time. Even if it is for distraction purposes or me-time reasons of the adults.