TV, computers, phones, tablets, video games – social media, digital media, interactive media. . . Media is everywhere. A quick internet search provides a vast array of warnings about the risks of children using media along with guidelines specifying everything from when, where, and how to use media. Trying to sift through the ever increasing amount of data and opinions about what is “right” regarding media use for kids can leave parents feeling confused and overwhelmed.
While recommendations and guidelines for parents on how to use media responsibly have changed vastly over time, the overarching goals of parenting have remained the same – to provide for your child's physical and emotional needs while instilling and nurturing character and values to promote independence.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests making mindful decisions about media use by taking research and guidelines into account while asking yourself what the purpose of using media is for you and your child.
Examples of common questions parents may find themselves asking regarding media use for their child include:
Will handing my toddler a phone to watch a short video while I pay for groceries permanently stunt his/her development?
Mindful considerations: Research indicates that media use in young children may play a factor in delayed language skills; however, this is not likely to happen in the short time it takes to pay for groceries. If you find that you can't go to the grocery store without your toddler having a phone for the entire duration of the trip, it may be time to reconsider and create alternative solutions for your grocery shopping that would be more beneficial to nurturing a child's physical and emotional needs.
Is putting a TV in my child's room going to cause problems?
Mindful considerations: When purchasing a new TV, consider where the TV will be set up. Placing the TV in a common room and using it as a source of shared family entertainment can be beneficial in creating connectedness. However, placing a TV in a child's room is more likely to be detrimental to the child's sleep patterns. This also creates increased opportunity for isolation and is more difficult to monitor whether or not the child is choosing appropriate programming to watch.
Is allowing my child or teenager to use social media okay?
Mindful considerations: If social media is primarily used as a way to post funny pictures or easily plan group outings with friends, it can be beneficial to use. If using social media becomes a way to keep track of who said what about whom at school or becomes a source of comparison that results in your child having negative thoughts or feelings about him/herself, it is time to reconsider social media use.
As is true for most things, the use of media can be beneficial or harmful depending on how it is used. Parents can take this opportunity to educate and guide their children in ways that will promote healthy physical, emotional, and moral development. Have conversations with your kids about not talking to strangers in public or online, and teach your children to be honest and kind in their interactions with their peers in person and on social media.
Finally, DO feel empowered to set structure and rules for media use as well as consequences for misuse of media – just as you would about school attendance and homework, safety, and sleep.
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