Mills-Peninsula Health Blog

Be Well, Be Well Informed

The Digital Generation

Posted on Aug 12, 2014 in Kids' Health



Cell phones, tablets, laptops, smart TVs – it’s hard to imagine life without digital media. Most adults spend 11 hours a day using electronic media, including their computer at work. By 2015, some estimates predict the number will rise to 15 hours a day.

Like us, our kids are growing up immersed in technology. Is there a downside?

“The infiltration of technology in our lives is often so subtle we don’t notice it,” Eric Perez, M.D., a Mills-Peninsula and Palo Alto Medical Foundation pediatrician, says. “Parents might let a child play on an iPad during dinner to keep him occupied and at the table. They themselves may frequently consult a cell phone during a meal. Soon technology becomes a constant guest at the dinner table, and eventually, no one talks to each other.”

While technology offers great ways to learn and stay connected, excessive use can cause problems, particularly for children and teens. Studies show too much media time can lead to attention problems, lower academic performance, family dysfunction, sleep and eating disorders, and obesity.

Here’s how to make the most of technology without letting it rule your family’s life.

Set Limits and Follow Them

Children spend an average of seven hours per day on “entertainment media” – including texting, watching TV, surfing the Internet and playing video games – reports the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). That’s more time than most kids spend in school!

The AAP recommends kids and teens spend no more than two hours per day engaging with digital media and electronic entertainment — ideally only with high-quality educational content. For children under age two, the AAP recommends no screen time.

Try to follow the AAP guidelines. And remember, it’s critical to practice what you preach.

“I’ve had parents texting on their cell phones during their child’s medical appointment with me,” Dr. Perez says, “and I’ve had to ask them to leave the room. No child will take a parent’s rules about technology seriously unless parents model that behavior, too.”

Keep Screens Out of Bedrooms

Set up “screen-free” rooms in your house, and pay particular attention to your children’s bedrooms. Sleep deprivation can lead to irritation, obesity and poor concentration, among other problems, Dr. Perez says. To help improve your child’s sleep, keep TVs, computers and video games outside bedrooms, and set up cell phone charging stations in another room.

“When a kid leaves a cell phone on a bedside table to charge over night, it’s very difficult for him or her to ignore it when it beeps with a new text,” Dr. Perez says. “Instant gratification is hard to resist, even at 3 a.m. in the morning.”

Teach Safe Behaviors

“My teen patients don’t take the risks of digital technology seriously,” Dr. Perez says. “They don’t yet have the life experience to understand how a post on Facebook could keep them from getting a job one day or put them at risk for sexual abuse. Parents have to educate them about the dangers out there.”

In addition to privacy concerns, “sexting,” sending a text message with pictures of children or teens naked or engaged in sex acts, is becoming a serious problem, Dr. Perez says. According to a recent survey by the AAP, about 20 percent of teen boys and girls have sent such messages.

The AAP recommends parents tell younger children with cell phones that text messages should never contain pictures of people – kids or adults – without their clothes on, or kissing or touching in unfamiliar ways. For teens, be very specific. Tell them “sexting” can be considered pornography, which has serious legal consequences.

Encourage Real-World Activities

Dr. Perez recommends making it as easy as possible for kids to interact in person. Drive them to friends’ houses, or make your home the “clubhouse” and feed everyone at dinnertime.

Also, take time to play with your children. “We often live in different orbits than our kids, so it’s important to find things to do together,” Dr. Perez says. And sometimes, technology can actually help.

“Playing non-violent video games like ‘Dance Dance Revolution’ together as a family gets everyone interacting and being active at the same time. It can be a great way to bridge the gap.”

PerezEric_2011_web Eric Perez, M.D., is a Mills-Peninsula and Palo Alto Medical Foundation pediatrician.