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Mastering the Media: When advising families on media, remember all screens not created equal :

May 24, 2016

Digital devices and media have become an important part of our lives and can impact the health and well-being of our patients. In the short time pediatricians have to spend with patients and families at each visit, it can be difficult to cover screen time as a health issue. But healthy media use is something all pediatricians should be discussing with their patients.

This conversation doesn’t always have to be face-to-face; the subject can be mentioned in an email or practice newsletter, a blog article, a handout, waiting-room poster or through your practice website.

Digital devices and media can impact the health and well-being of our patients.Digital devices and media can impact the health and well-being of our patients.

The health impacts of excessive media use are clear. They include decreased real-life communications with family and friends, disturbed sleep patterns, decreased school/work performance, and exposure to online privacy and safety risks, especially for children and adolescents.

Today, there is more diversity in screen time. The main categories of screen time include passive consumption (e.g., watching TV and movies and reading); interactive consumption (e.g., games and internet browsing); communications (e.g., video chatting and social media); and creative use (e.g. composing digital music and digital art).

Although all of these activities can be considered screen time, they are very different from each other. Watching television and creating digital art are two entirely different activities, and the health impacts on children also may be different.

Here are some tips to pass on to your patients and families:

  • Recommend that families create and follow a media use plan.
  • Rules should apply to all family members and all screens. Parents should model appropriate media use behavior.
  • Parents should be knowledgeable about the content their children are accessing.
  • Know and appreciate the differences between educational and recreational screen time.
  • No screens (television, tablets, cell phones, etc.) should be available near or after bedtime. All electronic devices should be turned off and kept in a common location for charging. A general recommendation: No TVs in bedrooms.
  • Specific limits can vary appropriately by age. It’s OK for pre-teens and teens to form and participate in online relationships. It has become part of today’s typical adolescent lifestyle. Parents should monitor these communications as often as possible and practical.
  • Strongly encourage adequate exercise and play time.
  • Family times (especially meal times) should be screen free.
  • Digital etiquette should be addressed and discussed frequently.
  • Encourage digital use together. Parents can learn a lot about digital media use from their children.
  • Eliminate background media, such as a television turned on but not being watched, and other screen time noise, which dramatically reduce the quality of conversations with children of all ages.
  • Remember the value of face-to-face communication. Young children learn best, including language development, from face-to-face, eye-to-eye conversations.
  • Avoid using technology as an electronic babysitter.
  • Visitors should be asked to follow the family’s screen time rules. (Hint: Have a basket at the front door in which guests can deposit their devices and pick them up at the end of the visit.)

These suggestions can improve families’ ability to communicate in the “old-fashioned” way, increase family bonding and enhance use of digital media for education as well as entertainment.

Last year, the Academy conducted a Media Research Symposium titled “Growing Up Digitalto discuss and respond to the many questions our families are asking about digital media. Some of the outcomes of this research offer information to help guide families toward appropriate and productive use of digital media.

Dr. Mendelson is a member of the AAP Council on Communications and Media Executive Committee.

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