LETTER: Getting Your Children Offline in a Digital World

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{This is the third in a series of three letters about the Watertown Speaker Series focusing on technology and children.}

In 2015, children and adults socialize, learn, work, and play in the digital sphere. Given this new digital frontier, with rapidly available and widely accessible technological innovations, Watertown parents and community members came together to learn about healthy technology use and parenting in the digital age. The research is clear: Media use and digital devices can have negative impacts on health. A study on technology use among 8-18 year olds found that light users were more likely to report earning better grades than heavy users, got along well with parents, and were happy at school. Heavy users were more likely to report getting into trouble and being sad or unhappy. However, children and youth reported less technology use when their family had limits and rules that were enforced.

During the final night of the Watertown Speaker Series on Wednesday April 8th, participants were led through several technology-free mindfulness activities to calm the mind and reconnect to their thoughts, feelings, and bodies. Even a few minutes of mindfulness can return a child or adult to a powerful feeling of wellbeing. To learn more about mindfulness, go to: http://www.mindfulschools.org/.

Next, Dr. David Bickham, a Scientist at the Center on Media and Child Health discussed Technology and Child Development and what parents and caregivers can do to ensure healthy children and families. David’s main message was that “Involved and engaged parenting helps reduce the online and offline risks of childhood and adolescents!” Some of David’s core messages and advice include the following:

1. CHILD DEVELOPMENT: Media use is consistent with child development. The Internet is a place to meet friends and share ideas. Movies, TV, and music help children and youth learn about themselves and develop an identify. Video games are a way to relax, be entertained, and master activities that parents cannot do. However, while media use is consistent with child development, it has been shown to influence obesity, sleep, attention, learning and academic abilities, sexual behaviors, substance abuse, body image, aggression, and world view.

2. OBESITY and PHYSICAL ACTIVITY: Too much media use encourages increased eating and takes the place of physical activity. ADVICE: To combat overeating and obesity, avoid commercials, turn off the TV or digital devices during meals, and overcome obstacles to physical activity.

3. SLEEP: Sleep quantity and quality is linked to better weight, school achievement, fewer illnesses, and better mental health. Children who sleep with a TV or a digital device in the bedroom get less sleep than children who do not have devices in their rooms. ADVICE: Set up a charging station for mobile devices in the kitchen or family room, and do not allow devices in bedrooms, particularly during sleep hours. Donate old TVs if you purchase a new one. Also, model good evening media use behaviors.

4. ATTENTION AND LEARNING: Media rewires a child’s brain as much as any other repetitive activity. While some studies link TV viewing with attention problems, other studies find no links. Video gaming is linked to enhanced attention, but it can also reduce sleep. A recent study linked video game play with increased attention problems in 6 to 12 year olds. There is early evidence that multitasking is linked to executive function problems so that adolescents who multitask have slightly worse working memory and reported problems with focus and attention, although they may get better at avoiding distractors. Even infants play in shorter sessions when media is in the background. ADVICE: Do not allow children and youth to multitask or use media while doing other activities. Adolescents and young adults should not watch TV or use digital devices while doing homework because the work takes longer and there are more errors. Adults should model sustained attention.

5. PARENTING INVOLVEMENT: Parental involvement makes a difference! Parents should set limits and actively discuss media use. A recent study showed that children in families with rules around technology use had more sleep, better school performance, more prosocial behaviors, and fewer aggressive behaviors than children in families without rules. Further, youth reported fewer risky behaviors when their parents had rules, initiated high quality communication about use, and monitored content and internet use. Parental monitoring was also linked to less online harassment. Finally, youth had fewer behavioral issues when parents had an authoritative style that demonstrated high warmth and high control.

Following his presentation, David led participants through Family Technology Plans designed to help parents and children get on the same page about digital use. For a copy of the plan or to learn more, go to https://www.facebook.com/ParentSpeakerSeries for a library of resources. Also, if you want to view a recording of the sessions or obtain a DVD, contact the Watertown Cable Station at 617-923-8610.

As the series wraps up, we want to thank the Watertown Community Foundation for the generous grant. We also sincerely appreciate Watertown Middle School Principal Kimo Carter for investing his time in the series and his leadership throughout the planning process and each event. Kimo consistently demonstrates his commitment to and care for Watertown children and families. The series was a collaborative effort between local parents, Watertown Public Schools, the Watertown Special Education

Parent Advisory Committee (SEPAC), the Watertown Boys and Girls Club, Wayside Youth and Family Services, the Watertown Youth Coalition, Live Well Watertown, the Watertown Education Foundation and Families for Depression Awareness.

From: The Healthy Technology Speaker Series Committee

Previous stories:

LETTER: Parenting in the Age of Texts, Tweets and Skype

LETTER: Heathy Technology Series Educating Parents & Kids

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