Advancements in smartphones and tablets are changing the way we communicate and go to the very core of new behaviors being shaped over time spent with these new devices. Nobody really stopped to look around to realize just how young the kids of today are affected by these mobile devices. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has revealed that more than 30-percent of US children have their first encounter with a mobile device while they are still in diapers, and believe that new parental guidelines are needed so parents can make informed decisions.
Currently, it is recommended that "screen time" for children under the age of two is a no-no, and those that are over two years on age should keep it to no more than two hours a day. However, the current 2011 AAP's 'Media Use by Children Younger Than Two Years" was drafted prior to the first generation iPad and the bevy of apps developed for children – so it is clear that new guidelines are necessary. Studies are showing that mobile devices are ending up in the hands of younger children and at an alarming rate.
Besides the finding that over 30-percent of children have their first encounter with a mobile device while still in diapers, a study from Pew Research Center also showed that almost 75-percent of 13-17 year olds have smartphones and that 24-percent admit that they use their phones constantly, not to mention the dangers of using media while driving. It was clear to the AAP that something had to be done, so a two-day gathering by invitation only called "Growing Up Digital: Media Research Symposium" was held in May and twelve key messages for parents emerged.
First and foremost, Media is still media, it has just become virtual and, like always, it can have positive and negative effects. In addition, good parenting has not changed and the same rules apply to both your children's real and virtual environments – play with your kids, set limits, be involved and know their friends. Parents must be a good role model by limiting their own mobile usage, as good parenting requires 'face time' away from the screen. It is important to remember that we learn from each other – teaching your kids how to speak is an important one-on-one experience…after they are two years old media can help supplement learning. As always, the quality of the content is as important as the platform used and parents should prioritize their media interaction, not just set a time limit. Parents should make sure that the 'educational' label thrown on more than 80,000 apps is truly educational for the child – pick apps from trusted sources such as Common Sense Media.
Family participation with media helps foster social interactions and learning and allows parents the opportunity to be a positive role model. Some unstructured playtime is important, but set limits as in all activities. It is okay for teens to be online and develop relationships, but just like with real world relationships there are appropriate behaviors that must be followed. Parents should also create a "tech-free zone," such as at the dinner table or at bedtime – try charging devices at night outside of their bedrooms. And always remember that kids will be kids and make mistakes using media, such as sexting, posting inappropriate images or bullying. Discussions and punishments should follow the same guidelines as always. Our digital life begins at a very young age as children grow up 'digital' and parents must be prepared to start guidance at an earlier age to help form their "digital citizenship."