So, you’re about to have a baby, and there are so many things to do. You decorate your nursery… start interviewing caregivers…and establish a college fund.
And if it was up to Chicago area child psychiatrist Dr. Eitan Schwarz—known to his pint-size patients as “Dr. S”—you’d also start creating a digital media plan, determining how (and how often) your child will use computers, TV, video games, etc. in the years ahead.
“Parents may not realize it,” says Dr. S, a graduate of Johns Hopkins medical school, “But they’re hardwiring circuits into their kids’ brains every day.”
“And when you give your child unsupervised access to media, you’re basically turning that job over to strangers.”
Used properly, electronic content is a good thing, says Dr. S in his new book, Kids, Parents & Technology: A Guide for Young Families
But emerging research regarding “media-soaked kids” reveals that technology can short-circuit healthy development. Studies show that the more time kids spend watching TV, the less time they spend socializing and learning. And that adolescents who play solitary video games become isolated in other ways, too.
In addition, says Dr. S, who based his book on 40 years of clinical experience:
- A baby’s brain is an amazing phenomenon: flexible, unspoiled, and programmed to build itself in response to its environment. It’s the parent’s responsibility to keep that precious brain “green” by managing what baby is exposed to from birth.
- Kids’ consumption of media is an epidemic, not unlike the obesity epidemic. Left to their own devices in the kitchen, most kids choose junk food. Same goes for technology. Many kids now spend more time with electronic media than they do in school or with their families…what, exactly, are they ingesting?
- Parents need not fear technology. Home electronics are merely appliances that exist to serve your family. But just as you’d never give a young child free reign over the stove, don’t hand over the mouse or remote.
- Technology makes a poor babysitter. Parents should choose the media kids consume and be present and involved when kids do so. Dr S recommends moving the PC away from the wall, out into the center of the room, and chaperoning kids on their adventures in cyberspace.
- Remember the junk food metaphor? A healthy media diet consists of five food groups, or “Growth Opportunities”: Family Relationships, Socialization, Values, Education, and Entertainment (which should be treated like dessert). If media doesn’t serve a clear, positive purpose, kids shouldn’t consume it.
This may all sound good, but, how does a busy, unprepared parent plan a healthy media diet?
Where do you find beneficial, age-appropriate content, and what’s the proper serving for each age?
In Kids, Family, and Technology, Dr. S offers answers, including very specific—some would consider stringent—hourly media plans for kids, organized by age and Growth Opportunity.
And to make it even easier to follow, Dr. S will soon be launching FITGOALS®, a patented process that will allow parents to create a digital menu for their child. The FITGOALS website will act as a family’s “portal” to digital media, helping parents find appropriate, pre-screened websites and allowing them to track each child’s media usage.
“Technology has expanded so rapidly, “says Dr. S, a faculty member at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, “It’s like the Wild West for most of us—vast, exhilarating, unexplored.”
“But the Wild West is not a place to turn kids loose. My goal is to give parents a roadmap for leading their kids through this new frontier, safe and sound.”
Dr. Eitan Schwarz is a graduate of Johns Hopkins Medical School, author and founder of MyDigitalFamily.org.
To interview Dr. Eitan D. Schwarz, MD FAACAP DLFAPA, please contact Lekas & Levine PR, 847.327.9530.
Posted by +Pat Wyman, author and founder of HowToLearn.com