Kids Health Matters: Using technology responsibly

From kindergartners to teenagers, a lot of kids have tech on their wish lists this holiday. But how can parents make sure it's used responsibly?

Not long ago, the idea of even young children using tablets or cell phones would have been unthinkable.

But Dr. Leah Orchinik of Nemours duPont Hospital says "growing up digital" is the reality.

Families should make a media use plan so that it helps, not disrupts, daily life.

"We're talking toddlers with iPads, all the way through seniors in high school in the home, having repeated conversations about what are they using it for, how parents are going to be involved," said Dr. Orchinik.

Set clear limits on screen time starting at an early age, whether it's phones, tablets, video games, or other technology.

Put limits on what they can and can't access on the internet and stick to those limits, talking to your kids often about why they're so important.

When it comes to cell phones, parents must ask themselves - why they're getting one for their child?

"If it's for communication with families, and to make sure that there is that contact for whether it's after school or after practice? Or for logistics?" said Dr. Orchinik.

Monitor their social media use, making sure they realize why.

"I'm going to check in because I want to make sure that you're ok, and what you're putting out there is going to be safe; it's not going to follow you in a negative way," said Dr. Orchinik.

And texting and social media shouldn't replace face-to-face conversations and interactions between teens and their friends.

Parents should review that media plan periodically - loosening it if their teen shows they're making good choices, but cutting back if they aren't.

Also, be on the watch for trouble signs.

"If they see a pretty significant change in their behavior, in their mood. If it seems like all of a sudden, they no longer want to engage with the family, they no longer want to be part of a certain friend group," said said Dr. Orchinik.

Parents should also emphasize two important points - constant communication with your kids and using these electronics is a privilege, not a right.
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