The Connected Mom
eventJuly 22, 2016
Today’s parents navigate the uncharted waters of raising a family in a digital age. They seem to walk a tightrope between seeing their children sucked into a sea of technology, or risk them being left behind. To complicate matters further, parents are also fighting their own battle of constant connectivity. With no roadmap to follow, iGeneration moms are left to their own devices to figure out how to use technology to improve efficiency and learning without causing harm to their families.NEXT »
Forty years ago, Motorola introduced the country to the first hand-held mobile phone. Over a foot long, and weighing in at nearly two pounds, it’s hard to imagine this brick-like device spawned the development of the sleek high-tech gadgets now used by over 85 percent of American adults.
Technology is a staple in the workplace, and, over the past decades, it has found its way into our homes as well. The U.S. Census Bureau reports over two-thirds of adults in this country now own laptops or desktop computers, a number that has continued to grow.
Social media soaks up much of our valuable personal time, and since over half of the cell phones owned by adults in this country are smartphones, the various social media apps are only a swipe away. Nielson’s annual Social Media Report revealed the U.S. spent 121 billion minutes on social media during the month of July 2012, the equivalence of 388 minutes per person.
The easy access to Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr and other social media apps makes it tempting to interrupt work time, mealtime or family time to check-in for the latest updates.
What’s the Harm?
From techie teens to precocious preschoolers, kids are absorbing the new technology like thirsty sponges, leaving parents to ponder - how much is too much?
Children and teens spend inordinate amounts of time staring at the screens of TVs, computers, smart phones, e-readers, iPads, and so on. While it’s hard to deny the educational benefits of technology, this kind of media overload can rob us of social engagement, and even impact physical wellbeing. “People think if a child is using technology for educational things, it’s okay. But when kids are too focused on technology, they miss out on bonding with other kids,” says Jacksonville pediatrician, Mark Bedard, D.O.
Excessive screen time has been linked to sleep interference, language development delays, obesity and decreased physical activity. “We’re seeing a more sedentary population and that leads to other problems like weight gain and fatigue,” says Jennifer Fordan-Herman, M.D., a pediatrician at Island Pediatrics in Fleming Island.
When media use is not restricted, kids can be exposed to sex and violence and can even suffer from advertising overload. The average child encounters over 100 television commercials a day and the American Academy of Pediatrics reports there is a strong association between increased junk food advertisements and childhood obesity rates. But kids aren’t the only ones feeling the lure of connectivity.
One study found 79 percent of smartphone users ages 18–44 had their phones with them 22 hours a day, and they weren’t afraid to use them. A national survey by TeleNav revealed over a fourth of smartphone owners interrupted mealtime for cell use, and 22 percent admitted they’d rather part with their significant other for a week than temporarily give up their beloved smartphone.
A Boston Medical Center study found when parents were distracted by their smartphones, they were less interactive and crankier with their children. Researchers caution it is too soon to draw conclusions from the small study, but some experts worry this kind of impaired interaction could affect children’s language development.
Photo: Jennifer Fordan-Herman, M.D.
“Technology is like a well-balanced diet,” says Dr. Fordan-Herman. “I never say no dessert, but moderation is key.” It’s up to each family to decide what works for them, but the following do’s and don’ts may help parents cope in this high-tech world:
- Connect with your kids on social media. Friend your child on Facebook, but limit your interactions and keep them positive. The goal is to keep your children safe and watch for signs of cyber bullying or inappropriate behavior, not to fill their pages with posts.
- Limit screen time for children. “I can’t stress enough the importance of limiting screen time to one to two hours a day – even less if your child is overweight,” says Dr. Bedard.
- Banish electronics from the bedroom. By age 3, a third of children have a TV in the bedroom, but kids who don’t have televisions in their rooms actually get more sleep. Confiscating electronics at bedtime also prevents worry about all night texting and unmonitored TV viewing.
- Model good behavior. Set limits for yourself and be aware of how your behavior could be influencing your child. Putting away your cell phone during family meals and limiting your own television viewing time makes you a positive role model.
- Take a technology break. Establish times for the entire family to put technology aside and participate in an outside activity.
Technology, Parenting and Health
Photo: Mark Bedard, D.O.
With 91 percent of moms using social media, it’s no wonder technology sometimes invades family time. And while no one is pointing fingers – hey, we’ve all been there – is it possible Facebook or Twitter could be influencing our parenting?
Busy moms are looking for ways to squeeze the most out of their time, and that sometimes means texting from the playground or Facebooking while breastfeeding. While this kind of multitasking may not always be harmful, it’s best done in small doses.
“Breastfeeding is one of the most important times for bonding and that includes making eye contact with and holding your child,” says Dr. Bedard. “I know that mothers are just trying to pass the time, but kids are always paying attention to what we do. If mom has a cell phone, they see it and want it too. We need technology, but we have to learn how to manage it.”
- Expose children under age 2 to TV or entertainment media. There’s no evidence TV provides any valuable learning for young children. Before age 2, children learn best through personal, human interaction.
- Allow electronics to act as a babysitter. Resist the urge to plop your child down in front of a screen to occupy his time. It’s a tempting way to gain some peace and quiet, but tube time can’t take the place of creative play.
- Go negative. Posting embarrassing pictures or sharing punishments is unnecessary and unfair to your child. Don’t allow private moments to go public.
- Turn to the Internet for all your medical advice. “Parents come in all the time with misinformation,” says Dr. Fordan-Herman. “There’s lots of information out there, just be sure you’re using a reliable source and avoid the urge to self-diagnose.”